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Multiple Studies Show Used Electronics Exports To Third World Mostly Good 93

retroworks writes "Bloomberg News reporter Adam Minter writes in today's Opinion section that several studies show that there's nothing really remarkable or scandalous about exports of used equipment to developing nations. 'Some is recycled; some is repaired and refurbished for reuse; and some is thrown into landfills or incinerators. Almost none of it, however, is "dumped" overseas.' Minter begins with the most recent study (PDF), released by the U.S. International Trade Commission in March 2013. Several other studies from Peru, Nigeria, Ghana and China show there was never an incentive for overseas buyers to pay money to import junk, and that most of the junk filmed by activists in the dumps in those nations was used for years (Nigeria has had TV since the 1970s). 'A 2011 study by the United Nations Environment Program determined that only 9 percent of the used electronics imported by Nigeria — a country that is regularly depicted as a dumping ground for foreign e-waste — didn't work or were unrepairable, and thus bound for a recycler or a dump. The other 91 percent were reusable and bound for consumers who couldn't afford new products.' The one data source Bloomberg cannot find is a data point for the widely reported 'statistic' that 80-90% of used electronics imported by Africans are burned or dumped. In the comment section, two advocates for legislation banning the exports object to the survey methodology of one of the studies. But the source of the original statistic, reported by Greenpeace and Basel Action Network in their fundraising campaigns, remains a mystery."
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Multiple Studies Show Used Electronics Exports To Third World Mostly Good

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  • A lot of those "recycled" parts are remarked and sold on the market as either more expensive or newer parts. Keeping up with counterfeit electronics is becoming more of an issue every day for dealers and manufacturers as the third world sells our trash back to us masquerading as brand new technology.
    • by Taco Cowboy ( 5327 ) on Monday May 27, 2013 @08:15PM (#43836229) Journal

      Do you know what you are talking about, sir ?

      "Counterfeit electronics" ?

      The counterfeit electronics that I know of are things like fake resistors and fake capacitors from China and Vietnam --- and they are all ***BRAND NEW***, not something salvaged from old electronics

      • by Anonymous Coward

        They may not be salvaged, but I would be really gratefull if it were only resistors and capacitors, which you can get a 1000 for cents. Actually I haven't ever seen a "fake resistor". If they are real, they work as good as the real ones, so I don't care.

        The real problem is fake integrated circuits (IC), and it's a major problem at the moment.

      • Do you know what you are talking about, sir ? "Counterfeit electronics" ? The counterfeit electronics that I know of are things like fake resistors and fake capacitors from China and Vietnam --- and they are all ***BRAND NEW***, not something salvaged from old electronics

        Read the OP's post again: "remarked and sold on the market as either more expensive or newer parts". That's counterfeit, you think you're buying X when it's actually Y. And if you don't think it's counterfeit, I have a brand new 2013 model Mercedes S550 to sell you (please ignore the fact that it looks like a 1972 280SE).

        • by EETech1 ( 1179269 ) on Monday May 27, 2013 @08:54PM (#43836443)

          We purchased some dataflash for a project, and they came with paperwork from Atmel, and an independent chip inspection to prove they were genuine.

          Unless you had your orders in 48 weeks ahead of time, you could not get a few hundred unless someone had excess inventory because production was scheduled so tightly in the fabs, and demand was so high.

          They were sold through certified resellers who provided the lineage and guaranteed they were genuine (for 5 - 10 X the budgetary quotes they gave when we started the design) it was real easy to find counterfeits, but very difficult to find genuine parts!

      • by Charliemopps ( 1157495 ) on Monday May 27, 2013 @09:24PM (#43836639)

        Do you know what you are talking about, sir ?

        "Counterfeit electronics" ?

        The counterfeit electronics that I know of are things like fake resistors and fake capacitors from China and Vietnam --- and they are all ***BRAND NEW***, not something salvaged from old electronics

        It's not resistors and Caps you have to worry about. It's IC's. There's no real profit in counterfeiting a .01 cent part. But there are plenty of IC's out there that are well over $50/chip. It's really easy to pass off an amplifier IC that is of inferior design to a much more expensive one if you just mold it in a similar way and then stamp it with the other chips data. By the time you're done putting it in your design, you wont know for days that you've been ripped off.

        • by RoboRay ( 735839 ) on Monday May 27, 2013 @11:19PM (#43837115)
          You must not have been around for the Great Motherboard Capacitor Rupturing of 1998, when just about every major motherboard manufacturing company fell victim to the hordes of fake caps being sold around Asia. Well, not fake exactly, but fake in that they were not as specified and only worked for a few months before bursting.
          • They were fake exactly, in that they didn't contain what they were supposed to contain. People who thought they were buying capacitors were actually buying tiny capacitor bombs.

          • Not really the same thing. Those caps were made by the companies that were marked on them. They were just made wrong because one company stole the electrolyte formula from another but their copy was missing ingredients.

            I'm not convinced they haven't just continued making those bad caps though. I have a stack of old motherboards and other pcbs with bad caps in my garage. They were all made well after 1998.

            • by RoboRay ( 735839 )
              The "stolen formula" was sold and resold among several companies. The end-product (the caps) weren't exactly fake, but the recipe the makers bought to manufacture them was fake. My theory is that the missing ingredients were deliberate... that it was a honeypot by a company that wanted to find out which of (or if) its employees was stealing secrets.
      • by Hentes ( 2461350 )

        Thos are electrics, not electronics.

    • by aurispector ( 530273 ) on Monday May 27, 2013 @08:24PM (#43836281)

      And greenpeace just making up statistics to support their agenda? Unthinkable!

    • by speedplane ( 552872 ) on Monday May 27, 2013 @11:26PM (#43837153) Homepage
      This is a huge problem, and I cannot believe counterfeiting was not even mentioned in the ITC report. Fake chips have shown up in military equipment, threatening untold number of lives. Here's a presentation by an Analog Devices rep reporting on the problem (pdf): http://www.armed-services.senate.gov/statemnt/2011/11%20November/Toohey%20Slides%20B%2011-08-11.pdf [senate.gov]
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by wvmarle ( 1070040 )

        In case of military stuff, if it prevents weaponry from working, it may just as well SAVE lives.

    • by Hentes ( 2461350 )

      Many times it's the dealers who resell the faulty crap returned buy a previous costumer.

  • As soon as these 3rd world countries become second world or emerging countries you can bet the quality of electronic imports will drastically plummet as they are flooded with cheap knockoffs or outright junk by criminals out for a quick buck.

    But since the population of these nations don't have a buck, the products that are being imported are good because they are from charitable organizations who are operating altruistically.

  • No wai! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 27, 2013 @08:22PM (#43836271)

    Greenpeace making up statistics? That's nearly 100% untrue!

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by durrr ( 1316311 )

      Greenpeace trying to make the lives of humans worse in the name of a nonexistant environment-related issue.
      How ironic that an organization with such a name hides a pitch black heart filled with evil intent.

      • Re:No wai! (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Kell Bengal ( 711123 ) on Monday May 27, 2013 @09:09PM (#43836533)
        The whole thing is very sad, when there are plenty of actually horrible things happening in the environment that don't need to be made up. Fake, or overblown, disasters simply weary the world for when the real thing comes along.
      • Yup, Greenpeace, aka a bunch of whiny rich kids who are so desperate to have something to scream about in their otherwise sheltered lives, is doing a huge disservice to the environmental movement as a whole. Somewhat ironic that a lot of the rich kids are benefitting off of the destruction of the environment, but critical thinking isn't really their strong suit.
    • Re:No wai! (Score:4, Interesting)

      by fermion ( 181285 ) on Tuesday May 28, 2013 @12:06AM (#43837337) Homepage Journal
      You know that this is an opinion piece in Bloomberg, a business rag. The USITC is there to promote trade and adjudicate certain trade disagreements, mostly imports. I don't see that it has any jurisdiction to really go to foreign countries to see how products exported from the US are used.

      One can immediately be suspicous of an article that differentiates 'dumping' from being put in a landfill. Also, while there may be no incentive for another country to import junk, there is a lot of incentive for the US to export junk. Containers are sitting there unused at the ports, and it is probably only a few thousand dollars to send a container to the coast of Africa from the Gulf Coast. Once the container is there, any regulatory headaches concerning disposing of the computer equipment will be gone. The cargo ship can auction off the container for additional profit, and the purchase can sell what he can, and incinerate the rest, polluting the air with toxic heavy metals.

      I am not saying this is what happens, but since we are treating opinion as news, who cares?

      • A lot of this electronic scrap is indeed SOLD to overseas customers. Otherwise there is not much incentive, unless dumping on a US landfill costs more than shipping it overseas, dealing with import on the other side, and having it dumped there. If shipping lines would have to auction off every single container of scrap they get, they'd very quickly stop accepting such cargo.

        However the situation is indeed that overseas companies pay for the scrap. And often much more than the shipping cost. That's why there

      • by Anonymous Coward

        The author of this piece has written extensively on scrap in developing countries, principally China, for years. His blog is http://shanghaiscrap.com/ [shanghaiscrap.com] and while infrequently updated now, has him covering scrap 'hands on' for years.

        Not quite a 'news jock' more someone that investigates and reports their investigations.

  • Greenpeace (Score:1, Informative)

    by emilper ( 826945 )

    not so long ago Greenpeace found, in the cooling water of a nuclear reactor in a less than waspish country, so much tritium that had it been separated and sold, the GDP of the said country would have doubled overnight .. or the price of tritium would have falled to the price of good bourbon.

    When GP or WWF or some other of their partners shout "disaster" it is because they want more money. They don't give a f....... for the real issues.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by LWATCDR ( 28044 )

      That is not true. Geenpeace does care about the environment. I fear they are at the ends justify the means point. They have to make money to do the work they feel is so important so they must raise it.The people that will give the most are the ones that are most extreme and most scared so you feed the base to get the funds to do your "good works". The problem is at some point the extremists take over and believe the FUD, and enjoy the money and the glory of fighting the uncompromising good fight...

    • Re:Greenpeace (Score:4, Informative)

      by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) * on Monday May 27, 2013 @10:37PM (#43836927)

      not so long ago Greenpeace found, in the cooling water of a nuclear reactor in a less than waspish country, so much tritium that had it been separated and sold, the GDP of the said country would have doubled overnight ..

      Really? Then how come neither Google nor Greenpeace's own website has any mention of this? There are plenty of Greenpeace articles complaining that Canada has the worst tritium contamination in the world, but I don't think Canada is either non-waspish nor low GDP. There is also an article about tritium contamination in India [greenpeace.org], but that was a case of deliberate sabotage. So could you please explain what you are talking about, and maybe provide an actual citation?

      • by emilper ( 826945 )

        Cernavoda, not India nor Canada, though it's a Canadian design

      • by emilper ( 826945 )

        it's not on their site because their accusations were ridiculous

      • by Krigl ( 1025293 )
        Here [google.com].

        Also, absence of anything on Greenpeace's pages should be outright disregarded beforehand as a proof of anything. We're talking about organisation which threw it's founding member down the memory hole: Patrick Moore [archive.org] of the original Don't Make A Wave Committee is missing [greenpeace.org] now, though still listed as a crewmember of the ship. I vaguely remember he used to be completely vaporised from the pages but not sure and don't have time for Wayback Machine magic.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Rich do-gooder takes pictures of poor person in less developed nation, raises funds. None of the funds go to the poor kids. In Africa, they have a different word for it... "Parasites of the Poor". The NGO made up a statistic from whole cloth and raised millions, not a dime goes to the kids in their landfill photos.

  • This story talks about junk imports (implied sale to end-user), a topic I never heard before. IIRC the problem with the 3rd world and electronics is that they get sent a lot of junk as "humanitarian aid", since shipping is way cheaper than recycling and as a byproduct even creates good PR.

    Also reminds me of an audit in a Brazilian? port that found multiple shipping containers full of medical waste from an unknown English hospital. The waste was just sent to be forgotten there as an alternative to costly ha

    • by Dunbal ( 464142 ) *
      Medical waste is not nearly as hazardous as people think it is, for a start.
      • Medical waste is not nearly as hazardous as people think it is, for a start.

        That depends on what it is. Contaminated sharps? Not a big deal after a year or so. Bits of human bodies? Might still be a big issue, if there's enough of them.

        • by Dunbal ( 464142 ) *
          Human bodies have always been a morality issue, and in the case of medical waste, a legal issue. Contrary to popular belief, human bodies do not "transmit disease" directly. Of course I don't recommend you get on all fours and start drinking any rainwater washing off of one that's been out in the sun a few days. But they stink. They upset people. Therefore vast amounts of precious, limited human resources are always wasted during disaster situation dealing with "the bodies" when that labor could be employed
    • by cusco ( 717999 )
      Most likely Bosnia, where disposal of warehouses of expired medicines (expired before they were delivered) was a major problem for a time. After the Indian Ocean tsunami one of the primary donors of medical supplies was Pfizer, who used the opportunity to dump massive quantities of expired Viagra for a tax write-off.
    • Recycling trade is huge. I'm involved in plastic recycling trade myself. Wastes are collected all over the world for recycling, and often sent overseas where recycling is cheaper (like in China) or where they have the better equipment (TFA mentions a factory in Belgium that's particularly good at extracting precious materials - and as such can pay the best price for the scrap).

      And besides trading scrap materials for recycling, there is a big trade in used equipment. Many products are being resold and reused

  • We also export used hard disks, filled with personal data that may be recycled for fun and profit in third world nation that cannot afford Facebook-style or NSA-style data collection.
    • by Osgeld ( 1900440 )

      if your too stupid to erase your media before recycling it then good, you deserve it

      • I do not erase hard disks, I destroy them. But for the average user it is difficult to avoid data leak

        First they must know that there is data retained. Application behavior are not always obvious on this front.

        Second, they must know what procedure is reliable: removing a file does not really remove data. Formatting the disk may still leave a lot of data behind

        And third, they may completely miss the point in some situation. It is easy to discard a printer without thinking that it contains a hard disk with pr

        • by Osgeld ( 1900440 )

          no most typical users toss their machines into a public dumpster or local computer store, there is no thought, effort or knowledge behind it

          go live in an apartment complex for a few years, see how many xp and vista machines you fish out

  • by MacTO ( 1161105 ) on Monday May 27, 2013 @08:55PM (#43836447)

    I took a quick look at the introductory material of the report, and the data appeared to be for 2011. This is well after regulatory changes were made so the data may reflect a positive outcome from those regulatory changes.

    (I'm no fan of "GreenPeace" and similar groups, but the degree of hate expressed by some people is beyond belief.)

    • Is it greater or less than the hatred shown by GreenPeace and similar groups towards conservatives? I've read some really sick stuff on this very website, expressed by educated people who consider themselves open-minded and tolerant of other people's opinions.
      • by Anonymous Coward

        Yes. And for the record I'm assuming you're talking about American Politics.

        Typical conservative trolling involves lots of hyperbole and superlatives. "Those stupid lazy bastards who don't want to work are taking our tax dollars. Stop welfare!" You'll see extremes where people talk about overthrowing the government but they'll say things like 'try and take my gun' or 'Obamacare' and they'll call liberals 'whiny' and either 'poor' or 'over-privileged', it depends on what issue you are upset with (also, a ric

  • by wbr1 ( 2538558 ) on Monday May 27, 2013 @09:03PM (#43836495)
    The statistic driving legislators is that 80 to 90 percent is waste and bound to be trashed. This stat, unsubstantiated of course, comes courtesy of Greenpeace.

    I am all for environmental protections. I am pretty doggone liberal, but greenpeace makes your most extreme tinfoil hat wearing slashdot neck beard look normal.

  • Actually, most US export containers are filled with scrap paper and chemical waste.
  • <SARCASM>They'd never do that to further their agenda.</SARCASM>

  • Ban all exports of old electronic equiptment! It's the "green" thing to do.

    It's a great way to sell more new products.

    Maybe Greenpeace has sold out to Big Consumerism

  • From the PDF:
    "informal processing describes the disassembly of UEP as by individuals in unregulated, often
    impoverished, settings with little regard to health, safety, and the environment. The survey could not determine whether
    U.S. exports of UEPs bound for recycling or disposal in 2011 were sent to such facilities, nor could it capture ad hoc shipments of undeclared
    UEPs mixed in with exports of other items."

    In other words, they still do not know what happens to the actual exports or even what the actual exp

  • by Ragica ( 552891 ) on Tuesday May 28, 2013 @12:10AM (#43837355) Homepage

    Anyone look at the original report? My scanning of it indicates that all the percentages being give are based on the "value" (i.e. money) of the UEPs (used electronic products). Am I wrong? In this light one would certainly expect that the most valuable and fully functional of the UEPs would remain domestic and be resold!

    And, if true, this is quite possibly/probably not actually related at all to the 10+ year old statistic given offered by BAN, which gives me the impression to have been by volume (i.e. physical amount of junk); though the BAN report is not specific about this. The statistic in Bloomberg linked BAN report is offered hardly more than anedotally in a mere pull quote, attributed to "Informed recycling industry sources".

    On the topic of data sources, I noticed in the new report, especially around the topic of "export", the data seems to be basically self-reported by the industry, and in places is guessed at as no one really knows what happens with a lot of the stuff that leaves the country. And probably not a lot of people in this industry in the US are anxious to give the impression that they are dumping on 3rd world countries, when reporting their data. Not to say the data isn't good or interesting data, but still there is room for questions as to the meaning and depth of some of the data.

    It would also be interesting to know if things have changed significantly in the UEP industry in the last 10+ years. I'd imagine that it would have since the explosion of personal electronics. Surely there is a vastly greater amount of upgrade grind going on now, where people discard working devices just because their phone contract seduces them to upgrade, and the much higher prevalence of other devices such as laptops, tablets, audio players, etc. The percentages may have indeed significantly changed since BANs 10+ year old report.

    It seems rather interesting how so many here are taking this as an opportunity to immediately attack Greenpeace, comparing a 10+ year old statistic (which may not even be based on the same units) with a brand new (probably well funded) industry report, reported via Bloomberg (not exactly a publication known for it's defense of the environment, or even science). This seems a little ridiculous, if not entirely pathetic.

    • by plopez ( 54068 )

      Holy cow! A second person who actually read the PDF! What is slashdot coming to, informed debate?

    • Well, you may dispute the origin of the study, but they have data and the original one does not.

      If this was real science, which one would you believe, the one with data and a methodology that you can criticize, or the one that pulls random numbers out of their ass for political gain?

    • Ragica,

      The problem with your analysis is 1) there never was data ten years ago, 2) the "report" from ten years ago is still being circulated as "fact" in 2013, 3) African geeks (who fly to EU to buy the TVs and CRT computer monitors, etc.) are being profiled and arrested NOW. See Interpol 2013 press release on the arrests of 40 Africans in Europe. http://retroworks.blogspot.com/2013/03/reuse-while-black-presumed-guilty.html [blogspot.com]

      The NGO's are promoting passage of a law (through a "big shred" industry group, CA

  • It's 2013 guys - if people around the world (and even spread it and compare it in studies) think, that landfills are a good idea and better than dumping in to the sea, it's time to get real....
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 28, 2013 @05:23AM (#43838551)

    I live in Uganda, where it is illegal to import used electronics. From my day to day experience this seems to have been a very good policy. There used to be a huge hassle with junk parts being palmed off to consumers; it would be very difficult to know what to trust. Since there are basically no effective consumer protection laws here, this was a big problem.

    Donations of used computers to schools etc also had negative consequences. The first effect of that would be to undermine the business of Ugandan electronics dealers. The second was that a lot of donated stuff would end up on the market anyway (and often be sold as "nearly new" or "refurbished" to any buyers who could be tricked into it), creating the problems above. Basically, if you're thinking you should be giving your old laptop to the poor kids of Africa, first imagine it being sold off by the underpaid headmaster of the school, and secondly somebody using their scarce personal resources to buy it, having been promised by the seller that it is "good as new".

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