<img height="1" width="1" style="display:none" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=1514203202045471&ev=PageView&noscript=1"/> GLOBAL WASTE TRADE: the dark side of the hazardous garbage business | Core Spirit

GLOBAL WASTE TRADE: the dark side of the hazardous garbage business

Jul 5, 2024
Archana Ms.
Core Spirit member since Aug 24, 2023
Reading time 8 min.

Toxic and hazardous wastes are often sold by developed countries to poorer developing countries. This practice is known as the global waste trade. Wealthy nations are basically exporting their problem to poor countries mainly in African and Asian regions, which pose a serious threat to human health and the environment in the communities they are located in.

World's affluent countries find it substantially cheaper to export their hazardous waste halfway around the world to poor countries for disposal, where environmental awareness and regulations are limited. With the world over liberalization of trade policies, developing countries, with little to offer to global trade, were often forced to accept waste imports as an instrument of economic expansion. These circumstances inadvertently made underdeveloped countries a dump yard to the wealthier countries of the globe.

Various types of wastes that are difficult to process are gotten rid of in this manner. The most toxic of these include radioactive waste, electronic waste and incinerator ash.

Now the question arises, why are developed nations dumping their garbage in developing countries like the Philippines, Sweden, Ghana, Nigeria, Vietnam, Pakistan, Bangladesh or even in India.

Simply because shipping municipal waste to less developed countries is about four to six times cheaper than recycling it in their own land. While it costs $85 to recycle a ton of garbage after segregation in Britain, shipping the rubbish to economically weaker countries costs just about $30.

On the other hand, Because developing countries are usually not as economically robust as the United States, people in these poorer countries tend to buy fewer products with less packaging, and they produce less waste than Americans or residents of other industrialized nations.

Unlike developed nations, poorer countries in the developing world often have not developed adequate waste management policies or systems, trash collection services, or government institutions to properly manage their wastes.

As the Web site Fabric of Nature explains: Most developing countries don't have any organized means of controlling solid waste. Garbage is rarely even collected on a regular basis. Regulations vary from country to country and from town to town, and often a small bribe from an apprehended illegal trash dumper will trump enforcement of official regulations, anyway. Laws are often lax—burning of garbage and open dumping allowed. Frequently, a lack of funds prevents municipalities in such countries from ever being able to even create a proper waste management system, in the first place.

Somewhere, the developed countries try to maintain their environmental credentials too behind this toxic waste trade, while the developing countries covertly take advantage of the weak governance to remove their environmental misdemeanors.

Due to lack of environmental regulations and little public opposition, ignorance of the health impacts, comparatively low-cost disposal methods make poorer nations an attractive target for many developed countries to export their hazardous waste too.

Global illegal trade of plastic waste

Illegal traffic of hazardous waste is unfortunately still very common in all corners of the world. From an environmental justice perspective, the idea of richer countries disposing their garbage in poorer countries is outrageous. The fact that the global waste market exists, however, signals that there is something more to the story. Global waste trade is a multi-billion dollar industry. The United Nations Commodity Trade Database recorded that world’s plastic waste export and import in 2017 was valued at USD 4.5 billion and USD 6.1 billion respectively.

World waste trade has formed a billion dollar global industry that is directly linked to arms trafficking, money laundering and other smuggling activities. Third world workers, who lack essential equipment needed for working with hazardous material, risk their health and lives to process the toxic waste. It is not their fate that they are forced to utilize such toxic plastic and other kinds of waste but it leads to an illegal business of plastic waste management.

Despite the existence of several international conventions that prohibit the dumping of first world waste, such as the Bamako Convention and the Basel Convention, it has not only continued but also formed a billion dollar global industry that studies have shown is linked to arms trafficking and money laundering.

Big criminals use Hawala methods to run this illegal trade. Legal and illegal business are included in a legal waste company and the money coming from both the ways goes to the exporting countries.

In most of the cases it has also been seen that people associated with illegal trafficking of waste business are also involved in other unlawful activities like child trafficking, arms supply, drugs smuggling. Somewhere, money for such crimes is also being received from illegal waste trade.

Illegal waste trafficking is a little-known, lucrative business with devastating consequences for human health and the environment. It includes transporting waste on the black market, mixing different types of waste, declaring hazardous waste as non-hazardous, or classifying waste as second-hand goods. Indeed, when products are classified as second-hand goods, they are no longer governed by international waste regulations and can be traded with developing countries. For instance, e-waste and used car parts are often disguised as second-hand goods, and end up being recycled in an unsafe manner.

This leads to an enormous grey area when distinguishing legal from illegal waste shipments, making enforcement very difficult. These imports also put pressure on port infrastructure. Since China introduced the ban, neighbouring countries and certain African countries have become increasingly targeted by shippers of illegal waste. Even when shipments are legal, these countries find themselves lacking the capacity to accommodate them at their ports and other points of entry.

Recent years have witnessed an alarming increase in the illegal trade of plastic waste, with high-income countries consuming plastic products and packaging at unsustainable rates, exporting their plastic waste to developing countries with little capacity and infrastructure to manage it.

Unsustainable production and consumption of plastic has been supported by exporting waste to countries with lower energy and labour costs, with devastating impacts on ecosystems, workers, and communities around the world. Illegal exports and dumpsites are now widespread, curbing environmental health, social wellbeing, and economic development. Thousands of lives are cut short though appalling sickness caused by informal burning, with exploitative working conditions and even child labour now all too familiar.

While relatively weak environmental standards in developing countries is often seen to be a key factor in the emergence of waste havens in cross-country studies, little attention has been given to examine the pattern of waste trade in a developing country over time.

Do waste trade companies really follow Basel Convention?

The Basel Convention is an international treaty, signed in 1989, designed to prevent the movement of hazardous waste from developed to developing countries. This treaty defined illegal trafficking as a transboundary movement of hazardous wastes.

But, there's a dark side to the global trade in garbage: A 2019 (amended) treaty aimed to stem the flow of plastic waste from wealthy nations to poor ones. But traders have found ways to bypass the rules.

For instance, the Basel convention states that before exporting low grade plastics, it must obtain permission from the government of the recipient country. However, plastic traders not only flout this treaty, but also the waste is loaded into the ship with wrong labeling, so that it can be easily passed during custom checking in western countries. Even in developing countries, companies easily pass from checking.

Unrecyclable or hazardous waste is shipped to developing countries under the pretext of “recycling”. Ultimately, instead of being transported to a recycling plant, the waste is often found in landfill sites or incineration units, leaving the citizens of developing countries to live with the waste and its effects.

In one case 4,000 tons of toxic waste was shipped to Nigeria falsely labelled as “fertilizers”. The waste included 150 tons of highly toxic polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, that are known to cause hormone deficiencies and reduced cognitive development in children.

“The Italian company deceived a retired/illiterate timber worker into agreeing to store the poison in his backyard”

The toxic chemicals leaked into the local river causing the death of 19 people. The company made $4.3 million from the dirty trade.(Source:The WorldCounts)

Even when local government authorities refuse to accept the waste of the West, the containers are simply shipped off to another developing country where it might be accepted. Attempts to deport illegal waste back to the country of origin prove to be another battle as developing nations often find that exporting countries refuse to take back their own waste.

The lead from electronic waste is another direct threat to human life. The landfills used for burying electronic waste result in lead seeping into the ground and eventually into the local water supply. In Lagos, Nigeria, reports from the World Health Organization and The Lancet have linked several health hazards, such as higher rates of thyroid dysfunctions in women and irreversible damage to the central nervous system of children, to electronic waste dumped there from the first world.

Corruption has reached its peak in the global waste trade, where officials are openly bribed for easy disposal of garbage. Companies are ignoring the Basel Convention Rules, without any fear.

Is India also a global waste dumping ground?

According to reports, a lot of European waste including metals, textiles and tires end up in India along with a lot of illegal e-waste.

India is one of the largest importers of waste in the world with metallic scrap constituting the bulk of the waste imports.

Unfortunately, the country has poorly equipped facilities which cannot effectively process the waste so they end up in incinerators or landfills instead.

India is also the location of the Alang shipyards where half of all the ships that are salvaged around the world are sent for recycling. Hundreds of manual laborers dismantle the ships, often in very dangerous conditions.

For example, Cement factories in Tamil Nadu are a big importer of toxic garbage on the pretext of using it as fuel. These consignments are booked innocuously as 'mixed waste paper, plastic scrape or latex' to hoodwink customs.

A recent report by the Delhi based Center for Science and Environment (CSE) says that apart from generating about 3,50,000 tonnes of electronic waste every year, India imports another 50,000 tones. The study alleges that the unorganized sector recycles more than 90% of this and instead of organizing this sector, the government chooses to ignore it.

The organization also says that Attero Recycling which has the only license in India to import e-waste is reselling e-waste instead of recycling it. It is illegally trading e-waste, and such illegal trade results in huge pollution in the industry.

As per the data, India generated 3,30,000 tones of e-waste in 2007 which is equal to 110 mn laptops. About 10% of the e-waste generated is recycled every year, the remaining is refurbished, and the unorganized sector is right behind almost all of it. Informal dealers refurbish and make money from e-waste.

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