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UK Man Sentenced To 16 Months For Exporting 'E-Waste' Despite 91% Reuse 212

Posted by Soulskill
from the be-careful-not-to-solve-problems-without-the-express-consent-of-government dept.
retroworks writes: The Guardian uses a stock photo of obvious electronic junk in its coverage of the sentencing of Joseph Benson of BJ Electronics. But film of the actual containers showed fairly uniform, sorted televisions which typically work for 20 years. In 2013, the Basel Convention Secretariat released findings on a two-year study of the seized sea containers containing the alleged "e-waste," including Benson's in Nigeria, and found 91% of the devices were working or repairable. The study, covered by Slashdot in Feb. 2013, declared the shipments legal, and further reported that they were more likely to work than new product sent to Africa (which may be shelf returns from bad lots, part of the reason Africans prefer used TVs from nations with strong warranty laws).

Director of regulated industry Harvey Bradshaw of the U.K. tells the Guardian: "This sentence is a landmark ruling because it's the first time anyone has been sent to prison for illegal waste exports." But five separate university research projects question what the crime was, and whether prohibition in trade is really the best way to reduce the percentage of bad product (less than 100% waste). Admittedly, I have been following this case from the beginning and interviewed both Benson and the Basel Secretariat Executive Director, and am shocked that the U.K. judge went ahead with the sentencing following the publication of the E-Waste Assessment Study last year. But what do Slashdotters think about the campaign to arrest African geeks who pay 10 times the value of scrap for used products replaced in rich nations?
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UK Man Sentenced To 16 Months For Exporting 'E-Waste' Despite 91% Reuse

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  • Somehow, it's worse in th eUSA
    • Re: And yet (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 21, 2014 @08:12PM (#47290607)

      That's the problem with Capitalism these days, if you're not bribing the right people in government, you can't sell stuff.

      • Re: And yet (Score:4, Insightful)

        by ArmoredDragon (3450605) on Saturday June 21, 2014 @08:25PM (#47290665)

        How is that a capitalism problem? Capitalism puts emphasis on the private sector, not the government. Furthermore, I don't think this is even something advocated by any private entities. All of the lobbying behind this is environmentalist groups (which actually tend to lean socialist and/or communist) who think that they're doing the planet a favor by preventing used electronics from going to countries that are often the last stop in the useful life of goods (when they "recycle" them, they send to scrap the valuable raw materials, and just trash or burn the rest.)

        In this case, you have to decide what is worse: Preventing all technology exports to these countries (which guarantees that they'll remain in third world status forever) or allowing about 20% of these goods to end up being discarded on the ground.

        This problem is cultural in nature rather than cost related in nature. For example, in countries like Liberia it is actually common for people to defecate in public and just leave it there (they don't even bury it,) and often eat in the same place (breaking the old "don't shit where you eat" rule.) This creates a health AND environmental hazard that really has nothing to do with technology or politics, rather it's just really bad decisions made by the people over there.

        Depriving them of technology will NOT solve this problem.

        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          In this case, you have to decide what is worse: Preventing all technology exports to these countries (which guarantees that they'll remain in third world status forever) or allowing about 20% of these goods to end up being discarded on the ground.

          False dichotomy. The computers can be sorted into useful and not before shipment.

          • False dichotomy. The computers can be sorted into useful and not before shipment.

            Well...no. Remember this is the LAST STOP. Even if it is useful when it arrives, it doesn't stay useful forever. And once it stops being useful, then where does it go?

            • Where do ours go if we can't dump them on Africa?

            • by Firethorn (177587)

              And once it stops being useful, then where does it go?

              My environmental training goes basically 'reduce, reuse, recycle, only then discard.

              As such, I think there's serious issues with this case. Even if they end up discarded rather than recycled, from what I've read recycling is often not all that 'environmental', due to the pollution and waste caused by the act of collection and recycling. Reuse avoids the expense of tear-down and rebuild, and is thus often cheaper*.

              Worst case I think is that the stuff ends up stored in a dump until it becomes economical to

          • by pla (258480)
            False dichotomy. The computers can be sorted into useful and not before shipment.

            TFA talks specifically about CRTs. It really doesn't matter whether or not they still work - You can't give the damned things away. If you leave it on the curb with a "free" sign, you'll come home to find someone has smashed the end off to get the five-pounds-of-copper yoke, and left the rest there for you to sweep up.

            So if some 4th-worlders can make use of obsolete-but-still-functioning monitors, hey, great! Why wouldn
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Damn, you're stupid.

          Most of these "environmental" laws exist to stifle the used product market, preventing manufacturers from being undercut by their own older models. This is capitalism buying regulations in their favor.

      • Re: And yet (Score:5, Insightful)

        by epyT-R (613989) on Saturday June 21, 2014 @09:06PM (#47290833)

        Actually, the party elite in the soviet union were bribed regularly in order to make sure things happened when they needed to. A government demanding bribes for doing what it's supposed to do is not 'capitalism.'

        • No, it's "greedy". And considering greed is one of the main reasons why people go into politics, it's system independent.

          Ah, it's heart warming to see that after all at least some creeds unite politicians all over the globe.

        • It's the capitalism we've got. The theoretical perfect capitalism would function without bribes, but then so would the theoretical perfect socialism.

      • It's the logical result of capitalism: You get the best government money can buy.

      • I know I'm fighting a losing battle by pointing out the obvious but that isn't "capitalism" - by definition.

        Capitalism is defined as a system in which private property rights are respected and people have the right to trade. A system which requires bribing officials to use force to limit trade of private property or sieze the private property of others, by definition, falls outside that definition.

        But yeah, this is a long-lost battle to redefine the word amongst the public to mean "whatever evil shit corp

    • Re:And yet (Score:4, Insightful)

      by houstonbofh (602064) on Saturday June 21, 2014 @09:07PM (#47290839)
      Yep. Because selling used equipment to Africa can be called illegal export of e-waste, it has to be destroyed and a lot ends up in landfills. Real fucking green.
      • Re:And yet (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Bing Tsher E (943915) on Saturday June 21, 2014 @11:35PM (#47291399) Journal

        Dell has a program here where I live to destroy all computers that are donated to Goodwill. It doesn't matter if it's two years old or ten years old, if you donate a PC to Goodwill, Dell has a bounty on it and off it goes to the shredder.

        I'd hardly call it a 'green' program. It's Dell insuring that there isn't a strong secondary market for PCs. It's heartbreaking sometimes to see the nice new keyboards, mice, and displays come out on the sales floor, and know that recent-vintage machines were probably donated with them.

        Oh, and it's because the bogey-man would get the 'information' on the hard drives. And... and... and... somebody might install something from Microsoft on the machines that they didn't properly pay for... or worse... something other than Microsoft.

        • by Darinbob (1142669)

          This isn't really Dell, but many people just do not want an older computer, even if poor or a charity. Definitely the schools refuse this stuff, they sometimes even refuse new stuff if it's not high enough quality.

      • Destroying working equipment and criminalizing the export of working equipment is just plain evil. If disposal thereof is a problem, then enforce disposal laws.
  • by russotto (537200) on Saturday June 21, 2014 @08:19PM (#47290631) Journal

    Remember, arbitrage is only legal when dealing with intangible financial instruments. Arbitrage with actual products is gauche and therefore punishable.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      ... Arbitrage with actual products is gauche and therefore punishable ...

      If the arbitrage was carried out by humongous multinationals, such as Japan's Mitsubishi Group or America's GE's, no, nobody dare to punish them

      It's only punishable when small fry does it, small fry like that Mr. Benson in TFA

  • by mellon (7048) on Saturday June 21, 2014 @08:28PM (#47290685) Homepage

    The way quite a bit of e-waste gets out of countries with strong regulations is by being shipped in "working" or "repairable" units, which are in principle allowed by law, even though they are actually waste. So this may be a bad thing, or may be a good thing, depending on the details. The mere fact that the devices are working or repairable does not mean that they aren't waste--if someone gave you a working 20-year-old TV, would you want it?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The way quite a bit of e-waste gets out of countries with strong regulations is by being shipped in "working" or "repairable" units, which are in principle allowed by law, even though they are actually waste. So this may be a bad thing, or may be a good thing, depending on the details. The mere fact that the devices are working or repairable does not mean that they aren't waste--if someone gave you a working 20-year-old TV, would you want it?

      If I didn't already have something better, then yes, I would want it. My current main television is about 10 years old, and I bought it used two years ago to replace another that was 14 years old and needed an expensive repair.

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by mellon (7048)

        What would you watch on it? Where would you get the power to run it?

        • Probably whatever OTA Analog broadcasts are around ( no digital receivers so older analog is fine), VHS / DVDs from players from the same era, and whatever the local market that wants the damn things has available ETC.
          Just because you are privileged and can afford cable / digital OTA / blueray ETC doesn't mean there isn't a market ( which there obviously is ) for older tech in less privileged areas.

          Besides, I would rather see the stuff being used than have to have plants built for stripping the old crap of

          • I have a friend who runs a 16:9 CRT TV, he watches IPTV that comes through ADSL on the ISP provided box, and digital movies from Samba shares on his desktop computer, which is connected to a 100Hz CRT monitor. I was amazed that he set up the shares himself, lol.

            Downloaded SD movies look and sound better than ever, by the way. Generated by competent people, from BD rips and with the sound in at least AAC 128K if you're lucky.

        • In Africa? Almost all broadcasts in West Africa are digital, requiring a specific STB from the broadcaster. The TV does not even need a tuner, let alone one for the supposed local standards.Can you repiar olnew TVs?

          I live in the UK, and I am using a desktop 3 years old, the family PC is over five years old, and our laptops that are 5 year old Lenovo T61's because they are better than the newer models. We dont play games on PCs - we have Android phones for that. PCs are for LibreOffice and Firefox (and the

        • What would you watch on it?

          Aljazeera news and Nollywood movies - so much better than Fox News and Hollywood.

          Where would you get the power to run it?

          From a Honda Generator.

          • by drinkypoo (153816)

            Where would you get the power to run it?

            From a Honda Generator.

            Ahh, that was the old days. Now people buy china generators. They don't live long enough to get exported. They just get scrapped when they fail utterly, or when they're missing too many parts you can't get.

      • My current main television is about 10 years old, and I bought it used two years ago to replace another that was 14 years old and needed an expensive repair.

        You are not the "norm". For the majority of consumers 2 years old is obsolete.

        • My current main television is about 10 years old, and I bought it used two years ago to replace another that was 14 years old and needed an expensive repair.

          You are not the "norm". For the majority of consumers 2 years old is obsolete.

          For the majority of consumers in the first world. If you ever traveled more than 10 miles from your house you might find that other people live differently than you do. A 10 year old TV in some communities in India is a luxury!

          • by Darinbob (1142669)

            Hmm, I just now replaced a TV that was15 years old, only replaced because it was breaking down. (I still have it though, it's too heavy to drag down to the recyclers)

            Remember several decades back when there were still television repair shops, so you'd go to have it fixed, replace the picture tubes, tune the chokes, etc?

            • by BlueStrat (756137)

              Hmm, I just now replaced a TV that was15 years old, only replaced because it was breaking down. (I still have it though, it's too heavy to drag down to the recyclers)

              Remember several decades back when there were still television repair shops, so you'd go to have it fixed, replace the picture tubes, tune the chokes, etc?

              There's a perfectly functional Sanyo TV, matching DVD player, and VHS tape deck from 2002 sitting in my entertainment center.

              Right next to a 1970s Lafayette Electronics (remember their electronics kits and Ham/CB radios?) analog stereo receiver, the kind with slide-rule AM/FM dial for the tuner portion, and an analog signal-strength/FM-stereo-signal-centering meter. That powers two pairs of 12"-woofer Rat-Shack "Optimus" speakers from the early 1980s. Still sounds great, and easily powerful/loud enough to r

        • That's so 5 years ago.

          Today people may consider it "obsolete", but lacking the funds to replace it with something new, it'll have to do. And just WHY people don't buy new crap, whether they are like my dad who just recently realized that he might ponder considering replacing his VHS recorder with a DVD player ("It's still working, ya know?") and who buys a new computer every 10 years or so ("it's still working and I don't run it on battery anyway"), or whether they simply cannot afford a new set despite wan

        • by Firethorn (177587)

          You're both correct and both incorrect.

          In the USA the average TV is replaced at about
          six years old [displaysearch.com]. It used to be longer.

          I might consider my TV obsolete, but it's not so bad as to require replacement yet. Same with my computer. Going by family history what tends to happen is that the main TV in the living room gets replaced by a bigger/better one, then the old TV there moves downstairs to the family room, that one ends up in a bedroom, etc...

    • I would definitely take a working 20 year old TV if I had no hope of getting one any other way. It's all about "what can I afford".

      These TVs are waste because they are not digital, the countries they are going to are probably a long way from going digital.
      • by sumdumass (711423)

        Even in the US a converter box or cable box takes care of the digital problem.

      • by houstonbofh (602064) on Saturday June 21, 2014 @09:10PM (#47290869)

        These TVs are waste because they are not digital, the countries they are going to are probably a long way from going digital.

        CRTs also hold up to the elements much better, and some places do not have 24hr AC. Or any AC. (Air conditioning, not power)

        • I'm curious about this; do you have a source, or is that from experience?
          • by mikael (484)

            Anyone has visited or lived in Africa will tell you that. You just need to look at satellite photographs of Earth at night to see that Africa has electricity. Like any rural area, the main hazards to power supply are thunderstorms and local wildlife. Power failures are frequent, along with the associated power surges and fluctuating power line voltages.

            Africa is on the equator, so the climate is like Florida or New York in Summer but all year round. Sunrise at 6am, sunset at 6pm. Air conditioning is a luxur

            • Heh, I kinda got lost in thinking about CRTs and how they hold up to the elements, and forgot to direct my question at that in particular instead of the AC-related part of that post.
          • Mostly from experience. I have worked in a few third world places, and in Africa for 6 months. And older, solidly built tech was preferred. Even in the "rich" companies, solid and proven technology was a benefit.
    • by mikael (484)

      If it is a small mini-portable TV that fits in the corner of a mud-brick hut, then probably yes. There isn't much space once you have a couple of bunk-beds on each side of the door, a cooker and refrigerator on the far wall, and some cupboards on each side. The only space left is an upper corner, which is just enough space for a small TV.

    • by Darinbob (1142669)

      What about a 5 year old TV? Most of those still work, and are discarded merely because there's a newer model.

    • by Sarten-X (1102295)

      I find it amusing that every reply so far has focused on the rhetorical question at the end of your post, even though you hit the real issue on the head.

      Sure, this equipment is nicely sorted and in usable condition, but is there a distribution network on the receiving end? Are there actual storefronts, or merely front companies for stripping operations? From TFA:

      Benson was previously convicted of exporting similar hazardous waste to Nigeria in 2011, and was appealing against his conviction – unsuccessfully – while continuing to illegally export televisions and freezers to West Africa, the Environment Agency said.

      It seems Mr. Benson has made a habit of this tactic, and should already know that his methods run afoul of export laws. It's not a case of the big

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        Sure, this equipment is nicely sorted and in usable condition, but is there a distribution network on the receiving end? [...] From TFA:

        That's a good question, but the excerpt that you pasted does not in fact address it. Care to try again?

        It seems Mr. Benson has made a habit of this tactic

        The quoted section only proves that he has gotten in trouble for this before, not anything else.

  • by schklerg (1130369) on Saturday June 21, 2014 @08:37PM (#47290711)
    I think, as an American, I need to wait for a politician or a celebrity to tell me what my opinion should be. I'm quite sure I'm outraged, I'm just not sure why yet.
  • This is surprising. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by sd4f (1891894) on Saturday June 21, 2014 @08:58PM (#47290799)

    I've got a Nigerian neighbour (I live in Australia) who fills containers with electronics and sends them to Africa. I spoke to him about it and he said that they repair the stuff there, and reuse most of it. Considering that the analogue TV signal was switched off last year, and essentially all CRT TV's don't work, a lot have been dumped on streets, and they naturally been picking them up for free.

    So it's surprising that they so blatantly claim that they're dumping them, when I can hardly see the sense in spending the money on shipping containers half way across the globe, only to dump it there, when it has already been dumped here. Clearly there's some thing going on which the business world isn't particularly keen on. If this person jailed was being paid to dispose of garbage and he was just dumping it in countries that don't care about dumping, then that's a different matter, but I get the feeling that our garbage is somewhat more valuable in developing countries.

    • by houghi (78078)

      In Europe when you buy a phone, you sometimes get a reduction if you bring in your new phoen. It has to start and no broken display. These are then sold to people who export them to Africa as second hand.
      No problem there as it is working second had that is going to be re-used.

      OTOH many electronic parts get exported as waste, so they can salvage the materials in them. This does not happen in the most enviromental frienly way.. See some images here [google.co.uk]

      The problem is not that it has added value for the people in o

  • by Applehu Akbar (2968043) on Saturday June 21, 2014 @08:59PM (#47290801)

    In the UK, that's the normal sentence for defending oneself from a criminal attack or leaving your wheelie trash bin out an extra day.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I have volunteered many, many hours to some 3d printing FLOSS projects over the years.

    There is a reason.

    Manufacturing is a corrupt, bizarre industry. It does not take magic to build a vacuum cleaner. Mechanical inclination is innate to the human brain. The planned obsolescence fad has done nothing in the past 50 years except transfer wealth from the middle class to the top 1%, essentially by committing mass fraud by forcing engineers to use their skills to produce products that fail on purpose for no reason

    • The planned obsolescence fad has done nothing in the past 50 years except transfer wealth from the middle class to the top 1%, essentially by committing mass fraud by forcing engineers to use their skills to produce products that fail on purpose for no reason.

      +5 - Insightful. Too bad I have no mod points left. :(

      "The Economy" is indeed a kind of giant Ponzi scheme.

      • by rtb61 (674572)

        You left out a couple of words, toxic and wasteful. Not only do they drive pointless consumerism but that consumerism drives pollution and the waste of essential resources. Basically myopic insatiable greed destroying humanities future to feed today's egoistic lusts of a psychopathic minority.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 21, 2014 @09:10PM (#47290865)

    Valuable components for repair of other TVs can be easily desoldered from irreparably broken TVs. This would reduce the environmental load in today's world when the planet is already overloaded.

    On the other hand how to dispose of the rest when the country doesn't have proper facilities for that.

    I think the question whether something is waste or not and whether its good or bad to export it to third world countries is pretty complicated.

    I wonder if it would be illegal to mass desolder second hand electronic components and send them to the third world country for the purpose of repair of broken TVs (regardless of questions of economy or component reliability).

    If containing broken pieces makes a shipment illegal - if a manufacture ships a container of new TVs and some of them are defective, is it classified as illegal export of waste and the manufacturer goes to jail for 16 months?

    Karel Kulhavy, Twibright Labs [twibright.com]

  • by PPH (736903) on Saturday June 21, 2014 @09:11PM (#47290873)

    they were more likely to work than new product sent to Africa (which may be shelf returns from bad lots, part of the reason Africans prefer used TVs from nations with strong warranty laws).

    Wouldn't shipping shelf returns to Africa be e-waste as well? Is management of budget video/electronic chains going to be serving their 16 months when caught?

  • by Charliemopps (1157495) on Saturday June 21, 2014 @09:15PM (#47290901)

    Never let action get in the way of posturing. What matters is the pretense of concern, not the resolution of problems.

  • As many of you should know, Rosewill is the house brand for NewEgg.
    A few years ago they started selling fairly decent quality mechanical keyboards ( not as good as some high end keyboards, but certain good quality ).
    Almost everything on these keyboards is repairable. If a keyswitch breaks you can buy a new a new one and solder it in. If the controller breaks you can replace it.
    Even if the pc board breaks, you can get a "phontom" pc board and reuse the parts and the case.

    What you cannot do is purchase it fr

    • So you can buy a cheap keyboard that breaks in six months

      I've never broken a keyboard through typing alone, and I type a lot. What are you doing to break your keyboards in 6 months?

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      What you cannot do is purchase it from NewEgg in Illinois and two other states ( NC and NY IIRC ). Why because of the ewaste regulations. So you can buy a cheap keyboard that breaks in six months and basically has to be thrown out, but you cannot buy a keyboard that is meant to last ten years and even then be repaired.

      Your comment is frustrating because it does not explain why the e-waste regulations do not permit sale of these devices, and so we have no way to know whether NC and NY are being lame, or Newegg is.

  • by Princeofcups (150855) <john@princeofcups.com> on Sunday June 22, 2014 @12:16AM (#47291527) Homepage

    The last thing that the manufacturers want are people to reuse old equipment. Each is a loss of a potential sale of a new unit. In the perverse eyes of capitalism.

    • That's why TVs were invented under Communism and the most high quality TVs ever created, were created under Communism. Oh no wait, that's not how it went.

      I think the problem you're pointing out is a cultural one - the belief that profit "above all else" is the primary directive of shareholders, rather than value creation.

      Back when things were "built to last", that was under more of a Capitalist sytem than we have today. The asshole MBA types have taken over management at every level, with their "what we c

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        Back when things were "built to last", that was under more of a Capitalist sytem than we have today. The asshole MBA types have taken over management at every level, with their "what we can we leverage to squeeze greater profit out of this" destructive mentality.

        Uh no. Squeezing is the basic tenet of capitalism. Whatever the market will bear, remember? There is nothing uncapitalistic about making your products shitty so that you can collect more profit. And there's nothing uncapitalistic about spending your ill-gotten gains on bribes to support your business, either. That's just reinvestment.

        • Uh no. Squeezing is the basic tenet of capitalism.

          "Uh no", it isn't. Where do you see that in the definition Capitalism? The definition of Capitalism is a system in which private property rights are respected and people have the right to trade. NOWHERE in there does it EITHER compel you to create value while earning profit OR destroy it in the name of profit. Therefore, it's a cultural/individual choice within the confines of the definition of Capitalism.

          Squeezing the market may be what they put in the

        • And there's nothing uncapitalistic about spending your ill-gotten gains on bribes to support your business

          By the very definition of the word "capitalism", spending money on bribes to get the government to use force to artificially prop up your business is NOT capitalism. By definition. Seriously. Stop f'ing calling it that. That would be called a "corporatocracy" and it's the opposite of free-market capitalism.

        • Political systems HAVE NAMES. You can't just use whatever name you feel like. The system you are describing, which is what we have now, has a name, it's called a corporatocracy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corporatocracy [wikipedia.org]

          • by drinkypoo (153816)

            Political systems HAVE NAMES. You can't just use whatever name you feel like. The system you are describing, which is what we have now, has a name, it's called a corporatocracy

            False. What we have now may be that, but it's also capitalistic.

  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com] Joseph Benson on the "bullyboys". He is illiterate, never attended school, but knows TV repair.
  • That is all.

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