Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

E-Waste

The acronym WEEE (waste electrical and electronic equipment) describes discarded electrical or electronic devices. WEEE is the fastest-growing waste stream in the US and in many other countries. The US generated 3.4 million tons of WEEE in 2011. According to the latest EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) figures, US output  of unwanted electronics has reached 47.4 million computers and 141 million mobile devices annually.

The Problem

A 2009 UNEP (UN Environmental Programme) report estimated the world generates 40 million metric tons of WEEE annually. The US EPA estimates that the US recycles a mere 11% of its WEEE.

Why worry?

WEEE contains toxic materials such as lead, mercury, cadmium, brominated flame-retardants and polyvinyl chloride. These substances cause cancer, respiratory and reproductive problems. Even a low level of exposure of children and pregnant women can cause serious neurological damage. Phthalates causes sterility; chlorinated dioxins cause Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

In India, Dr S Sundaravadivelu, Special Secretary to Government (Environment), said only 15% of Indian WEEE was being recycled, while the remaining was mixed with normal waste. The government, public and private industrial sectors accounted for 70% of the total. Asif Shuja Khan, director general of the Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency, says unregulated WEEE activities do not only harm those working directly with the materials but also contaminate agricultural lands and livestock and enter the food chain.

A 2011 report by the Senate Armed Services Committee said that the US military supply chain might contain over one million counterfeit parts, including crucial avionics components. Counterfeit Chinese parts have been detected in the instrumentation of C-130J Hercules transport aircraft. Failure of these components would leave pilots with blank instrument panels in mid-flight. Production of these counterfeit parts often begins as electronic waste, shipped from the US to Hong Kong.

Waste Markets

WEEE recycling has become a lucrative business opportunity for companies that extract gold, silver, palladium and base metals such as copper and nickel from circuit boards. Their worth can reach more than $15 per pound. The microprocessors inside circuit boards can sell for more than $30 per pound.

The WEEE recycling revenue potential in India is around US$ 1.5bn in 2013; that could double by 2018. India Electronic Waste Recycle Market Opportunity Analysis gives in-depth analysis on the potential WEEE recycling market in India.

Many investment guides on the internet recommend shares in WEEE companies. The first pure public WEEE operator, E-waste Systems Inc announced results for the quarter ended June 30, 2013. There was more than a 1,000% increase in revenues reported for the first quarter of 2013. Revenue Grew to over $2.7 million in the quarter; Total Assets grew to over $3.5 million; Shareholders Equity improved by over $1.3 million

Who Is Recycling – and Who Is Not?

EWEEE could prove a valuable source of metals in developing countries if the dangerous work processes were to be regulated. All over the world, local communities are taking positive steps to encourage recycling. New York state residents produce more than 300 million pounds of electronic waste each year. New laws make manufacturers responsible for the recycling of their own products and bans disposals of consumer electronics in landfills. A study from the Product Stewardship Institute (PSI) shows that retailers are lagging behind consumers in social responsibility. The number of collection sites for electronic scrap has increased by nearly 80% but Walmart, Amazon and Sears do not have a recycling option for the electronics they sell.

Exporting the Problem

You might be salving your conscience by recycling your WEEE. What does the contractor do with it? In direct violation of federal law, Colorado-based firm Executive Recycling falsely claimed they would process waste in the US. Instead, they exported it. The fine was US$4.5 million and the court sentenced CEO, Brandon Richter, to two and a half years in prison.

The EU exported 220,000 tons of WEEE to West Africa in 2009. Some products sent as charitable donations, ostensibly for reuse, are unusable. In Ghana 30% of WEEE imports are unusable. Pakistan receives thousands of tons of WEEE every year from developed countries.

At Guiyu on the South China Sea, poorly trained unprotected workers cook circuit boards to remove microchips and solders, and use dangerous acid baths to remove gold from microchips. Tests found dangerously elevated lead levels in blood of 80% of the children there.

Over 35,000–45,000 child laborers of the age group of 10–14 years in Delhi collect, sort and distribute, WEEE without adequate protection, according to a recent study by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM).

Problems into Profit

Capitalism has repeatedly demonstrated its resilience in the face of challenges and has turned them into opportunities. Environmentalists condemned global industrialisation for polluting the atmosphere. Capitalism responded with carbon trading. The communications revolution combined with rampant consumerism has created vast amounts of cyber-clutter, as people feel compelled constantly to upgrade their phones and computers. Creative capitalists have turned this problem into profit by developing markets in WEEE.

Happy Birthday Prince Charles!

I wrote this in November 2013

charlestree1

If Prince Charles really did exert some influence in getting things moving in the case against those accused of murdering a British tourist and raping the tourist’s Russian girlfriend, I take my hat off to HRH. I have my doubts about tourism being good for Sri Lanka, but I would hope people could come to visit us without being raped or killed. Prince Charles himself will be coming to Sri Lanka for the CHOGM, which starts on 15 November.

Charles celebrates his 65th birthday on November 14. I read in the Times of India that London-based entrepreneur-philanthropists Cyrus and Priya Vandrevala will splash out hundreds of thousands of pounds on a concert by the Philharmonia Orchestra as part of a birthday reception and dinner at Buckingham Palace. I hope that does not mean that Charles has changed his mind about coming here.

For most British males the big thing about reaching 65 is that you get your state retirement pension. I do not suppose Charles would have been too anxious about that, not being short of a bob or two.

I have long taken an interest in Charles’s career. When I was a child, Charles’s mother waved to me outside Moreland’s England’s Glory Match Factory. My aunties worked in the factory in very menial capacities. I met Charles’s aunt, Princess Margaret, in later years. She was extremely small and her skin was smoke-cured like a kipper’s.

Charles and I are near contemporaries and during my childhood I was used to seeing pictures of him all the time. I was, like him, born, and grew up in, state-subsidised housing. I was born in a council house in Coney Hill, Gloucester, not far from a Victorian Gothic lunatic asylum. We later moved to another council house at Longlevens, not far from the greyhound track and the football ground.

As Emil Van der Poorten so charmingly put it – I come from the gutter.

Charles enjoys state subsidised housing of a different kind. He was born in Buckingham Palace and now lives at Highgrove, in my native Gloucestershire, and has accommodation in London at Clarence House. He has another gaff in Scotland at Birkhall. He has a few other places to doss down – Balmoral, Sandringham, Windsor Castle, Holyrood House, Craigowen Lodge, Delnadamph Lodge, Llwynywermod, Tamarisk, Hillsborough Castle.

Like Charles, I followed my mother’s occupation at first. My mother was a cleaner in the NHS; Charles’s mother was not.

My father was a private in the Royal Pioneer Corps. Charles’s family all have high military ranks and he himself is a General in the British Army, an Admiral in the Royal Navy and an Air Chief Marshall in the Royal Air Force. He is Colonel-in-Chief, Colonel, Honorary Air Commodore, Air-Commodore-in-Chief, Deputy Colonel-in-Chief, Royal Honorary Colonel, Royal Colonel, and Honorary Commodore of at least 36 military formations throughout the Commonwealth.

He gets to dress up for all these roles. Being a royal is like being in a big playpen.

prince-charles-in-military-uniform1

Monarchy seems a bit like Colombo Telegraph in that people can use a variety of weird and wonderful names. As well as being called a “grovelling little bastard” by Spike Milligan, Charles has been called Prince of Wales since 1958, but in Scotland, his title is Duke of Rothesay. He is also called Duke of Cornwall. When his mother departs this earthly realm, he will become Supreme Governor of the Church of England, Duke of Normandy, Lord of Mann, Lord of the Isles and Paramount Chief of Fiji. As a royal, Charles has no surname, but when he feels the need to use one it is Mountbatten-Windsor, (Mountbatten is the name chosen during the First World War by the Battenbergs and Saxe-Coburg-Gothas to conceal their German origins).

The London Daily Mirror is a UK paper that is read by  Chavs and Pikeys, white trash from the gutter like me,  the great unwashed working class – sorry, I meant to say loyal subjects. For its special 60th birthday issue the UK Daily Mirror revealed some fascinating facts about Prince Charles.

Chuck wears handmade shoes that cost £650 a pair. Turnbull & Asser make his shirts and, from 2006, his made-to-measure suits, which cost up to £2,500. Previously, Savile (no relation to Jimmy) Row tailors Anderson & Sheppard handmade his suits, at £4,000 a pop. This should set an example of frugality to all of us in this age of austerity – time for us all to cut our clothing expenses. As Thoreau wrote: “Beware of any enterprise that requires the purchase of new clothes”.

No fancy silk monogrammed Jimmy Palmers for our Chas – he always sleeps in the nude. Calm down, Ladies!

Whatever about his seeming extravagance at the taxpayers’ expense, Charles has  a reputation for caring about the planet. He runs his 32-year-old Aston Martin on bio-fuel made from English wine. Better than drinking the foul brew!

Jimmy Savile was a frequent visitor to Charles’s many homes. Charles sent a Christmas card saying: “Jimmy, with affectionate greetings from Charles. Give my love to your ladies in Scotland”. Princess Diana described Savile as a “sort of mentor to Charles. Prince Charles led tributes to Savile on the national treasure’s death in October 2011.

jimmysavilecharles

Savile, a former Yorkshire miner, ballroom manager, wrestler and disc jockey has been posthumously rocking the British establishment with tremors being felt in the BBC, National Health Service, the press, police, Crown Prosecution Service,  academia, charities, toffs’ clubs and the papacy. From his humble origins, Savile rose to become a knight of the realm, Papal Knight­Commander of St Gregory the Great, a member of the exclusive Athenaeum club, an advisor to Israeli governments, a confidant of popes, princes and prime ministers.

Jim, who had a TV programme called Jim’ll Fix It,  used his power-base to rape and molest children, some of them sick or disabled. It appears he used the premises of the BBC and the NHS to carry out his nefarious deeds. Prince Charles himself was entertained by Savile at his Glencoe cottage retreat, llt na Reigh, in the Scottish highlands where Savile is alleged to have abused more than 20 victims.

A previous trip by Prince Charles to Sri Lanka cost £300,000. In 2004, the Royal Family cost Britons £36.7m. Palace gardeners cost £400,000 a year.

Most of her subjects are feeling the pinch of austerity but the Queen is forever giving An Béal Bocht (the poor mouth). Documents disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act revealed that in 2004, the Queen asked ministers for a handout to help heat her palaces.  Royal aides were told that the £60m worth of energy-saving grants were aimed at families on low incomes and if the money was given to Buckingham Palace instead of housing associations or hospitals it could lead to “adverse publicity” for the Queen and the Government. The Queen is set to receive an inflation-busting 22 per cent ‘pay rise’ over two years. She is now expected to be given £37.9 million in 2014-15 to run her Household and conduct official engagements, up from £31 million in 2012-13.

prince-charles-bad-hair1

Human delusion is a serious problem in many contexts. Seeing broken Britain as a Ruritanian fairyland is not helpful. People who say that the monarchy contributes to the unique and positive character of British democracy, rarely give concrete practical examples of how the Queen make  a difference in real life. Are there examples of the Queen exerting a positive symbolic function in the way Juan Carlos did with the Spanish fascists?

Did the Queen try to stop the invasion of Iraq, which most of her subjects opposed?  All the royal family have a fetish for dressing up in military uniforms. I wonder if the royal family expressed their solidarity with the British armed forces by trying to persuade Her Majesty’s Government to give a better deal in terms of equipment, homes and pensions.

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