Books

Secondhand

Adam Minter's book reminds us that a lot of "value is created when less affluent people are given the opportunity to parse the goods of the wasteful affluent."

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In 2014, an exporter of used electronics from the U.K. to Lagos, Nigeria, was sentenced to 16 months in prison and over 142,000 British pounds in fines. His crime? Helping get used TVs and other electronics no one in the U.K. wanted to the largest secondhand electronics market in Africa, where they'd improve the lives of workers, sellers, and consumers by being repaired and resold or stripped for usable parts.

His punishment came from a cruel do-gooder stunt by Greenpeace in collaboration with Sky News, which put a tracer in a TV and abandoned it in Hampshire. When they found it in Nigeria, they knew someone had violated a law defining such devices as "hazardous waste." Their search led them to an exporter, Joe Benson, who ended up in trouble with the law over 11 shipping containers' worth of electronics he was sending into Nigeria.

"Insisting that Africa's secondhand traders adopt Europe's definition of 'waste' or risk prosecution—in Europe—is a kind of colonialism," complains Bloomberg Opinion columnist Adam Minter in Secondhand: Travels in the New Global Garage Sale. Minter's delightfully detailed book helps us appreciate how those who pick, choose, and ship First World refuse to less-developed nations make the Earth richer and more environmentally sound.

"No legislation or regulation was required to create" the process Minter describes. This interconnected world of "globalized trade in secondhand goods evolved on its own, connecting those who have stuff with those who don't. Goodwill and Greenpeace couldn't have devised a better system if they'd tried." He successfully criticizes journalism that is "blind to how much value is created when less affluent people are given the opportunity to parse the goods of the wasteful affluent."

NEXT: Brickbat: Their Past Comes Back to Haunt Them

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  1. So, Green Peace , with Sky’s help, dumped some ‘hazardous waste’ on a street , tracked it and snitched on the guy who found a perfectly good use for it. Never mine it was taken out of the waste stream. They broke the law and this man goes to jail for cleaning up after them. I bet their proud of themselves.

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  3. “‘No legislation or regulation was required to create’ the process Minter describes.”

    Well there’s your problem! You didn’t pay the squeeze. Of course they sent thugs to come break your legs. You gotta cut them in on the deal.

  4. If used TV’s are considered hazardous waste, what about nasty filthy germ-ridden used money? Used cars, used houses, used jewelry, used Rembrandts and Rodins? Do these people not realize that there are museums right in the heart of London and Paris packed full of used items containing Carbon-14 which is a fucking radioactive isotope of carbon? Get rid of it all!

  5. His punishment came from a cruel do-gooder stunt by Greenpeace in collaboration with Sky News, which put a tracer in a TV and abandoned it in Hampshire.

    Greenpeace knows whats best for those savages on the dark continent.

  6. So, what do you all think about charging manufacturers to include the cost of disposal and ensuring that they are safely recycled. While I do think this would be a good idea to allow poor people to benefit from the waste, a lot of these products are not safely disposed of, so while a few may profit, the pollution is levied on the rest of that society.

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  8. “Parse” seems an awkward word choice here. “Trade in”? “Re-use”?

    But not “parse”.

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