2017, Oct 30: TALK: Rolien Hoyng: "Logistics of the accident: e waste recycling in Hong Kong"

Lai-Tze Fan edited this page Oct 30, 2017 · 7 revisions

Rolien Hoyng - "Logistics of the accident: e-waste recycling in Hong Kong"

LF = Lai-Tze Fan


This presentation explores the logistical practices, software, and narratives that manage the mobility and transformation of e-waste in Hong Kong’s formal and informal recycling circuits. It sets out to rethink the order/disorder binary that underlies the framing of waste in connection to questions of post-disciplinary power and governance. As Hong Kong doubles as a so-called knowledge-driven “ICT Hub” and a hub for e-waste recovery activities, the city problematizes narratives of ‘e-waste dumping’ that assume singular trajectories of e-waste flowing from developed regions to developing regions, alongside the linear transition from product to waste. In practice, e-waste appears to be an ambiguous denomination and its mobility is not strictly surveilled. What is specific, though not unique, to Hong Kong is that waste regimes alternate between constraining and exploiting transience. Paradoxically, e-waste’s transient nature appears both constructed and de facto emergent in an uncontrollable fashion. The last part of the presentation will discuss some of my future plans in e-waste research and engagement in relation to the key theme of “openness” that runs through my research projects on digital infrastructure and data in Hong Kong and Istanbul.


  • "dirty smart city"

  • ICT hub of Hong Kong emphasizes it as a shiny, hyper-connected city

  • but environmental discourse describes HK as an eWaste hub, especially illegal eWaste

  • researcher states: "HK has replaced China as a pollution haven"

  • what is waste? Often thought of as a negative, that which no longer bares any value

    • byproducts that escape market valuation, externalizing cost and harm
  • powerful affectivities framed in terms of new materialism--agency of materials that are not passive, but have quite a lot of agency

    • immaterial ideas shape matter
  • Hoyng seeking to rethink binary orders in terms of waste

  • argues: definition of waste is not substantive or universal; requires rethinking reversible human/non-human relationships, and the material and discursive

  • waste as "positive material articulations"; how do systems deal with this?

    • a category of transition
    • LF: yes, waste is always on the move, waste is always becoming, but that part of the capital circuit is forgotten, invisible, afterlives are unseen parts of the larger assemblage of infrastructure
  • in this sense of transition, in movement, eWaste understood in terms of constraining and exploiting TRANSIENCE

    • HK as the intersection of heterogeneous waste regimes: eWaste presented as paradoxically both constructed and de facto emergent
  • discusses interviews with "Magical" circuits

  • HK has a reverse logistics corporation, the Lee Tong (sp?) group (serves 100+ global electronic manufacturers)

    • company says it "captures maximum value" of recycling eWaste; surplus value from "nothing value"
    • Hyong notes that "value can be discovered and created in this way"
  • "If you see it as rubbish, they will just end up in the landfill ... it is a problem of positioning. What I think is that there is no rubbish at all, it just depends on how you are going to use them."

    • to throw out or to reuse?
    • LF: but still for capital gain; the ecological harm of eWaste is no better
  • Hoyng: "recycling" as too misleading a notion: unregulated practice that is itself hazardous

  • on Caritas: "waste always returns"; "always some part of waste that cannot be recovered"

  • eWaste as surpus, as having value, versus waste as a remainder: supposed to be governed through regulatory frameworks where it can or cannot flow (developed to undeveloped countries, for instance)


    • LF: residue and excess as having value in its unwantedness; Bataille
    • LF: playing on Bataille, capitalizing excrement
  • China allows importing of eWaste; toxicity as something designated relative to the polarity of life and death thus becomes negotiable (LF: RETURN TO THIS)

  • international nomenclature of products that pass through shipping ports

    • simulacra of paperwork that loses its connection of materialities that actually go from A to B from port to port
  • ISO tracker as a suggestion of standards, but actually do not prescribe any norms, guidelines are not publicly available, yet this is supposed to be how we trust something as green

    • doesn't take into consideration the non-negotiable aspects of planetary resources
    • "lack of disciplinary oversight"
  • part of accepted risk and logistics of the accident

  • "multiple techniques of bordering" suggested in management of eWaste internationally

  • HK EPD: Environment Protection Department only took in 2.5% of eWaste, the rest appears to have "disappeared" (they don't know what happened to it)

  • Brian Massumi: proliferation of the abnormal comes out of the lack of governance; a kind of power that isn't about discipline or security, "it lives out its instability ... on the edge, riding the wavecrest" of chaos

    • idea of environmental power that allows us to understand eWaste governance in HK
  • eWaste: transformative power for manifold possibilities; characterized by just-in-time market production and modelling

  • tracking surplus and value (in a way that is much like surveillance, but more like probablistic speculation of ways to make profit)

  • consequence: emergence of massive counterfeit production and DIY culture around re-use of eWaste

  • Shenzhen as an example of ICT hub but no intellectual property (IP) production

  • HK with invisible hub that evaluates IP standards

Rethinking logistics

  • gives idea of singular optimized strategy

  • but logistics doesn't work like this: reversed logistics is about tactics, flexibility, and ride the wave of whatever's happening in the most optimal way

    • LF: Starbucks going green; Amazon's supply model
  • interactions to consider in a politics of openness in thinking of logistics

    • real/fake
    • old/new
      • LF: Ford 1920s model of re-using old motors and just putting a new shell over the car
    • functioning/broken

Q & A

  • Teju: how waste is thought about in HK, and eWaste as subset of the imagination

    • back to days before eWaste in particular, how waste is considered
    • theorization of garbage and modernity; the more waste you produce, the more modern you are
    • the more eWaste we produce--what does that signify? Larger cultural contextualization
  • A: in HK, if you're living in a house inhabited by someone else, it's second-hand, it's already garbage

    • ideas of progress and status, position of privilege in HK compared to other parts of Asia
    • thoughts about creativity: reflections on DIY and fake phones, where creativity in the West is good, but China's black market is bad creativity?
      • there can be good and bad creativity, where HK wdiscourages from being like China
  • Lisa: eWaste as interchangeable bc parts can be replaced

    • have you done interviews with school of creative labourers, turning this into an institution?
  • A: in mainland China, there are people being trained in this

    • more of a si fu system in HK (learn from your master)
    • despite theoretical language of salvaging, there is a more limited scale of operations
    • how to understand creativity in this context: it's logistical, how to bring things together
  • Anjeline: is there another binary running beneath on property and waste, the sheer irrelevance of property in governance

    • also, is your research indicating problematic hierarchy of creativity?
    • used in an everyday sense to talk about resourcefulness and to use materials in new ways
      • LF: this definition of creativity doesn't hold in new media, because the point is to forget about the material, part of a move from goods to services that is part of a just-in-time economic and infrastructural model
      • anti-transparent, all immersion and immediacy, instantaneity that is intent on not thinking before or after the stage of consumption in the capital circuit
    • is there another term besides eWaste, esp when there are labelling issues?
  • A: probably easier and more fun to work with repair people, especially as she thinks of issues of repair

    • issue of transparency versus black box: you can't open the seal or you break the warranty; so you buy again instead of risking breaking the warranty
  • my Q: creativity --> transparency of materiality --> iPhone X immersion, all screen --> open source

  • A: re: open data and Fintech, maybe Fintech is more open than open source to some people; open data feels closed to many people, this is an issue of distribution of skills

    • hierarchy of creativity of modding: who has this knowledge in the first place?
    • versus informal open source, they're in it for the money, not the ethics
    • open source isn't alive for them, they don't know about it
    • bottom-up formulation of openness
    • the politics of openness in open source; where in Hoyng's research, not aspiring to global notion of open source
    • I do think she is considering a hierarchy of openness in which there is a kind of literacy that is not widely available to everyone; not everyone knows how to code, there are different levels of open and understandings, as with the hierarchy of creativity
  • Kelvin (comment > question): layers of meaning of recycling: in HK, layer of value-adding in corporate system

    • two instances of what waste means: a man would rather put something aside instead of donating it or selling it; an NGO with donated materials to asylum seekers, including phones but not smart phones, as if asylum seekers don't deserve it
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