Saturday, January 31, 2009


Electronic junkyard: E-waste
1 Feb 2009, 0239 hrs IST, Harsimran Singh, ET Bureau
A day in the life of an e-waster

14-year old Ram Kumar wakes up at 4 a.m. in the morning. He starts his search for broken mobile phones, keyboards and CPU cabinets. By 9 a.m., his brown gunny bag is brimming with electronic junk from the stream of sewage and garbage dumps lining a nallah in Patparganj, East Delhi.

Broken mobile phones, cathode ray tubes, radiators, mangled printed circuit boards and smashed refrigerator parts - the e-waste bulges out of the gunny bag. He offloads his electronic knick-knack daily at the nearest assemblers for Rs 100 a bag. On a lucky day, a PC motherboard fetches him Rs 30. As the sun settles, on the banks of the nallah, the assemblers ship all the e-junk to Seelampur, where the e-waste recyclers reside near the slums. Scores of concrete bath tubs, filled with lead acid, line up in the area. The recyclers dump all e-waste into the acid bath overnight.

As dawn breaks, on the banks of the Yamuna, metal scrap from the circuit boards, melts away and settle at the bottom of the acid bath. As the acid loses its corrosiveness after 4 to 5 uses, the bath tubs are drained into the Yamuna. From the river, poisonous metals and chemicals find their way into the ground water, from where it reaches your drinking water supply.

About 3.3 lakh tones of e-waste was generated in 2007, which was dumped into the rivers, nallahs, landfills and sewage drains of the country. An additional 50,000 metric tonnes was illegally imported into the country. While the chemicals seep into the ground water, the e-waste (like junk refrigerator bodies, compressors from air conditioners and waste plastic used to make phones) just keep on piling up. Around residential areas, just off city limits, these dumps are growing.

Out of the 3.3 lakh MT, only 19,000 MT of the annual e-waste is recycled, every year. This is due to high refurbishing and reuse of electronics products in the country and also due to poor recycling infrastructure.

“E-waste is going to be one the major problems facing the world after climate change and poverty,” says Nokia India MD D Shivakumar. “At Nokia, we have realised this and have started a programme under which anybody can move into a Nokia priority care store and put any mobile phone in a box. We then collect all this e-waste and get it recycled via authorised recyclers,” he adds.

Globally, Nokia has collection points for recycling used mobile phones and accessories across 5000 Nokia care centres in 85 countries and engages in collection campaigns with retailers, operators, other manufacturers and local authorities around the world. Nokia’s proactive approach has made it the top electronics major in Greenpeace India’s

Annual Guide to Greener Electronics 2008. In India, Nokia has installed take-back bins in more than 600 care centres across India, with a free gift for people depositing their old mobile phones.

According to a MAIT report, e-waste from discarded computers, television sets and mobile phones is projected to grow to more than 800,000 MT by 2012 with a growth rate of 15% in the country.


Despite the growing concern over the issue, India does not have a legislation to mandate authorised recycling of e-waste. “If the situation is not controlled then we may see large land fills of junk e-waste lying in and outside cities 10 years down the line,” says Vinnie Mehta, executive director, MAIT, the industry body for electronics and hardware, who has been instrumental in bringing the issue to the government’s notice. He is pushing for a legislation for mandatory guidelines for recycling of e-waste.

India has a 27 million PC installed base, 130 million TVs and 380 million mobile phones. The active life of a mobile phone is two years, for a PC it’s three years and for TV sets and fridges its more than 10 years, as the technology is much more stable. And while mobile phone and computer parts are fairly easy to recycle, recycling junk from TVs and refrigerators is difficult. While PCs are growing at the rate of 8 million additions per annum, mobile phones are growing the rate of 100 million additions per year.

Go to any large IT company today and you will find warehouses with hundreds of old monitors, CPUs, and keyboards lying on top of each other. Companies such as Infosys and TCS which employ over 80,000 employees each and have about a lakh PCs, cannot figure out what to do with the e-junk. Laws dont permit a selloff of assets in STP units. Thus, most companies donate the PCs to foundations and NGOs and schools. From there it generally lands into the unauthorised recycling market. Many companies have an end of lifecycle use takeback policy in place, though many don’t have clear cut policies on what they do with their e-waste.

The Greenpeace Campaign

Expressing deep concern over the problem, a Greenpeace India official says that most consumer electronics companies have been slow in getting serious about climate change. Despite much green marketing, many brands including all Indian brands still show little engagement with the issue.

“Motorola, Dell, Apple, Lenovo, Samsung, and LG Electronics are notably lagging behind, with no plans to cut absolute emissions from their own operations and no support for the targets and timelines needed to avoid catastrophic climate change. Among Indian brands, Zenith and PCS Technology are yet to address this issue, whereas not much commitment is forthcoming from HCL and Wipro. These huge companies could make a big difference by doing their part to avoid a climate crisis and asking their governments to do the same,” says the Greenpeace India official.

But companies disagree with this point of view. HCL, the largest domestic IT hardware company says it is adopting policies whereby it facilitates consumers to ensure that all ‘end of life’ products manufactured by HCL will be recycled/disposed of in an environmentally safe manner.

Says George Paul, executive vice president, HCL Infosystems: “HCL extends the recycling facility to all HCL users regardless when and where they purchased the product. HCL facilitates its consumers to ensure that all ‘end of life’ products manufactured by HCL shall be recycled/disposed of in an environmentally safe manner. But as a part of exchange offer HCL donates customers’ old PCs to NGOs.”

But Greenpeace India toxics campaigner, Abhishek Pratap says that it is unfortunate that most Indian companies lack the systems to implement their policy commitment to make products that are toxin-free, easy to recycle and energy efficient.

In it’s Greener Electronics India Ranking 2008, Greenpeace has dropped Hewlett-Packard to 13th place for “failing to operationalise the principle of individual producer responsibility and for its weak voluntary take-back programme, which is mainly oriented towards business rather than individual customers”.

But HP disagrees. The company says that this year it announced the expansion of its product return and recycling programme to enterprise customers in India. HP has offered to take back end-of-life HP and non-HP computing equipment like personal computers, laptops, computer monitors, handhelds, notebooks, servers, printers, scanners and fax machines, as well as associated external components such as cables, mice and keyboards from consumers.

“Customers are integral to our commitment to the environment,” says Jean-Claude Vanderstraeten, director, environmental management, HP Asia Pacific & Japan.

“The number of PCs, servers, print cartridges and other electronics reaching the end of their usable life is growing rapidly. Plastics and metals recovered from products recycled by HP have been used in new HP products, as well as a range of other uses, including auto body parts, clothes hangers, plastic toys, fence posts, serving trays and roof tiles,” he adds. HP’s proactive approach towards product reuse and recycling helps to divert material from landfill to environmentally sound recycling. Customers can now simply follow a four step process to participate in this programme.

Meanwhile, in Greenpeace’s annual rankings Dell has dropped down from 5th place in 2005, to 12th position in 2008, albeit with the same score. The NGO says that Dell loses points for withdrawing from its commitment to eliminate all PVC plastic and brominated flame retardants (BFRs) by the end of 2009.

But the world’s second largest computer company Dell disagrees. “Dell has a global recycling policy in place that offers consumers free recycling for any Dell branded product at anytime, and even free recycling for other branded products with purchase of new Dell equipment. We also offer value-added services to businesses and institutions for recycling of excess IT equipment. We partner with product recycling vendors to manage the recycling process,” says a Dell spokesperson.

Lack of punitive laws

A study by GTZ, an international cooperation enterprise for sustainable development, reveals some significant findings about Indian businesses. “Though a lot of business organisations are aware of e-waste, but the knowledge of proper disposal is lacking. The lack of holistic knowledge about the problem is the reason for 94% of the organisations not having the relevant IT disposal policy,” the reports says.

The problem, according to sources is the lack of will on the part of ministry of environment and forests, to enforce new mandatory guidelines for electronic waste. A general guideline for disposal of normal waste already exists though no separate law exists for e-waste. The electronics companies are willing to help in the enforcement of guidelines. But their basic contention is that it will make the cost of a PC or mobile phone go up, if bought from an authorised dealer.

Unauthorised players and sellers of electronic equipment should also be made a part of the guidelines, they feel. Or they may start losing marketshare to the grey market.

Mehta says that the situation could assume alarming proportions and therefore it is high time we pay serious attention to the issue of e-waste and take corrective actions to contain this problem. “It is essential that the electronics industry encourages reuse of obsolete electronics items by suitably refurbishing them and by providing them necessary service support. Further, institutional users must mandatorily put in place a policy on e-waste management and for disposal of obsolete electronic equipment.”

The Solution

While a guideline for handling hazardous waste already exists in the country, and registration of recyclers is mandatory. No such mandatory registration exists for e-waste, which is different from a chemical or fertiliser waste as the source is not always one company. A huge complex value chain and distribution is involved in handling of an electronics item

But for all this to happen, the government has to define roles of each stakeholder including the vendors, the users, the recyclers and the regulator for environmentally friendly recycling. The informal recyclers should also be included in this model. Severe penalties on violation of these norms should be levied. Otherwise it may go the same way as the disposal of normal waste is done in the country.

The industry is ready and so are the citizens who are willing to incur a cost on recycling. But the government’s apathy is making the e-garbage stock pile up and making your air, food and water more poisonous everyday. The ball is now in the government’s court.

sri lankan story FROM SUNDAY OBSERVER

Getting rid of e-waste

E-waste is an often used term nowadays. The electronic waste generated by mobile phones, computers and other electronic products is expected to create massive environment hazards in the future.

Electronic equipment such as mobile phones and ray tubes of television and computer monitors are said to contain toxic metals and harmful organic chemicals. These include lead, cadmium, mercury and brominated and chlorinated flame-retardants which pose hazards to the environment. When used equipment is discarded into the environment in an unregulated manner, over a period of time, these harmful substances, known as e-waste, can leak to the soil, water and atmosphere and turn harmful to human beings as well as other forms of life on Earth.

If such e-waste is not disposed of in a safe and environmental friendly manner, it could lead to serious effects on the environment through contaminated water and soil. The Central Environmental Authority (CEA) is now in the process of preparing proposals for constructing an e-waste facility together with the necessary legislation to ensure safe and environmentally friendly e-waste disposal and recycling practices.

CEA officials have been directed to submit proposals to construct an e-waste recycling facility to deal with unregulated e-waste disposals.

According to a Greenpeace International report, e-waste in Asia remains largely unregulated and its impact on recycling workers, surrounding communities, water bodies and soils have not been properly studied.

The report also says the annual worldwide generation of e-waste is about 20 to 50 million tonnes. However, the amount of un-recycled e-waste Sri Lanka discards to the environment has not been determined yet.

Friday, January 30, 2009


What to do with that old IT equipment

There are many environmentally-friendly options your company can explore

Kandy Williams

* The IDC introduced an IT asset disposal provider certification program in July 2008 called GRADE.
* Only 5 companies have made the GRADE: Dell, HP, IBM, Intechra, and Redemtech.
* In addition to disposal, you can also refurbish old IT assets, or you can donate them to a charitable organization.

Sometimes a piece of IT equipment has reached the end of its lifecycle, and there is nothing to be done but to dispose of it properly. However, sometimes a piece of equipment, like a server, still has some useful life left in it, and all it needs is an update. Or sometimes you don’t have any further use for a piece of equipment, but some other organization could really use it. These are all alternatives when deciding what to do with that old IT equipment.

Asset recovery providers range in the US from the principal system vendors, including HP, IBM, Dell, and Sun, to many specialty providers, to an emerging class of regional, national, and global providers. Some of these providers include NextPhase, Intechra, TechTurn, and Redemtech.

According to InfoWorld, The ITAD (IT asset disposal) market is estimated to be around $5 billion. The IDC (Interactive Data Corporation) introduced a program in July 2008 called GRADE. The Green Recycling and Asset Disposal for the Enterprise certification program identifies ITAD providers that meet a minimum of 75 percent of a preset list of 34 ITAD-related functions and tasks, taking into account application offerings, onsite services, logistics, in-plant processing, and post treatment. Of the 25 ITAD providers that the IDC has reviewed since starting work on the certification program four years ago, only 5 made the GRADE: Dell, HP, IBM, Intechra, and Redemtech.

In addition to being GRADE certified, make sure your IT asset disposal provider also follows other regulations as well. The WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) directive seeks to reduce the disposal of electronic waste through reuse, recycling, and recovery. In order to ensure that your electronic waste is indeed getting properly recycled, be sure to look for environmentally-responsible recyclers who follow standards set forth by the Basel Action Network as part of its Computer TakeBack Campaign’s Electronics Recycler’s Pledge of True Stewardship.

Another way of handling those old IT assets is to refurbish them. Some companies will simply refresh your old IT assets to make them like new. With their Technology Refresh program, Nemonix will ship a customer’s VAX or AlphaServer to its own plant to be thoroughly inspected for failing parts and will replace them with their own brand new technology. The Refresh usually takes less than two hours and begins at prices that are a fraction of the cost of new servers. The program also places the refreshed system under a Nemonix Engineering factory warranty for one year, with the option to extend the warranty for up to a total of ten years.

Sometimes you have a good piece of IT equipment that has reached the end of its useful life for your organization, but you know that there must be an organization out there that could really use it. There are many organizations out there to help you find a home for that equipment. Check out one of the following: Another Byte, Share the Technology, World Computer Exchange, National Cristina Foundation, Computers for Youth, Literacy 4 Kids, Youth for Technology, and DonateAPC. In addition to being a good corporate citizen, companies can deduct charitable donations from their taxes.

No matter how you properly dispose of that old IT equipment, you are being green for doing so. Green IT is so much more than just buying energy-efficient IT equipment or reducing energy usage in your data center. The proper disposal of unused equipment is also a big part of that green IT strategy.


Government prepares to tackle growing ‘e-waste’ problem
The rapid development of technology in Turkey in recent years has meant not only an increase in the consumption of electronic goods, but also an ever-growing problem of electronic waste.

As of 2008 the per capita rate of electronic waste in Turkey was more than 2.5 kilograms per year; however, not even half of this waste is disposed of properly. For this reason, the Environment and Forestry Ministry is aiming to collect just 50 percent of this waste. Currently there are only three companies in Turkey that specialize in the collection and disposal of electronic waste. Experts warn that electronic goods that are haphazardly thrown into normal trash sites or by the side of the road will wind up getting mixed with soil and the water supply. These same experts note that the increased arsenic level that has damaged İzmir’s water sources is a result of electronic waste from batteries, cell phones and computers that has leaked into the water.

Electronic waste includes extremely dangerous and harmful materials such as lead, arsenic, selenium, chrome, cobalt and mercury that can threaten both human health and the environment.

When these used materials are not recycled, this leads to both damage to the environment and more rapid consumption of energy and transportation resources. For example, while it takes 1,000 units of energy to produce one unit of aluminum, it takes only for units of energy to recycle that same unit of aluminum. When the current energy crisis facing the world is considered, the importance of recycling becomes much clearer.

The management of electronic waste is accepted as one of the most rapidly growing environmental challenges for the world.

It is expected that by the middle of 2009 new regulations will go into effect to address the growing levels of electronic waste in Turkey. Currently the three companies that collect electronic waste in Turkey (two operate only in İzmir and one operates in both İzmir and İstanbul) work with a special certificate from the Ministry of Environment and Forestry.

Environmental engineer Metin Karaçam, who works at the İzmir-based Electronic Waste Recycling Company (EAG), says the current situation is worrisome for many companies.

According to Karaçam, recycling campaigns being held by electronics distributors are based more on the self-interest of these companies than on the interests of the customers.

In the European Union, regulations on electronic waste were approved in 2002 and put into effect in 2003.

According to these regulations, companies that produce electronic goods are responsible for overseeing their collection and disposal.

Current EU regulations on the issue have been translated into Turkish and adapted to Turkey in order to prevent any adaptation problems. Teams coming to Turkey from the EU in March will meet with companies that produce electronic goods as well as recycling companies. Karaçam believes this coming together of the EU and the Turkish sides on this matter will speed up the implementation of the new regulations. At this point, according to Karaçam, companies producing electronic goods are not really being pushed to take responsibility for the electronic waste produced as a result of their goods.


Thursday, January 29, 2009


from the grauniad

Cheap new LED eco-lights promise price breakthrough
Scientists have hit on the holy grail of eco-friendly lighting – low-cost LED lights for use in the home. Even compact fluorescent bulbs' days are numbered
Comments (…)
low energy lightbulb

New LED lights will beat even energy-efficient domestic lightbulbs. Photograph: Graham Turner

As one technology fades, so another starts to shine. Excuse the pun but what better way to mark the imminent demise of incandescent light bulbs than with the news that an ultra-low-power way to light up your home has been developed by scientists?

You're familiar with LEDs, of course, from scrolling dot-matrix signs, Christmas decorations to streetlamps – their intense points of light turn up everywhere, from lighting up public buildings to camera flashes. But the new LEDs are something different – they're meant for your home and could reduce lighting bills by 75%.

Colin Humphreys of Cambridge University led a team that has successfully made white LEDs from gallium nitride. This semiconductor has been around for decades but it has been expensive to produce (grown on wafers of sapphire) and the light it can produce is usually blue or green.

Humphreys has found a way to grow the gallium nitride on silicon wafers, making it 10 times cheaper. And by applying a phosphor to the LED, they can shine more useful white light. Within five years, Humphreys hopes to have commercially-produced versions of his LED in use around homes and offices.

His calculations show that, if we replaced all our lights at home and work with something like gallium nitride LEDs, the share of UK electricity used for lighting would drop from 20% to 5%, ending the need for up to eight big power stations.

"We are very close to achieving highly efficient, low-cost white LEDs that can take the place of both traditional and currently available low-energy light bulbs," says Humphreys. "That won't just be good news for the environment. It will also benefit consumers by cutting their electricity bills."

By making brilliant white LEDs so much cheaper and more easily available, the new invention, or something like it, might also one day kill off the trade in light bulbs (incandescents and the more environmentally-frendly compact fluorescents) entirely. The scientists reckon they can get 100,000 hours of light out of their LEDs so, on average, they would need replacing only every 60 years. Plus they don't contain mercury and are dimmable.

There is still work to be done in making the white light from current and future LEDs less harsh – in the same way that some people will cling to incandescent light bulbs for some time to come, citing their more-appealing light, no doubt there will be some reticence from some in moving wholeheartedly into using LEDs in their lounge or bedroom.

And other user complaint should also be addressed: modern LED lamps for home use tend to be low-powered and the light is often intensely focused in a single direction – not so useful in hallways or bedrooms where a more diffuse light might be needed.

Still, that sort of practical technological problem doesn't seem so complicated to fix. The harder part is doing what the Cambridge scientists have done – bringing down the costs of the semiconductor manufacturing that makes LEDs cheaper in the first place. Here's to a brighter future.


Fighting e-waste in Kenya

Published on

By James Ratemo

Electronic waste (e-waste) is an environmental hazard world over but the burden is overwhelming for developing countries.

A baseline survey conducted locally a year ago shows that more than 3,000 tonnes of e-waste is generated in Kenya annually. This is from breakdown of new and refurbished electronics, including computers.

Today, Governments all over the world are battling with the threat of external and internal technology dumping.

With fast changing technology, the rate at which electronics are turning obsolete is worrying. Manufacturers are faced with the danger of ‘stalled electronic stocks’ and would be tempted to dump the same in countries with porous borders or weaker e-waste legislation.

Last year, the Government introduced 25 per cent tax on all refurbished computers, a move calculated to reduce e-waste dumping.

A section of stakeholders, however, see this as a prohibitive step in serving rural areas with implications on what the tax poses on access to computers.


But is this measure enough to curb the e-waste menace? What about the need to supply learning institutions with affordable computers? Does it mean refurbished computers are a threat to our environment and is it right to waive tax on new computers and leave out refurbished computers?

What about the already generated e-waste in our soaring dumpsites?

Do not forget Kenya is soon shifting from analog to digital television, thus demand for analog TVs is plummeting with entry of digital set.

The debate around e-waste needs rethinking if at all Kenya is to make strides in the IT sector.

With the expected entry of the undersea cable, The East African Marine Systems (Teams), Kenya is geared to a blossoming IT sector meaning an increased demand for affordable computers.

Shrewd entrepreneurs had taken advantage of zero rating tax on computer imports to import low quality or obsolete electronics.

It has been a tricky art balancing between demand for cheaper computers and the possibility of opening borders for e-dumping.

Old computers being sorted for recycling. It has been a tricky art balancing between demand for cheaper computers and the possibility of opening borders for e-dumping. Photo: James Ratemo/Standard
But now Kenya and its neighbours can now say goodbye to the threat of e-waste following establishment of an e-waste recycling centre.

Computer Aid International, one of the major importers of refurbished computers to developing countries, in conjunction with Computer for Schools Kenya (CFSK) and other partners have put measures in place that can guarantee zero electronic waste in Kenya if embraced by all stakeholders.


The e-waste recycling centre is operated by the Computers for Schools Kenya and handles 500 computers monthly, way below its capacity of 2,000 computers.

CFSK Executive Director Tom Musili said all dead computer monitors are shipped out for proper disposal since Kenya lacks the relevant technology to dispose them.

"We ship unusable monitors to Norway for proper disposal. Disposal of motherboards too is beyond Kenya’s technology so we ship them to Europe for disposal. However, monitors, which can be reclaimed can be turned into TV sets and sold locally," he said.

He said plans are at an advanced stage to develop a modern e-waste recycling centre in Nairobi to handle all computer parts instead of shipping them abroad. "With the recycling plant, we will create jobs for thousands of people in the e-wastes recycling business. We are also extending our services to Uganda and Tanzania since they do not have an e-waste centre," he said.

At the recycling centre, the computers are dismantled and parts sorted and dispatched to recyclers.

"We need strong policies and practical interventions such as separation of waste at source leveraging e-waste as an opportunity for job creation," said Musili. He said CFSK has so far received 20,000 computers from local and international partners with Computer Aid International alone giving 9,000 refurbished computers.


Further, in partnership with Safaricom, CFSK is providing 80 refurbished computers to 10 schools in each province.

He said donors in USA, UK and Netherlands have promised to give the organisation at least 1,000 refurbished computers to distribute to learning institutions but the prohibitive tax regime has delayed the shipping.

"There is no way we can cheat ourselves that schools in Kenya can afford new branded computers. The refurbished computers are just as good and many schools benefiting immensely," said Musili.

"What we need is a vigilant Kenya Bureau of Standards to ensure high quality computers enter the country and a proper mechanism for e-waste recycling. A prohibitive tax regime on working, professionally tested computers is ill advised and would tamper with our ICT sector growth," decried Musili.


The 2007 baseline e-waste study conducted in Kenya estimates that about 3,000 tonnes of PCs, monitors and printers were discarded and the figure is expected to raise.

The study was conducted by the Kenya ICT Action Network (Kictanet), supported by a partnership between Hewlett Packard (HP), the Digital Solidarity Fund and the Swiss Institute for Materials Science and Technology. It is sad that these wastes and many more being generated daily could be lying in dumpsites across the country since Kenya is yet to adopt a policy of e-waste handling.

It is already a requirement of the Information 2006 policy on ICTs that discarded electronics are disposed of in an environmentally sound manner. This what the e-waste recycling centre is exactly doing. Despite more than 50 per cent of the country's PC market estimated to be made up of second-hand PCs companies, they are yet to adapt and implement a clear strategy for the disposal of old technology.

According to Ms Gladys Muhunyo, Africa Programme Manager Computer Aid International, the group has shipped more than 135,000 PCs to where they are most needed in more than 100 countries.

But the 25 per cent tax requirement by Kenya is proving difficult to deal with as the donated refurbished computers will be unnecessarily expensive.

Is Kenya a technology dumping ground?

Published on

By James Ratemo

The rising number of counterfeit mobile phones and other electronics in the country is reaching worrying levels, yet authorities are either unable or unwilling to arrest the trend.

Companies are losing billions of shillings in profits and the Government losing a fortune in taxes as unscrupulous traders ride on established brands to rip off Kenyans and threaten businesses. It is no laughing matter that Local manufacturers are losing a staggering Sh50 billion annually to influx of counterfeit products and illicit trade. Worse still, the vice has engulfed the health sector and counterfeit drugs are getting way into the country.

A story carried by The Standard’s CCI on Wednesday, the Kenya Association of Manufacturers Anti-Counterfeit and Illicit Trade Committee Chairman Polycarp Igathe said the vice denies the Government Sh35 billion annually in tax revenue. Owners of the established brands lose a lot since unscrupulous traders ride on their brand and sometimes destroy the good image the brand has earned if they sell defective products.

Counterfeits neither come with a warranty nor after-sale services. It is also hard to find right spare parts for counterfeited goods since in the first place ‘ counterfeit manufacturers’ have not provided for the same and you cannot easily trace their origin in case of a problem.


A survey by The Standard in the past several months reveals that the counterfeit business is booming and there are no signs it will stop any time soon. All kinds of phones with great brand names on their packs are openly displayed to lure unsuspecting buyers.

Sadly, the phones come with fake warranty or none at all, meaning consumers are at risk of losing their money in case the gadgets break down.

Sadly too, even if the products last, the fact that they were shipped in illegally raises questions on the safety of our borders, integrity of our port entry keepers and motive of the perpetrators. Sample this, immediately a new phone is launched in the market, traders in downtown Nairobi take a few days or weeks to have a similar phone but at a cheaper price on the shelves. In most cases these phones are of low quality and only ride on the brand name to sell. This in actual sense is theft of ‘intellectual property’ or piracy.


Another danger is that the faster these gadgets break down, the quicker they add to environmental degradation since local consumers have not embraced art of disposing e-waste.

Visit any dumpsite and you will see hordes of ‘dead’ mobile phones and other obsolete or damaged electronics. It is simply a disaster in the waiting.

The situation is even risky especially now that Kenya is gearing to shift from analogue to digital broadcasting come 2012 ahead of the global deadline of 2015.

With our borders proving to be so porous and counterfeiters so shrewd for authorities, manufacturers of analogue television sets would want to dump the products in the country to make a quick kill.

*David Muya and *Paul Maina (not their real names) are stockists of counterfeit phones in Nairobi’s Tom Mboya and Ronald Ngala Streets and they are happy about the proceeds they receive from the illicit trade.

"Most of these high cost phones I sell are genuine but were not meant for this country. That is why they don’t have warranty because the manufacturer only offers warranty if goods are sold in the intended market," argued Muya. The phones Muya is talking about are commercially termed as ‘grey’ products meaning they are genuine but in the wrong market.

"Kenya has a punitive tax regime and when the phones enter through the legal channel, the custom duty is so high meaning the cost shoots beyond what many can afford. The grey phones, however, are smuggled in from countries with friendlier tax regimes giving me chance to lower price and woo many customers," said Maina.

Lack warranty

"Since the goods lack warranty, we sell at a lower price compared to goods with one year warranty," he adds.

Even if we give warranty, it means once the product is determined to be faulty we would be forced to ship it to country of origin where the warranty is recognised for us to get a replacement or free repair," said Muya.

According to Nokia Communications Manager East and Central Africa Dorothy Ooko, the grey phenomenon occurs when genuine phones destined for a certain market end up being sold in another market.

"High taxes and duties encourage traders to go and buy these phones from another country (like Dubai and China) and then avoid paying these taxes hence sell the phones at cheaper prices," explained Ooko in an e-mail interview.

Nokia General Manager for East Africa, Gerard Brandjes terms the ‘grey’ or undeclared phones as lost to the state since country does not derive maximum revenue from the expected taxes on mobile phone imports.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

even the appalling slate wakes up

the green lantern
Green Screens
What's the most environmentally friendly television?
By Nina Shen Rastogi
Posted Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2009, at 7:00 AM ET

I'm thinking of getting a big, new flat-screen TV so that my friends and I can watch the Steelers pummel the Cardinals in this Sunday's Super Bowl. But then I read that the EU wants to ban big plasma televisions because they drain so much energy. How do I choose a TV that won't kill the planet?

First off, it's a myth that the EU is "banning" plasmas—it's working on stricter energy regulations for all TV types. But, yes, TVs are getting thirstier, and the biggest, least-efficient plasmas can potentially use as much electricity as a refrigerator—traditionally the most power-hungry appliance in your house. But those are the sets at the extreme end of the market. If you shop carefully, you can get any kind of fancy new TV you want without dramatically increasing your energy consumption.

Let's first go over some terminology. There are four basic kinds of televisions. Cathode-ray tube, or CRT, televisions are the bulky machines you grew up with. CRTs are on their way out: Most major manufacturers don't even bother making them anymore. If you're looking for an upgrade, then, your options are liquid crystal displays, plasmas, and rear-projection microdisplays. Each uses a different method to produce images, with varying aesthetic results. The term flat screen simply refers to the size and shape of the machine; flat screens can be either LCD or plasma. (Rear-projection TVs, which are generally only available in very large sizes, are flatter than old-fashioned TVs but too heavy to hang on a wall.)

On average, plasma screens use the most energy—nearly three times as much per square inch as rear-projection TVs and roughly 20 percent more than LCDs. This rule of thumb isn't foolproof, though, because screen size and resolution are also major factors. CRT screens, for example, use about as much energy per inch as plasma screens—that's why a clunky CRT computer monitor is less efficient than a sleek, similarly sized LCD model.

Ten years ago, the average American color TV used 137 kilowatt hours per year, assuming seven hours of average daily use. An energy-efficient 42-inch LCD might require roughly double that amount—this Phillips model, which received the best energy rating in its category in CNET's extensive testing, clocks in at 233 kilowatt hours per year. A gain of 100 kilowatt hours isn't worth too much hand-wringing, considering that the average American household uses about 10,000 kilowatt hours annually. On the other hand, choose the least-efficient LCD on CNET's list—this 65-inch Sharp—and you're looking at a much uglier 1,491 kilowatt hours a year, or about 1.1 metric tons of CO2 equivalent.

So where does this leave you, sports fan, standing there clueless in your local Best Buy? If your happiness truly depends on getting a massive TV—55 inches or larger—a rear-projection unit is the way to go. This 61-inch Samsung model will use a relatively dainty 437 kilowatt hours a year, assuming seven hours of daily use. Since rear-projection TVs are being pushed out of the market by plasmas and LCDs, now's the time to get one. By next year, they might be gone.

Otherwise, the Green Lantern suggests buying the smallest, lowest-resolution LCD you can live with—and keeping it for as long as possible. Because televisions last for about 10 years, the most significant environmental costs stem from electricity use on the consumer end rather than on the manufacturing end. But if you trade up at every Super Bowl, you'll quickly negate the benefits of choosing an energy-efficient model. So be realistic about your techno-lust: Don't scrimp on inches or clarity if it means you'll be back in the store in two years.

In choosing your specific TV, consult CNET's consumption ratings and look for models that meet the latest Energy Star 3.0 specifications. And when you do choose your new set, make sure you recycle the old one.

Of course, you can easily blow all that work if you get the thing home and then don't use it properly. Don't leave the set on in the background all day—that will double its electrical diet. And don't forget the energy costs associated with your components, like cable boxes and video game consoles, which many people forget to turn off when not in use. Your PlayStation 3 will guzzle about as much energy as this 46-inch LCD while you're dodging cops in Grand Theft Auto; if you leave the device on after switching the TV off, it'll continue to use the same amount. You should also keep your peripherals plugged into a single power strip, so you can turn them all off with one click—and that will have the side benefit of keeping your media center from sucking out too much standby power when its components are turned off but still plugged in.

You also need to consider the picture setting. Most high-definition televisions offer at least two options: a super-bright setting for electronics-store showrooms ("retail" or sometimes "dynamic" or "vivid") and a dimmer one for standard home use. The difference between the two can be huge—CNET found that this 50-inch Panasonic plasma used almost three times as much energy in "vivid" mode as it did in standard: 1,366 kilowatt hours a year versus 488 kilowatt hours a year. While you can't expect to get such extreme savings with every set, it's always worth adjusting this setting.

Finally, lots of recent press reports have focused on the use of nitrogen triflouride (NF3), a highly potent greenhouse gas, in the manufacture of "flat-screen TVs." (Actually, they're only used in making LCDs.) The Green Lantern agrees that NF3 deserves more monitoring, especially now that greater amounts of it have been discovered in the atmosphere than previously estimated. But according to the University of California report that prompted the coverage, even if all the NF3 produced annually escaped into the atmosphere, it would have only 0.44 percent as much impact on global warming as carbon dioxide does each year. Plus, NF3 is used in all kinds of electronics; only a fraction goes toward televisions. So at least for now, the Green Lantern doesn't think NF3 is a reason to avoid upgrading.

Is there an environmental quandary that's been keeping you up at night? Send it to, and check this space every Tuesday.
Nina Shen Rastogi is a writer and editor in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Article URL:


Old TVs cause new problems
With switch to digital, many people are ditching their old sets, and what's inside can be toxic to the environment

By Elizabeth Weise

EL CERRITO, Calif. — When the hatch popped open on Louis Cornelius' SUV, there were four TVs piled up in the back, all destined for recycling. "My wife wanted to be up to date on the electronics," he says.

Sumiko Flodin's 35-year-old TV "still works," but she bought a new 19-inch set at Best Buy and wanted to empty out her living room. "I don't like the idea of having all this stuff hanging around."

When Virginia Ritchie decided to clear out her old TVs, she loaded up the big one that didn't work anymore, "and then I found three TVs in the basement to get rid of."

For each of them, and most of the 300 or so people who came to an "electronic waste recycling event" on a chilly Saturday here, the motivation was simple: cleaning up. But for the Environmental Protection Agency and activists worried about soil, water and air pollution, it's more complicated.

Televisions carelessly disposed of can be toxic to the environment. A huge backlog of unused old ones (99.1 million, the EPA says) is sitting around in people's homes.

And later this year — either on Feb. 17 or on June 12 if Congress passes a delay — the USA will switch from analog to digital TV transmission. The number of unwanted TVs will go even higher as consumers upgrade to sets capable of receiving high-definition broadcasts.

Though a TV set is benign in the living room, it's not when it is broken up to reach the reusable materials inside. There's a lot of lead, a bit of barium, cadmium, chromium, traces of gold and even mercury in the lamps on some flat screens.

The best way to deal with them is not to throw them away at all but to keep using them, says John Cross of EPA's Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery. Buying a converter box or getting cable or satellite TV will keep a TV useful for years. But if TVs are discarded, the federal agency wants to make sure the materials in them are recycled.

The problem, according to a Government Accountability Office report last year, is that the EPA's "enforcement is lacking." That has left most of the regulatory work up to the states, only some of which license and audit recycling companies.

The GAO report found that although some electronics are handled responsibly, "a substantial quantity ends up in countries where disposal practices are unsafe to workers and dangerous to the environment." Barbara Kyle of the San Francisco-based Electronics TakeBack Coalition puts that quantity at close to 90%.

EPA environmental scientist Robert Tonetti says it's not that bad: "There are hundreds of honorable recyclers in the United States, and some scoundrels."

Under EPA rules, cathode-ray tube TVs — anything that's not flat screen — aren't supposed to be put into landfills, but households are exempt. It's also illegal to export them for recycling unless the destination country agrees and the EPA has been notified. But the GAO found that recycling companies routinely circumvent the rule.

Six states have passed laws making it illegal to throw a TV away, and another five are expected to do so in 2010, Kyle says. Eighteen states, as well as New York City, have ordered electronic recycling programs. But "not all the laws include televisions, which in the year of digital conversion is unfortunate," Kyle says.

Jacob Cherry, a third-generation recycler and CEO of Universal Waste Management, the Oakland company that organized the collection event, says he has seen "people just putting their television in a big black plastic bag so they wouldn't get caught."

At the El Cerrito event, collection coordinator Enrique Aparicio had a crew of seven lined up in the parking lot, ready to swarm over each car, truck and SUV as it passed from sign-in station to drop-off point.

At the company's warehouse in Oakland, Cherry's staff dismantles everything down to its constituent pieces for shipping to processors. Cesar Garcia, a dismantler, lines them up on a long metal table. He first uses an electric screwdriver to unfasten the plastic housing. Sometimes it takes a few whacks with a hammer to loosen the really old ones.

Next he pulls out a pair of wire snips and clips all the cords, which go into a waiting bin to be relieved of their copper later. Now comes the fun part: breaking the vacuum seal on the cathode-ray tube. "If you don't, when you drop one of these, it goes off like a bomb," Cherry says.

Garcia takes an awl and a hammer and carefully positions it in the hole left when the air was sucked out of the tube when it was made. A quick tap releases the vacuum. The back portion of the tube, called the funnel, has a thick layer of lead paint, about 5 to 7 pounds worth. It and the screen go to Mexico, where they are crushed, the lead recovered and the glass melted down for reuse in new cathode-ray tubes.

The yoke at the back is pulled out and the copper wire recovered. Then comes the "big bad guy" in the industry, the TV's circuit board. "This has some valuable materials in it, and also some that can be toxic," Cherry says. Here's where recycling can get less than green.

Recycling can be done quick and dirty to get the valuable metals. That's what happens when companies refine "the old-fashioned way," in Cherry's words.

"You throw it in a big vat of acid, and it effectively melts all of the different materials and you're left with metals and sludge." The metals are sold, the sludge is waste. "Oftentimes, when that vat of acid is spent, it's literally dumped," soaking into the ground and polluting the water table, Cherry says.

"The old-fashioned way" is frequently how workshops in developing nations recover resalable materials in TVs and computers. According to the Basel Convention, an outgrowth of the United Nations' environmental program, when old TVs and electronics are shipped to China, India and Africa, their precious and recyclable metals are recovered in ways that are environmentally hazardous, poisoning workers, the air and the land. Environmentalists and activists want Congress to make exporting such e-waste illegal.

"In a place like China, the recycling of copper wire is to douse it with kerosene and burn the vinyl off. You create a tremendously toxic fog when you do that," says Robert Houghton, president of the Columbus, Ohio, recycling company Redemtech.

EPA's Cross says it's important to understand that most markets for reused and recycled electronics are outside the USA. "Reuse markets are mainly in less-developed countries," he says. And though there are certainly "some unscrupulous recyclers and export brokers, these actually handle a small minority of materials."

Materials often end up in developing countries, where labor costs are lower, because recycling doesn't pay for itself here. Redemtech says the cost of recycling the parts of a 19-inch TV set outweighs the benefit by about $6. States with recycling laws make up some of the difference by requiring electronics producers to run recycling programs or charging electronics producers or buyers a fee to fund them.

Unified Waste Management's Cherry makes money because California pays collectors by the pound for recycled electronics. His materials go to California-certified Xstrata in San Jose, a former copper smelter that now focuses on recycling. But he notes, "We have buyers that hit us up literally daily. They're from Southeast Asia or African nations like Nigeria, and they offer better prices than we're getting."

Find this article at:

Monday, January 26, 2009


Published on January 26th, 2009
‘Back to the Future’ With New Recycling Technologies

by Brittany McNamara

In a world that’s continuously moving forward, everyone is working to create the next up-and-coming product. Beyond cars and gadgets, the race for the greatest new technology is a constant challenge in the recycling industry. Many companies, scientists, and environmental groups are working to construct better recycling processes and machines, as well as create new systems for previously non-recyclable materials.
Now On the Scene

Here’s a quick overview of what’s been hot during the past two years:

Tires: EarthFirst!, an environmental group known for its bold actions, engineered a new proprietary tire processing system in 2006. This system will produce valuable products such as steel, carbon, high energy gas and oil, as well as effectively recycle tires. The difference between the new and old method is that the tires are burned at one third of the temperature needed for pyrolysis. This satisfies very strict emissions regulations and preserves tire components. Here’s another way to look at it: from a typical 20-pound passenger tire, one gallon of oil, 30 cubic feet of combustible gas, eight pounds of carbon and two pounds of steel can be recovered. Currently, this recycling system is occurring at a plant in Mobile, Ala. and recycling roughly twelve million tires per year.
PCBs contribute to as much as 3% of all e-waste.

PCBs contribute to as much as 3% of all e-waste.

Circuit Boards: Printed circuit boards, or PCBs, contribute roughly 3 percent of all electronic waste and have been known to be difficult to recycle. In August 2008, scientists in China developed a method to reuse resins and fibers from PCBs that previously were deemed worthless. The metallic components of circuit boards, such as aluminum and copper, have traditionally been recycled; however, the nonmetallic materials are typically sent to landfills for disposal.

Waste PCBs first go through a two-step crushing process, followed by electrostatic separating, which is the sorting of solid particles by means of electric forces. The nonmetallic materials are separated out, pulverized and then mixed with resin and polystyrene. This substance is then heated and pressed into sheets of material. The material can be used to create products like fences, sewer grates and park benches. Researchers also believe it could be a substitute for wood, as it is almost as tough as reinforced concrete.

Styrofoam: Interestingly enough, it seems there’s always a way to bring everything back to nature: bacteria appear to be the answer to recycling polystyrene foam, commonly known as Styrofoam. Over 14 million metric tons of Styrofoam is produced annually, most of which previously ended up in landfills due to the lack of an efficient system for recycling it.

In 2006, scientists at the University College Dublin found a bacterium that eats polystyrene foam and turns it into a useable plastic. The foam first must be heated without the presence of oxygen and converted into styrene oil. Then, it is fed to the bacteria who convert it into PHA, a biodegradable plastic. Like most plastics, PHA is resistant to oil, heat and grease and lasts a long time. It can be used to create packaging film and plastic forks. Unlike polystyrene foam, it is able to biodegrade in water and soil.
Innovative Products

To fuel the continuation of recycling research, there must be a demand from manufacturers for recycled materials:

Cell Phones: In terms of products created from recycled materials, Motorola recently unveiled a cell phone made from recycled materials. Claiming to be the world’s first-carbon neutral phone, the new product is composed of recycled water bottles. Along with using recycled materials to make the phone, Motorola promised to offset its carbon emissions from the phone’s production by investing in reforestation and renewable resources.
Greensulate (TM) composite is grown, requiring very little additional energy. -

Greensulate (TM) composite is grown, requiring very little additional energy. -

Insulation: Ecovative Design is also working on a new product created from recycled materials. Watch out pink fiberglass insulation, Greensulate is on the way! Made from rice hulls, mushroom fibers and recycled paper, Greensulate is a building material that can repel water, prevent fire and is resistant to temperature change in accordance with the American Society for Testing and Materials International standards. Over the next year or so, Ecovative will be testing the product to see if it is mold resistant even when exposed to water.

The product, despite being sustainable, also has many economic positives since recycled paper is easily accessible and the mushrooms used are grown by the two inventors. Gavin McIntyre, an inventor of Greensulate, told Scientific American, “The rice hulls are agricultural garbage. They sell them for about five dollars a ton.” He also spoke to them about the promise of the product, stating “our product isn’t tied to gas prices, because there’s no petroleum in it. Our current material projections are equal or below the existing cost of board insulations.” The company is hoping that by 2010, Greensulate will join the array of sustainable building products.
What’s Next?

Earth911 directly contacted Waste Management (WM) and Electronic Recyclers International (ERI) to find out what the companies are currently working on and what they think will come of the future.
WM plans to spend about $400 million over the next 5 years to build facilities at 60 landfills to convert methane gas to electricity. -

WM plans to spend about $400 million over the next 5 years to build facilities at 60 landfills to convert methane gas to electricity. -

Waste Management: Lynn Brown, corporate communications vice president, explained that WM is currently working on increasing their volume of recyclables through further implementation of single stream recycling. Brown says that the company is “introducing new things that can be recycled, such as a recycling program for compact florescent bulbs, batteries, and more construction and demolition debris.” They are also working to increase the number of e-waste collection sites to be within five miles of 90 percent of the U.S. population.

Brown believes that in the future, “technology will continue to become perfected; processes have been tweaked so contamination in the recycling processes is no longer a problem like it had been. Waste Management is beginning to look at technologies that haven’t been [previously] economical or scalable, like plasma gasification.”

The future of recycling also might dictate our natural habitats: so far, WM has transformed 21,000 acres of land set aside for landfills into wildlife habitat, and they are working on technologies that can turn landfill gas into fuel.

Electronic Recyclers International: ERI recently revealed their new e-waste shredder. John Shegerian, president and CEO of ERI, told Earth911 that the company is “the Google of the green revolution.” Due to the developments ERI has made, including the shredder, the company has moved ahead of the competition in the recycling industry. Shegerian explains that the company has been “traveling all over the world and became involved with all sorts of interesting projects that are helping to come up with solutions to electronic waste.”

Shegerian also noted that the future of ERI currently consists of “putting in more technology like [the shredder] around the country and throughout the world.” As far as the advancement of recycling goes, he believes the process of developing new technologies will move rather quickly now - it’s just a matter of scaling processes to the level needed.

It is clear that newer, bigger and better technologies are bound to come from the recycling industry. Whether it be recycling processes or products made from recyclables, there is plenty of room for advancement in the industry. The movement for recycling has only just begun.


Obama and the environment: new policies could produce more electronics regulation, opportunity
By Tam Harbert, Contributing Editor -- 1/26/2009
Electronic Business

Barack Obama has made the environment a priority in his administration. And the electronics industry will likely feel the impact as the new president of the United States changes federal environmental policies.

Exactly where, when, and how such changes will affect electronics is anybody’s guess. But industry watchers interviewed by Electronic Business see the possibility of more federal regulation as well as market opportunities created by new spending programs.

Electronic waste

During his campaign, Obama expressed support for federal laws regulating electronic-waste (e-waste) disposal and reducing the use of toxic chemicals in manufacturing products. “We can also challenge manufacturers of computers, printers and other electronic equipment to more effectively take back these products when they are discarded so that their components can be reused rather than shipped to landfills,” he told Discover Magazine in September 2008.

Interest groups have grabbed hold of this public statement as evidence that Obama will push for new federal e-waste regulation. The most likely scenario is a federal law banning e-waste exports. The problem of shady recyclers shipping old computers and electronics to places like China and India, where they are disassembled by poor people who are then exposed to hazardous materials, drew increased public scrutiny late last year. In September the US General Accountability Office published a report critical of the electronics recycling industry and the US Environmental Protection Agency’s handling of the matter. Non-binding resolutions banning e-waste exports were introduced in both the House and the Senate. In November, the TV news program "60 Minutes" ran an expose on recyclers that were shipping e-waste to China.

Federal e-waste export legislation is the top priority of the Electronics TakeBack Coalition, which is made up of environmental activist organizations, said Barbara Kyle, national coordinator. “You could argue that as the states are doing good work in mandating recycling, if we are not dealing with reality that a lot of recycling gets exported, then we are inadvertently adding to the problem,” she said.

Indeed, in the absence of a federal law, 18 states have passed their own laws requiring electronics recycling. Ten of the laws have already taken effect, according to Jason Linnell, executive director of the National Center for Electronics Recycling. While most of them make manufacturers responsible for taking back their products at end of life and making sure they are responsibly recycled, each law is a little different. This patchwork of state regulation is burdensome and expensive for manufacturers, who would prefer to have a federal law that deals with both electronics recycling and e-waste exportation, said Parker Brugge, VP of environmental affairs and industry sustainability for the Consumer Electronics Association.

“We’ll see the fed give the EPA more power to restrict and control substances and their applications. Industry is already gearing up for that battle.”
But it may be too late for a federal law. With so many state regulations, it would be difficult to design a federal regulation that would not conflict with what’s already in place, added Ken Manchen, corporate director of safety, health, and environmental affairs for the Americas at electronics distributor Newark. In addition, a lack of industry consensus on the issue continues to be a major barrier to the passage of any comprehensive national law regulating recycling, according to Rick Goss, VP of environment and sustainability at theInformation Technology Industry Council (ITI).

Brugge maintained, however, that the various industry factions are coming closer to agreement. “Having 18 states plus New York City [with electronics recycling laws] is going to drive the various stakeholders to some sort of a compromise,” he predicts.

Chemical controls

Related to and yet separate from the e-waste issue is how to deal with toxic materials that are designed into electronics. Mike Kirschner, president and managing partner of Design Chain Associates LLC, thinks the Obama Administration will try to revamp the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to make it more restrictive. Pressure to reform the 32-year-old law has been building in large part because of the European Union’s implementation of the REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals) directive, he said. “We’ll see the fed give the EPA more power to restrict and control substances and their applications,” he predicted. “Industry is already gearing up for that battle.”

Some states are already attempting to regulate chemicals. Last fall, California passed laws requiring the state to identify “chemicals of concern” and create a clearinghouse for information on the effects of chemicals.

Energy efficiency and innovation

Some of Obama’s environmental policies may have a positive impact on the electronics industry, experts believe. Most of them focus on climate change and are intertwined with energy policy, noted Daryl Hatano, VP of public policy at the Semiconductor Industry Association. The ubiquity of semiconductors in many of the technologies that Obama is promoting as part of his energy policy spells opportunity for SIA members, he said. “We think that semiconductors can revolutionize the generation, distribution, and consumption of energy, and can transform the economy in the energy area the same way we transformed the economy through the Internet,” Hatano said.

One area where that could play out sooner rather than later is in developing a smart grid. During the campaign, Obama proposed a federal smart grid investment program, and the recent economic stimulus package proposed by the House of Representatives specifically calls for $11 billion in R&D, pilot project and federal matching funds for such a program to modernize the electricity grid.

The stimulus plan also proposes spending tens of billions of dollars on upgrading the energy efficiency of buildings, part of which presumably will require sophisticated control systems run by semiconductors. And Obama’s proposal to put 1 million plug-in hybrid cars on the road by 2015 could be a boon for the chip business. “The semiconductor content in a car will go up dramatically when the car becomes electric,” said Hatano.

On the other hand, the emphasis on energy efficiency also could produce regulations that limit electricity consumption of electronics products.

Some states are leaning in that direction, said CEA's Brugge. In fact, the California Energy Commission recently proposed a regulation that would limit energy use of TVs, he noted. CEA favors voluntary standards, such as Energy Star, rather than government mandates on power limits, which could stifle innovation, he said. “We'll definitely make a point to educate the incoming administration on how that could impact our industry and consumers.”


New interview with me touching on some issues for this blog--you can find the html version at

Aurora, Issue 2008

Trends and Issues in Cultural Studies

Interview by Gloria Filax, Lorelei Hanson, Patricia Hughes-Fuller

Photo: Toby Miller (

Toby Miller is currently Professor in the Departments of English, Sociology, and Women’s Studies and Director of the University’s Program in Film and Visual Culture. His research includes studies of the media, sport, labour, gender, race, citizenship, politics, and cultural policy via political economy, textual analysis, archival research, and ethnography. After working in broadcasting, banking, and civil service, Toby Miller became an academic in the late 1980s, when cultural studies started to boom. Toby Miller was able to parlay a combination of work experience, theoretical interests, and political commitments into a new career. He has taught media and cultural studies across the humanities and social sciences at the following schools: University of New South Wales, Griffith University, Murdoch University, and NYU. Miller’s work at UCR across three departments and a program is with the intention of sustaining and developing a dynamic interdisciplinary research environment in media and culture. Please see links to Toby Miller’s journal affliations, website information and a partial list of publications at the end of this interview.

Aurora: First of all we would like to ask you to talk to us about your background and where you come from intellectually and geographically, workwise.

Toby Miller: Sure. I studied history and political science in college. I went to college in Australia, having grown up in Britain, India, and the US, and quite a bit in Australia, to the extent that it could be said I grew up. I then decided in the early 1980s that I would do a doctorate in political science looking at the political culture of Cameroon and Kenya. But I dropped out and everything went to hell in a hand basket. At this time I did lots of different things for many years. I worked in the media as a radio announcer, what in those days was called a JAFA, which is an acronym for just another fucking announcer. It didn't make any of us who were JAFAs feel particularly good about ourselves. In any event, the CBC probably had a similar designation, if perhaps more polite. Then I worked in politics. I worked as a speech-writer and I worked for the government in Australia in the mid to late 80s (through all of this I knew nothing of cultural studies and little about media studies. Neither area of study was around when I was studying at the Australian National University).

Aurora: How then did you enter into the intellectual world of cultural studies?

Toby Miller: I left the eastern seaboard of Australia and moved over to the west coast. This is where I really discovered cultural studies. Initially I went to the west coast because I thought I would do a Master’s degree in public policy. I dropped out of the public policy degree very quickly because I encountered cultural studies. Cultural studies gave me something I had been looking for throughout the previous ten years of my life. I had been looking for some sort of political and intellectual compass where I could reconcile various things that were strolling around in my mind, things that I found complex. One was the relationship of feminism to pleasure and the other was the relationship of Marxism to pleasure. I discovered that some people who consider themselves feminists and leftists enjoyed and derived pleasure from things I thought I shouldn't enjoy and derive pleasure from. And I found that the sense I had of terrains of struggle over the pleasures of the popular echoed in the intellectual terrain of others. This made a great deal of sense to me and I got very invested. At the same time, I retained an investment in questions of policy, because I had worked in government, and in political economy, because one of the jobs I had was working as an accountant at a merchant bank. From this work I had quite a lot of first-hand experience of the political/economic power of such institutions.

Aurora: You met a critical mass of scholars who were grappling with similar ideas?

Toby Miller: Yes, I met an extraordinary bunch of people who, although they were in Perth—often regarded as the most isolated capital city in the world—were very cosmopolitan, perhaps because of the physical isolation of the city. They had studied and worked all over the world. They spoke many languages. They were in three or four different universities, people in comparative literature, in communication studies, such as Lesley Stern, John Frow, Noel King, Tom O’Regan, Horst Ruthrof; a bunch of extremely inspirational people who taught me a great deal.

Aurora: At Perth you found an intellectual community and home?

Toby Miller: Basically yes, I decided that I really quite liked this academic world. I took a series of one-year jobs or two-year jobs around the country in Australia and other powerhouses of cultural studies and learned a lot. As well, by the time I was in my early 30s, people in the media told me that I was no longer young enough or good-looking enough to return to a job in that sector. I decided that I better do a PhD. So I finally got a PhD and a couple of years after that, for both personal and professional reasons, a chance came to move to New York, so I left Australia.

Aurora: Tell us about your work in New York.

Toby Miller: I went and worked originally in the Department of Cinema Studies at New York University. I stayed there throughout my years at NYU. I also branched out and I joined the program in American studies and also the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies. One of the things that happened while I was in New York was that I was greatly influenced by many of the ideas about cultural studies that were emerging in and around Latin America. I got to know a lot of the activists and scholars there. I was also influenced by a number of people in New York.

Aurora: After New York you moved to the west coast of the United States, to California.

Toby Miller: Yes, I moved out to California three and a half years ago and now I am chair of a new department called Media & Cultural Studies at the University of California, Riverside.

Aurora: Would you share with us some scholars residing in the USA who have been important influences?

Toby Miller: Very quickly, in terms of some of the writing and some of the names one might use that inspire me - apart from the usual suspects of Cultural Studies, some people on the list who have been very important to me would be Néstor García Canclini, Jose Martín-Barbero, George Yúdice, and Seyla Benhabib. Of these people, I don't know Benhabib, and have only met Martín-Barbero briefly, but I know their work very well and have translated one of Martin Barbero’s essays. There is also Bruno Latour. As far as the standard sorts of writers that I reference, I think they have all been very important. Foucault and Marx have been significant tutors to me throughout my journey. Most of these people were names I had never heard of until many years after I had finished college.

Aurora: We would like you to discuss what you see as important, emerging trends and new directions in the general field of cultural studies.

Toby Miller: Great question. I think in the last decade, perhaps a little longer, queer theory ( has been an extremely important component of cultural studies and will continue to be for the foreseeable future alongside post-colonial theories ( that I think are quite crucial. There are a couple of others that I think ebb and flow, but will, I suspect, become more significant. One is the influence of the so-called ‘creative industries’ ( and how to theorize them, the way in which in many countries (the US is probably behind anywhere else that I know of in this regard) humanities faculties are becoming transformed by the logic of creative industries. The debate about what constitutes creativity, how the ‘creative industries’ relate to the culture industries, what government policy should be, I think will continue to be extremely important and eventually will even change the humanities in the US. I think environmental questions are of increasing importance. As well, there is obviously the crucial question of media coverage of the environment and the lived experience of the environment.

Aurora: Will you say a little more about cultural studies and environmental questions because we see the environment as an absolutely pressing condition or set of conditions?

Toby Miller: There is something that hasn't been discussed much which I think is terrifically important. I see a huge amount of young energy going into the media industries as polluters. The polluting influence of computers, of televisions, of cell phones and so on. Further, there is the issue of the exploitative gendered relations of both the manufacture and the post-consumption disposal of those items, whether it is 17 year-old young women who are putting together these widgets in southern China, or 6 to 8 year-old young girls who are pulling them apart.

Aurora: Are there any other trends you would add?

Toby Miller: I also think that one of the key factors for cultural studies is going to be what happens about the relationship to gender issues; obviously queer theory is very important here. The fact is that the last women's studies department has just closed in Britain; and these departments, where they still do exist, are under attack. The argument being made is that there are very few majors in woman's studies and instead, people are studying gender, which is now part of so many other disciplines. I think there will continue to be a core set of issues that come up in and around those key elements of subjectivity that include gender, race, class, sexuality, disability, age, and so on. I think the study of gender will continue because it is probably one of the core elements of the foundation of cultural studies or at least the popularization and success of cultural studies. I think we in women’s or gender studies, will always need special - I don't want to say protection, but I just did - care and conservation because of the kinds of continuing threats to the study of gendered relations.

Aurora: What do you consider to be critical issues, aside from ‘special care’ to women’s and gender studies, for practitioners, academics, and activists involved in the doing of cultural studies? Do you see changing roles, for example, or a more clear articulation of theory and practice?

Toby Miller: I think there needs to be (and to a certain extent, there always has been) some kind of pragmatic blend of cultural studies scholars and activists learning from the parent disciplines and other antecedents, learning from the past and doing that through the most obvious means available, which is scholarly materials. Also critical is drawing an agenda not only from the parthenogenesis of a discipline, but also drawing an agenda, ideas, and personnel from social movements. I think this blend of parent discipline with Cultural Studies along with scholars and activists will always be important.

Aurora: How do you see this blend within ‘creative industries’?

Toby Miller: In terms of the creative industries area, this is obviously where lots of people who have degrees in cultural or medial studies have gone on to work, whether it is advertising agencies, or what used to be arts-and-crafts local-government policy wonks, or people working for a Canada Council, whatever it may be. That is an area where there has always been a lot of intersection and I support that through all my concerns about the creative industry discourse. When it comes to environmental issues, I think there is a lot to be gained. I think it is terrifically important to be working with activists.

Aurora: What about the blend with the academic study of environmental studies with activists?

Toby Miller: Many cultural and non-cultural studies scholars are people who know a lot about, for example, the way the popular media figure in environmental problems, and have already brought the discussion to the academic table. I was very pleased at the annual convention of the Media, Communications and Cultural Studies Association in Britain in January of this year.

I was on a panel with the noted environmental critic George Monbiot . The audience was spellbound by what he had to say about the importance of these topics. I think Monbiot found that media and cultural studies folks gave a lot back to him. This is quite unlike the so-called science wars of the 90's, when there was a great deal of antipathy, and certainly strained relations, between science and environmental types and cultural studies. Now I think there is, first, a renewed faith in rationality after the experience of the Bush years and their geopolitical disasters. Second, there is lots in science, particularly to do with the environment, that is tremendously important. Cultural studies can gain from science, and may be there are things that we can offer because of our commitment to a progressive politics articulated to grassroots experience.

Aurora: Thanks Toby. We have a second set of questions we are hoping you will elaborate on.

The idea that individual consciousness is internally divided, that is self-estranged, has existed in one incarnation or another for a long time. We are referring to your book The Well-Tempered Self. Here we are thinking of Durkheimian anomie, Marxist alienation, existential angst, even R.D. Laing's "Divided Self". What, if any, commonality does your notion of a split subject share with these predecessors?

Toby Miller: Good question. I probably differ from the humanistic side to Marxism or the notions of a psychic subject, collective or otherwise, that might underpin Durkheim or R.D. Laing. I am probably going back to Hegel and the idea of a subject who is split in the separation of language from referentiality. You see the same thing in Schiller or in Goethe, as a consequence of the division of labor, in the case of Hegel, or as a consequence of the inevitable separation between language and reference, in the case of language theorists. There was an originary mythology in Hegel of an ethical incompleteness rent asunder by two forces. First, ethical completeness is rent by the force of the division of labor, and second, by the force of the separation of language from referentiality. I am interested in historicizing this split in the self, the subject, what I take up as ethical incompleteness, rather than assuming that it is an accurate description of a state of affairs. I am questioning the idea that labor divides the subject, or is it that loss of religion divides the subject as a consequence of industrialization, or that the brutality of modern living divides the subject. These are all ideas that you might ascribe to Marx, Durkheim, or Laing – all of these theorists assume there was this unified entity, a unified human subject.

Aurora: Thus you call into question the idea of a split human subject who is divided by the effects of a grand narrative.

Toby Miller: Yes, I would go down a Foucauldian path in terms of what I mean by split subject, and be interested in the idea that the human being is not the basic unit for the individual. The individual is the creation of a number of different combinations of language games, life experiences, forms of parenting, forms of schooling, and so forth. It is these things that on the one hand talk about and try to forge again and again a united subject, but on the other, divide that subject simultaneously in terms of all kinds of issues, whether it is knowledge about diet, knowledge about growth, knowledge about exercise, knowledge about knowledge itself, divisions of labor, the experience of gender, race and so on. All forms of knowledge go into creating the individual as a node and knowing entity, both divided and seeking to unify simultaneously.

Aurora: We are going to ask a question about a term that you use these days. We kind of thought we needed this question in the event the term did not come earlier in the conversation. We are very keen about knowing about the term ‘precariat’. It looks as if the word ‘precariat’ is a combination of precarious and proletariat. What is its genesis? Just quoting from your work the precariat is about "embodying a new identity formed from young female mobile international workers within the culture industry services and the knowledge sector who are struggling for security against the impact of neo-liberalism". The female's mobility sounds almost sexy and this is a personal, subjective response, but we are having difficulty relating it to, for example, call center workers who don't seem to us to be terribly mobile although they are quite often young and female. So, please just a bit of background on the precariat as we think this is something of interest to Aurora readers.

Toby Miller: This is a term that comes, again, from grassroots social movements. I didn't in any sense coin it. Precariat social movements are quite powerful in Western/Northern Europe and also Japan. From what I can tell, they haven't formed in the same way in Canada or the United States, for example. The notion is that supposedly good jobs have been generated by the shift to post-industrialism by the culturization of the work force. This is, you know, the end of manufacturing, the end of agriculture, superseded by opportunities to work in museums, call centers, television, movies, electronic games or whatever it might be. Many of these jobs that are celebrated because they are meant to be expressions of the ultimate re-trainability of the work force, the desire for fulfillment, for excitement, and for diversity, have actually led to a proliferation of part-time or sessional/contract work that isn't very pleasurable. When it is pleasurable, the job very quickly gets subjected to the discipline of Taylorism or scientific management. So these folks have started to protest their experience, hence this term the precariat that has equivalents in Japanese, French, Italian, German, and Spanish.

Aurora: The precariat sounds like an important and wide spread global workers’ movement.

Toby Miller: Yes and highly organized. The precariat celebrates the patron saint in Spanish, called San Precario, who is meant to look after the people and guide them. San Precario goes to work each May Day and this is taken up by the whole Euro May Day network of the precariat. There are some intellectual figures that stimulate this social movement, and probably the most important would be Antonio Negri. Negri's latest book is a long set of interviews, I think called "Goodbye, Mr. Socialism" (in all the languages where it appears, the title actually given in English). Negri talks a lot about the experience of what's becoming known as the precariat, as he understands it. The precariat social movement derives a lot of ideas from Michael Hardt and the Hardt and Negri collaborations.

Aurora: What is the future of the precariat?

Toby Miller: It is hard to know what future the precariat has as a movement, but its participants have made some very stimulating contributions. They tend to be talking, not so much about people who don't have a great deal of cultural capital who tend to be the ones, say in call centers, and more about people who come from fairly privileged middle class backgrounds. These are people whose parents perhaps went to college and who themselves have gone to college. But now they find themselves buying a bill of goods in terms of flexibility and so on that leaves them proletarianized by contrast with what their expectations were coming from their families of origin. A lot of these people are in service-sector jobs, which has been an area traditionally dominated numerically by women. Now there are more and more men coming into that sector. What has been called the emotional labor expectations of those areas, sometimes referred to as the smiling professions, is now being applied to expectations of men who are taking up these jobs. They tend to be positions where, assuming you don't have a public system, there is little provision for health care. There are no basic protections that come with unionism. There is this notion of an ultimately flexible post-Fordism that characterizes the live of these folks. I think that is what I was endeavoring to refer to when I use the word precariat. It is very much a live social movement that breeds its own intellectuals and generates its own language and debates. I am really just trying to report on it and encourage people to think about it – people who are in other places and have secure jobs.

Aurora: Toby, we are going to pick up on the idea of an emerging trend, a new direction in cultural studies, and think about environmental issues in relation to the academy. We have some specific things for example the heavy ecological footprint of academics right now. Questions arise about our use of technologies that are polluting – computers and computer software - and why we are still flying to conferences, many of which are far away? What does this mean in terms of the current environmental crisis?

Toby Miller: Yes, it is a very good point. One of the interesting things that George Monbiot said in his keynote at the conference was, having asked how many people had flown there, is that he won't fly anywhere under any circumstances because of these issues. Obviously, it is a very good idea for all of us to work out what our carbon footprint is. There are some good carbon footprint calculating bits of software out there that one can use in order to try to establish this. Clearly, there are real problems with getting around. That said, there are also important forms of cosmopolitanism that are enabled by travel and that are not going to stop. For instance, family networks of migration are sustained and developed in part, but not entirely, through jet travel, because where jet travel thirty years ago was the providence of the wealthy, it isn't anymore. So lots of very poor people use it. In order to get around, if you are somebody who has family defined very broadly, loved ones, intellectual connections, political articulations that exist elsewhere, then it is much harder to do this than if you live in Western Europe where you don't need to fly to get to lots of places reasonably quickly. If you live in a place like Canada or Australia or China, it is a little bit different. I think that there are some elements of scale here that one needs to consider.

Aurora: Will you elaborate?

Toby Miller: I have a daughter who lives in different parts of the world and I am quite committed to have an opportunity to see her. I have an aging parent who lives in another part of the world and I am quite committed to want to see him. At the level of conferences, I don't have a great many people who live where I live or work where I work who know what I do and are terribly interested in it. They are very polite and very nice, but they are not very engaged. For example, I have to say both times when I encountered you, Gloria, both when I think we first probably met maybe briefly in Edmonton and then again in Calgary and then when we went to Banff, I just had a sense of intellectual community on those occasions that I don't always have where I am. I think some of that can be both achieved and sustained through interaction without flying, but it is not super easy in many cases. I am ambivalent about it. I feel somewhat guilty about it. I also think that this is not just a matter of a bunch of cosmopolitan leftists pretending that they have an organic connection to workers while flying around the earth having fun. I can see the critiques of that, but it is also about people from all kinds of social classes and backgrounds who are part of diasporas, whether they are political or intellectual or familial. I have lived much of my life in places that have not been big migrant entities and have lived in others that have been. I was born in Leicester in the Midlands which, when I was a child, was an extremely white and Anglican city. It is now one of the most multicultural cities in Europe. It has a massive Islamic meeting place in the very street where I lived as a child. It has one of the biggest and most exclusive Islamic girls schools in Europe. It is 25% folks of colour. Its politics are run by South Asians. Leicester small businesses are run by South Asians. They want to travel and so do I. I think one has to be very careful about this and measure and include that carbon calculation in terms of one's impact.

Aurora: We think these are really tough issues and as distance-education academics we struggle with the whole business of ethical traveling. We try to not privilege face to face, but there is something very dynamic that happens face to face that doesn't necessarily happen across a teleconference phone call for example. Like you we are ambivalent about the present but as well a future in which we will not be able to travel as easily and the implications of this for academic work with others who we share common interest with. And the ease of travel has really liberated so many people in various ways.

Toby Miller: I work 100 km from where I live. I haven't owned a car for 15 years. Now I have a car. When I am not going to work, I barely, if ever, use the car. I ride my bicycle everywhere, and as I am sure you are all aware, Los Angeles is flat so you can ride; but it is a car haven. Public transportation is not great. I am hanging out for the day, which is not far off, when there will be a light rail line that will go from not too far from where I live into Union Station in the center of LA (where a lot of great Hollywood films have been shot) and then I will be able to get the train out to Riverside where I have my work. After my time in New York where I walked to work in 30 seconds literally, I can say to myself, "Well, I didn't own a car, I barely drove a car, for 15 years". As with a lot of things we talk about in cultural studies, many of us are engaged because of deeply personal commitments, so it can often begin with the personal and then it always comes back there, doesn't it? With the environmental stuff, I think that is especially true.

Aurora: It is also interesting to think about differing implications and impact on certain areas of the world. For example, Hawaii is really concerned about the rising price of gas because it will affect the costs for getting there. Hawaii has an entire economy that is so dependent upon the existence of cheap travel. What does it mean for a place like Hawaii?

Toby Miller: Absolutely, because when Hawaii became a state fifty years ago, it already had a strong military economy. The military economy had tourism buttressing it. The military economy took off over the next thirty years at the same time commercial air travel was getting cheaper. In the last fifteen years, the military economy of Hawaii has been undercut with the end of the Cold War. It may come back again, but it is not nearly as powerful as it was and so a lot of Cold War funding has been taken away. Tourism really is the major game. Agriculture suffers the same plight as the military. There are few plantations left, leaving the Hawaiian economy reliant on tourism.

Aurora: We are going to shift gears a little bit. We have a great deal of sympathy for your position that we need to break down the binary oppositions between structure versus agency and political economy approaches versus uses and gratifications, and pessimism versus optimism. Yet, the two sides of these artificial dichotomies are, to paraphrase Adorno, two halves of a single whole. How practically speaking might you see this happening and how would you assuage the doubts of those who question whether this would be desirable? This seems to be quite a polemicized debate.

Toby Miller: In terms of the difficulty of breaking these things down, some of this is about disciplinary formations and training. Some is to do with the strength of particular professional associations and how they function. In the case of the USA, there are these gigantic professional associations, safe houses that separate out forms of knowledge in very powerful ways. It has been interesting to see that the Society for Cinema Studies has changed its name to the Society of Cinema and Media Studies, whereas ten to fifteen years ago when there were attempts to incorporate television into what the Society of Cinema Studies did, the attempts were feverishly and fearsomely beaten back by film studies academics who wanted no part of this. Now, they see things very differently. When it comes to the idea that there is an absolute dichotomy between political-economic and active-audience work, I think if you go back and look at what people like Armand Mattelart and Michèle Mattelart were saying, these are people associated with the political-economy tradition back in the late 70s and early 80s, they knew that audiences made meanings. So did Adorno for that matter. It is really a bunch of somewhat inaccurate interpretations by some who have claimed that theorists like Adorno and others were opposed to this kind of work. I think there is a lot of hope at that level and I see much of the great cultural studies work done here in the US involving people who really do just break down those boundaries and in other countries, even more so, although I gathered from my time in Canada, that there are some ways in which political-economy people have been negative towards cultural studies. Certainly, that has been true in the past in the US, but I think it is really changing.

Aurora: What about elsewhere? For example, you work extensively with folks in Latin America.

Toby Miller: In Latin America, people have always really combined these modes of address, these modes of engagement. I just see people who do ethnographic work on audiences who also do work on ownership and control. The idea that they would simply do one or the other is unheard of. You only encounter these splits when you go to English-speaking countries.

Aurora: What about countries in, for example, Asia?

Toby Miller: Obviously, in some part of Asia where a lot of positivistic USA social science has been extremely influential, you do get some of this fetishization going on. But again there are people, say in the strongholds of cultural and communication studies in Hong Kong, who basically do all these things together. They are interested in how things are made and who makes them. They are interested in what these things say and they are interested in how they are received and understood. Certainly, when I was talking to the people at MECCSA in January, an association in Britain, they felt those battles were in the past. I talked to the Australian and New Zealand Communication Association annual meeting in July of last year. They felt as though these things are in the past. I think there is still a polemic to be made, but I think it is probably one that is with the times rather than against them—understanding, however, that there continue to be highly regimented and formed departments of communication studies that draw very strict lines of division. These departments will probably not change in the near future. There are people within departments of literature who feel comfortable with textual analysis but are not very comfortable with the suggestion that they go out and find out who owns the book companies they are writing about, and not very comfortable with being told that they should go out and ask readers what they think. At the same time, there will be people doing effect studies who will not be very comfortable with the idea that it might be important to know who owns the material and makes the material that is being consumed. Or that it might be important to know what the material itself actually says. Similarly, there will be people who simply say textual analysis is too subjective and draws on too small a sample; and there will be people who say content analysis is crude and it doesn't allow for questions of difference and all sorts of other dynamics. Those struggles will continue, but I really think that there is a shift underway whereby many scholars know that the debating positions of the 80s and 90s need to be transcended. I think the last place to work that out, so far, is USA communication studies.

Aurora: We would like to go back to the importance of queer theory. It seems that even though queer theory has a very important home and place within cultural studies and that sexuality is important to any study of social relations, nonetheless sexuality, especially queer sexuality, still causes alarm amongst people, including academics, who haven't really wanted to think about the implications.

Toby Miller: I think that is absolutely right. Sexuality is performed rather than being simply there. It is the object of struggle, not just at the moment of definition or in the process of maturation, but literally throughout life. If you take the further provocation, which I think derives really from those insights into the locked centric interdependence of apparent opposites, the idea that antonyms are also synonyms, or at least they are overlapping.

Aurora: Yet people still see sexuality as fixed across life and that hetero-sexuality and homo-sexuality are oppositional.

Toby Miller: There are palimpsest elements to things that appear to be opposed, straight/gay, male/female, and so on. Those things might seem almost banal and obvious to those of us who are in the group, but to others, they are absolutely horrifying because it is part of one's own subjectively, one's personality, that I am of this rather than of that. But lots of women will accept ideas about femininity as a quasi-masquerade or that it is learned. Not all women, but lots of people will talk about the need to, when growing, work out how to be a girl and what that means in multifarious ways. For example, putting on a face, in terms of makeup issues. I think men find the idea that any of this is a choice or is other than absolutely given and natural remains (I know this is a huge generalization on my part) incredibly troubling.

Aurora: And this does have academic implications.

Toby Miller: Yes, I also notice that, moving to the academic level, there is a tendency for a number of people in senior professional positions to say, well yes, we need a queer theory person, but that doesn't mean it should touch any of us. Queer studies is legitimate, but it is some way down the corridor, a bit like what was said of English departments: there was the theory man at the end of the hall back in the 50s and 60s, but it's not as if anybody else had to find out what he did. Emergent discourses, be they feminist or post-colonial, have the same issue, I think. Trying to get people to see that this is a fundamental epistemological critique or insight, whatever we might call it. While queer theory does not have implications for absolutely everything that everybody does, it has major implications beyond itself. I wonder if this is your experience.

Aurora: I think that at times we have found it was the post-structuralism or the queer theory or the sexuality stuff, but we’ve had the experience certainly of pushing some hot button issues in talking about how these theories illuminate aspects of social relations that are close to members of our audience.

Toby Miller: For me it is so obvious that it not a case of either/or, but both/and. There will be moments when these things (political economy, queer studies, cultural studies) are in harmony. There will be moments when one does not have a lot to offer from one of these perspectives. There will be moments when one will have a lot to offer. It is not clear to me that they really have to be understood as incommensurate. Sometimes people are blind to the fact that there can be material policy outcomes of queer analysis and there can be absolutely no valuable policy outcomes from political economy sometimes. Even though I am a strong supporter of political-economic analysis, I think it is of limited value when it is not articulated to the other theoretical trajectories that we have discussed. I completely reject any notion that these things are incommensurate.

Aurora: Does this include environmental cultural studies?

Toby Miller: I do work in environmental studies as well and it is a constant debate about what is that - what are you doing? One looks at the cultural studies of how people sexualize place or wilderness. And the critique is of what value is that? There are still those kind of huge debates going on at least in Canada about that stuff. I think that also relates to something that I wasn't really addressing before when I was giving my slightly Polyanna-ish answer. Namely that the general field of positivism within which political economy can sometimes be positioned, but not always, is very dubious about lots of cultural work. There is no doubt about that. In the US social sciences, many senior white men are very much reared on the warfare/welfare dynamic of US positivism. They have no epistemological humility, they make gigantic scientistic bravura and claims, and they both denounce and don't understand a lot of the things we are talking about. I absolutely agree that there can be huge problems of articulation when you are talking about something like environmental science. I was thinking much more in the way in which I hoped elements of the political economy of the media and culture and cultural studies work were getting, I thought, brought together usefully. I think in general terms when you are dealing with positivistic forces often they are so committed to a unitary understanding of truth that anything that challenges that smacks to them of political irrelevancy and relativism, even though it may come from extremely materially grounded struggles that people in social movements experience.

Aurora: There seems to be, at least in Canada, this whole debate amongst political economists regarding questions of identity. That we need to forget ‘identity’ and get back to the real stuff because what you guys are doing in terms of identity is simple not talking about the issues that are salient. I always find that a troubling debate. Certainly that sounded to me once what a colleague of mine was saying about his experience in South Africa and this totally threw me related to my cultural studies work. There seems to be an element of that going on amongst people who you think would be allies.

Toby Miller: This is really too bad. It is quite dispiriting. I do think that these things have to be gone through again and again. To give you some examples, in terms of people that I connect with, I am very good friends with Bob McChesney and I also know and like Graham Murdock. These are people who are definitely associated with the political-economic side of this kind of analysis. But Graham Murdock has a background in art history and is an incredibly supple and subtle textual analyst who really does think that how audiences make meaning and what there is to be made meaning from, both matter. Bob has sometimes adopted a polemical tone against cultural studies in ways that I think are unfortunate, but he actually knows and values lots of people who do very important work which is also quite different from straight-up political economy. I think he has worked out that the real enemy is actually the grotesque irrelevance of most US-based communication studies, in terms of its articulation to media policy issues. I think he has realized as well that there is not much value in alienating a natural ally.

Aurora: It seems the struggle over what counts as ‘important’ knowledge is endemic to intellectual work.

Toby Miller: I think that these battles continue to be relevant. I mean Vincent Mosco is somebody whose work I like and who is very supportive of what I do, but I know sometimes in Canada, Vinnie is understood as standing contra to various kinds of cultural studies and obviously the context matters. I think if you look at his work, you can see some changes over time that are quite significant and are coming together in more positive ways as far as trying to merge these things. I think somebody like Angela MacRobbie is an interesting case of this, too. She has become much more interested in psychoanalytic work. This is not my sphere, but one of the things that she is interested in maintaining commitments to is ethnographic and political-economic work as well. I think you see that very clearly in some of the work that Angie does. Seemingly oppositional research can come together in highly productive and new ways.

Aurora: We are going to deviate wildly from the script here and just ask a question because we are really curious about something that you raised earlier. We know very little about Latin American cultural studies and what goes on in the southern half of this hemisphere. What kinds of themes/what kinds of authors? We would like to request a very brief tutorial please.

Toby Miller: Well, I think I mentioned Canclini and two or three of his books are up in Minnesota and I think I mentioned Martín-Barbero and at least one of his books is out with Sage. Martín-Barbero and Canclini are elder statesmen of cultural studies in Latin America. They are very involved with extremely valuable work that is undertaken by more junior people, and have been very significant institutional supports for cultural studies work undertaken by others. If one thinks of Ana María Ochoa Gautier, from Colombia in South America and who is actually now at Columbia University, she has done fantastic work on cultural policy as part of peace-making efforts. She wrote a great essay in a book I edited and she has written two or three books on world music and the relationship of world music to Latin American subordinated groups. Rosalía Winocur, who was within the group that Néstor used to run on urban cultures in Mexico, is an exile, like him, from Argentina and one of those who had to leave for political reasons during the dictatorships. It is worth noting that a lot of these people have exile experience. She has a book about citizenship and the media that looks at the role in post-dictatorship Latin America that talk back radio has in redefining ideas to include the personal sphere in what counts as politics.

Aurora: What about indigenous issues in Latin America?

Toby Miller: Eduardo Nivón, who now runs the urban cultural studies group that Néstor used to head, writes about indigenous Latin Americans in part and their role in cultural issues. This is because, as you probably know, in Mexico especially but also in South American countries, it is rather ironic that the national symbol is the native person, particularly the native man. If you go to any town square in Mexico, there are workerist symbols in the zocalo or town- square plinth. And the workerist symbols are not of industrial workers, they are of peasants, not the Mestizo or interbred if you like, but campesinos commemorated for keeping their native heritage and language. Many of these peasants do not speak Spanish and this applies to much of Central America, too. These people are taken to be the symbol of the country at the same time as, of course, it is the lighter skinned, taller, Spanish-speaking, more educated people who are wealthier.

Aurora: This echoes the reality of many Aboriginal peoples in Canada as well. The use of Aboriginal or Indigenous symbols contradicted by abject poverty and disenfranchisement is part of a colonial legacy in the Americas.

Toby Miller: Yes, that contradiction is brought out very wonderfully in a lot of what Nivón does and there are a few other folk. Daniel Mato, another exile from Argentina, who lives in Venezuela, has been involved in a number of Rockefeller projects that have been funded at the school where he works in Caracas. These projects are about trying to get a more global cultural studies going. Daniel is very involved in the Association for Cultural Studies. He is quite active in both the journal Cultural Studies, which Larry Grossberg and Della Pollock edit, and the International Journal of Cultural Studies, which John Hartley edits. Hartley is also interested in what one might call south to south connections, global south to global south connections. He is involved with some of the inter-Asia cultural studies, for example folks like Khuan-Hsing Chen in Taiwan and also with some of the folks in south Asia like the people at SARAI which is a group I am quite involved with.

Aurora: This is fascinating for the international/global connections.

Toby Miller: It is a very outward looking, cosmopolitan cultural studies in my view that is profoundly influenced historically by Gramsci in part because Gramscian ideas were part of the notion of resistance. For example this was resistance to the church and also resistance to liberal reform. Resistance very often articulated to leftist ideas that came through the Catholic Church, through the worker priests and so on, and was as well very articulated to indigenous ideas that are now being picked up by people who have borrowed a studies framework from the Bengal historians in India. These folks are applying this Bengal framework to epistemological innovations and ideas of native intellectuals in the Andean area in Central America and in southern Mexico. It is a very lively and exciting sphere. Of course, when you look at Mexico and Brazil, you have two of the biggest economies in the world. Brazil is the eighth largest economy, larger even than Russia. You have in the cultural sphere massive power in Mexico as one of the biggest exporters of television. Mexican ways of speaking Spanish are cultural threats to many other Latin American countries. Brazil and Mexico along with Columbia and Venezuela are massive exporters of telenovelas. You can be watching, as you probably know, Brazilian or Mexican soap operas or telenovelas in Israel or in Ireland.

Aurora: There is a huge output of cultural products from Latin America. Are the debates similar to what we see in English-speaking cultural studies?

Toby Miller: Of course, some of the splits we have been talking about exist in these countries, too. However for me Latin American cultural studies has been an inspiration - as a consequence of some Latin American intellectuals that I have gotten to know since I moved to the Americas. This connection has transformed a lot of my thinking and revealed the way forward to a more integrated model for me. I guess I have been lucky as well in my trips to Canada, where I feel as though sometimes I have seen a more integrated model. I have not seen the problems in the depth and width that you guys do. And I have sometimes seen good moments in Britain or Australia.

Aurora: This has been a fascinating hour.

Toby Miller: In closing, I would just like to say that this has been an exciting hour for me too. I have had a chance to ramble on, and you know how we men like to talk and gossip. But also I have learned a lot from the things you have both asked me and told me. It has been a great opportunity for me to express myself in forms that I do not normally have, but also it has been a great chance to learn some things and I would love it if you could connect me up by email so that I can learn a bit more about the work each of you do.

Aurora: We will and thank you very much.
Related Links

Contact via email: Toby Miller (

'Where is Riverside?'--Robert Graysmith (Zodiac, 2007)

Toby Miller on Facebook:

My Space - Toby Miller:

Green Citizen:

Editor of Television & New Media, Sage Journals Online:

Co-Editor of Social Identities:

New Book Cultural Citizenship:

Toby on YouTube:

2007 Cultural Citizenship: Cosmopolitanism, Consumerism, and Television in a Neoliberal Age. Philadelphia: Temple UP. 237 pp. + ix. 2 figures.

2006 Cultural Policy (with George Yúdice). Taipei: Tartu Chu Liu Book Company (Complex Chinese translation). 416 pp. + v. 6 figures.

2005 El Nuevo Hollywood: Del Imperialismo Cultural a las Leyes del Marketing (with Nitin Govil, John McMurria, and Richard Maxwell). Trans. Núria Pujol i Vals. Buenos Aires, Barcelona, and Mexico City: Ediciones Paidós Ibéricas. 344 pp. 21 figures.

2005 Global Hollywood 2 (with Nitin Govil, John McMurria, Richard Maxwell, and Ting Wang). London: British Film Institute; Berkeley and Los Angeles: U of California P. 442 pp. + vi. 61 figures.

2004 Política Cultural (with George Yúdice). Trans. Gabriela Ventureira. Barcelona: Editorial Gedisa. 332 pp. 6 figures.

2003 Global Hollywood (with Nitin Govil, John McMurria, and Richard Maxwell). Trans. Fun Cheng-Sun. Taipei: Chu Liu Book Company. 446 pp. + xiii. 6 figures.

2003 SpyScreen: Espionage on Film and TV from the 1930s to the 1960s. Oxford, Auckland, Buenos Aires, Cape Town, Chennai, Dar es Salaam, Delhi, Hong Kong, Istanbul, Karachi, Kolkata, Kuala Lumpur, Madrid, Melbourne, Mexico City, Mumbai, Nairobi, São Paulo, Shanghai, Taipei, Tokyo, and Toronto: Oxford UP. 219 pp. + x. 16 illustrations.

2002 Cultural Policy (with George Yúdice). London, Thousand Oaks, and New Delhi: Sage Publications. 246 pp. + vi. 6 figures.

2001 Global Hollywood (with Nitin Govil, John McMurria, and Richard Maxwell). London: British Film Institute; Berkeley and Los Angeles: U of California P. Reprinted in 2003. 279 pp. + vi. 21 figures.

2001 SportSex. Philadelphia: Temple UP. Reprinted in 2003. 180 pp. + viii.

2001 Globalization and Sport: Playing the World (with Geoffrey Lawrence, Jim McKay, and David Rowe). London, Thousand Oaks, and New Delhi: Sage Publications. 160 pp. + vii.

1998 Popular Culture and Everyday Life (with Alec McHoul). London, Thousand Oaks, and New Delhi: Sage Publications. 224 pp. + xii.

1998 Technologies of Truth: Cultural Citizenship and the Popular Media. Minneapolis and London: U of Minnesota P. 304 pp. + viii. 15 illustrations.

1997 The Avengers. London: British Film Institute; Bloomington: Indiana UP. Reprinted twice in 1998. 192 pp. + viii. 84 illustrations.

1994 Contemporary Australian Television (with Stuart Cunningham and David Rowe). Sydney: U of New South Wales P. 184 pp. + viii. 11 illustrations.

1993 The Well-Tempered Self: Citizenship, Culture, and the Postmodern Subject. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins UP. 290 pp. + xxviii.

In Press

Makeover Nation: The United States of Reinvention. Columbus: Ohio State UP.

Global Hollywood 2 (with Nitin Govil, John McMurria, Richard Maxwell, and Ting Wang). Beijing: China Radio & Television Publishing House (Simplified Chinese translation).

Global Hollywood (with Nitin Govil, John McMurria, and Richard Maxwell). Beijing: Hua Xia (Simplified Chinese translation).

Cultural Policy (with George Yúdice). Nanjing: Nanjing UP (Simplified Chinese translation).

Books as Editor

2006 A Companion to Cultural Studies, rev. ed. Oxford and Malden: Blackwell. 580 pp. + xxiv.

2005 International Cultural Studies: An Anthology. (Section Ed. “Media Production and Consumption.” Ed. Ackbar Abbas and John Nguyet Erni). Malden, Oxford, and Carlton: Blackwell. 685 pp. + xxxii.

2003 Television: Critical Concepts in Media and Cultural Studies. 5 vols. New York and London: Routledge. 1954 pp. + lxx.

2003 Critical Cultural Policy Studies: A Reader (with Justin Lewis). Malden, Oxford, Melbourne, and Berlin: Blackwell. 357 pp. + xi.

2002 Television Studies (Assoc. Ed. Andrew Lockett). London: British Film Institute; Berkeley and Los Angeles: U of California P. 160 pp. + xi.

2001 A Companion to Cultural Studies. Oxford and Malden: Blackwell. 580 pp. + xv.

2001 The Television Genre Book (Assoc. Ed. with John Tulloch. Ed. Glen Creeber). London: British Film Institute; Bloomington: Indiana UP. 163 pp. + xi. 40 illustrations.

2000 Film and Theory: An Anthology (with Robert Stam). Oxford and Malden: Blackwell. 862 pp. + xviii.

1999 A Companion to Film Theory (with Robert Stam). Oxford and Malden: Blackwell. 428 pp. + vi. 19 illustrations.

1999 SportCult (with Randy Martin). Minneapolis and London: U of Minnesota P. 294 pp. + vii. 1 illustration.

In Press

A Companion to Cultural Studies. Nanjing: Nanjing UP (Simplified Chinese translation).

Film and Theory: An Anthology (with Robert Stam). Beijing: China Radio & Television Publishing House (Simplified Chinese translation).

Interview conducted March 31, 2008

Drs Filax and Hughes-Fuller work in the Centre for Integrated Studies and Dr. Hanson works in the Centre for Global and Social Analysis at Athabasca University.