American Dockworkers Are Savaging Your Recycling Bin.

Last year, roughly one-third of the recycling generated in the United States was exported to more than 160 countries and territories. That’s 42.8 million tons – enough weight to fill over 2 million standard-sized shipping containers – worth $23.7 billion. China was the top destination for those exports (Canada was number two), while South Korea, Japan, and India were in the top ten. So when, back in July, a labor dispute and slowdown hit US West Coast ports, one of its first and most significant victims was the multi-billion dollar trans-Pacific trade in recycling, much of which ships from those ports.

ContainersAtPort

In recent weeks, the toll – both economic and environmental – has started to come due. In San Francisco the city’s recycling contractor is running out of space to store recyclable paper and cardboard that typically ships to Asia, and the excess is piling up in mountains of cardboard. In neighboring San Mateo County, a different contractor, who also depends on shipping scrap paper to Asia, did run out of space – and the city had to lease it a 28,000 square foot warehouse to hold it. Meanwhile, two weeks ago, the California Refuse Recycling Council, a trade group, warned Governor Jerry Brown that its members might soon be forced to redirect all that California recycling to “disposal.” In other words: unless recyclers can start shipping to Asia again, a lot of scrap paper and cardboard might be landfill-bound. Continue reading

An Update on My Watsons/GSK Kerfuffle

My Monday blog post taking issue with Watsons Malaysia and its handling of product safety and social media has been circulated much more widely than I ever expected. This is, in large part, due to says.com, a Malaysian news site that covered it on Wednesday, with this story by Samantha Khor.

Thanks to that story Watsons reached out to me late Thursday afternoon, and again at 10 PM on Thursday night. During the second call Watsons agreed to give me a written statement on steps they’ve taken and will take in response to my post. I believe that I will have that at some point on Friday, and when I do, I’ll put together a blog post covers everything that’s happened – including the steps that Watsons told me on the phone that it will take to ensure product safety in its Malaysian stores.

[UPDATE: On Friday evening, just as I was about to publish an update, I spoke to GSK, the manufacturer of Panadol. Based on that conversation, I’m going to wait until Monday to publish an update.]

In the meantime, I have a request of readers in Malaysia: if you have a moment could you please stop by your local Watsons outlet and check whether the box seals on 50-tablet bottles of Panadol are intact. If the seal is broken, could you send a photo of the box, the broken seal, and – this is important – the serial number on the box, to ShanghaiScrap at gmail.com.

More soon.

Watsons Malaysia Isn’t Safe for Shopping or Social Media – a Shanghai Scrap investigation.

[aka the triumphant return of Shanghai Scrap, shopping avenger.]

Last week I badly wanted a bottle of Panadol (a product my US readers would know as Tylenol, ie acetaminphen), so I went down to my local Watsons (specifically, the Amcorp Mall location in Petaling Jaya) – the largest “personal care” chain aka “drug store” chain in Asia – and bought a bottle. When I arrived home and prepared to open it, I noticed something very, very troubling – the safety seal on the box had been cut open and then re-sealed. See photo below.

panadol

Now, that’s a safety violation of the first order. In the US, for example, it’s a violation of FDA guidelines – and I assume that’s the case the world over, including in Malaysia. The idea, of course, is to protect consumers from anyone who might – for whatever reason – tamper with the medicine inside (regulations inspired by the Chicago Tylenol murders of 1982). Out of curiosity, I opened the opened box, anyway (because I had a really, really bad headache). And inside it went from bad to worse: the bottle lacked a safety seal. In other words, thanks to Watsons, this package of Panadol was unsafe; anybody could’ve altered the contents. Continue reading

More iPhone, More Carbon.

Earlier this week, when Apple announced that it was building a solar-powered data center in Mesa, Arizona, I immediately thought of their phones. To be sure, there’s much to admire in Apple’s commitment to reducing its internal carbon footprint. But that admiration needs to be tempered by an equally relevant set of facts: the carbon emissions associated with each generation of the iPhone are actually growing.

More carbon with every bite.

More carbon with every bite.

The trend was brought to my attention in a blog post by the Restart Project, a London-based collective that promotes repair and maintenance of old products. As they point out, Apple laudably discloses carbon emissions for each of its products via publicly available environmental reports. And according to those reports, the carbon emissions associated with an iPhone have been growing with each new model, from 70kg for the 4s, to 75kg for 5s, to 95kg for the iPhone 6 (Apple doesn’t break out respective carbon emission rates for the 6 and the 6 Plus) that was selling –  according to Apple – 34,000 units per hour during its last reported quarter. That’s a whopping 35% increase in per iPhone carbon emissions over three phone generations.

Continue reading

Another Reason Beijing Shouldn’t Host the 2022 Olympics

China is currently bidding against Almaty, Kazakhstan for the right to host the 2022 Winter Olympics. In general, this is a bad idea – Beijing has little to no snow in the winter, but lots and lots of smog. And those are just the starter reasons (I documented more in this column for Bloomberg last year).

In any case, today, while reading Beijing’s full bid document as submitted to the International Olympic Committee last week (available here), I came across another: the organizing committee appears intent on deluding itself and, most assuredly, the world. Take, for example, this passage that I screengrabbed from volume I of the bid:

Great Wall

I won’t go into the history of the Great Wall, but suffice it to say that the structure was a military fortification designed to keep China isolated from the world. That is to say, it was designed to keep everyone out. Or, to put it differently – generally speaking, people who want to meet and integrate with others don’t build giant walls.

In any case, it’s a small point. But one worth noting.

Toughest Fella I Ever Knew.

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Toughest fella I ever knew, Max Zeman, my grandfather, passed away this weekend just 9 weeks short of his 100th birthday. For somebody who witnessed the worst of what the 20th century had to offer, he managed to hold onto one of the world’s best, warmest laughs and a firm appreciation for the little things. I’m talking about 5 feet of steely will that survived Nazis, sniper bullets, military hospitals, infections, displaced person camps – and a half century of Minnesota Vikings disappointments.

Below, two brief passages from the eulogy I wrote for him. The first concerns the sniper bullet that disabled him outside of Dresden at the end of World War II, and then the aftermath, including the discovery that his family had perished in the Holocaust. The second concerns what mattered most to him. If you knew Max, you loved him. If you didn’t, you would have.  He’s going to be missed. Continue reading

Chinese want to leave China like Ecuadorians want to leave Ecuador.

Rich people are leaving China in droves. Just ask the South China Morning Post: “Exodus of the super-rich: half of China’s millionaires plan to leave country within five years.” Or the Wall Street Journal:  “Almost Half of Wealthy Chinese Want to Leave.” Or Bloomberg: “Almost Half of Rich Chinese Consider Move, Barclays Says.”

Seems convincing, no? Well, no, and I’ll do my best to show why by answering three simple questions.

First, how does Barclays know? The Barclays report, which I received this morning, is called “The Rise of the Global Citizen?” and is published as part of its Wealth Insights series (intended, presumably, to attract clients). For this edition, they interviewed 2000 high net word individuals “all of whom had more than $1.5 million in net worth,” and 200 with more than $15 million in net worth. They come from 17 countries, and 750 self-identify as entrepreneurs. Beyond that we know nothing, but I think it’s safe to assume – based on this information – that the sample taken was not representative of Chinese millionaires as a whole (the sample size would be too small). Rather, it’s representative of Chinese millionaires who don’t mind responding to surveys from investment bankers. Though I’d hate to generalize, in my experience wealth in China tends to be very discreet, and those who are willing to talk about it are unusual and typically have spent time abroad. Continue reading