Many Western cou-ntries fight for the environment only within their own borders, and hazardous wa-ste is taken to hell. Off-icial suppliers, the mafia, and non-ferrous metal miners make money on this. People forced to live near landfills are protesting, but the mountains of the world’s garbage continue to grow.
The global recycling market is estimated at $400 billion, and by the end of the decade it could be more than $700 billion, according to Research And Markets, an analytical company. But this is only the visible part of the garbage iceberg. Much more money is spinning on the black market: under the guise of recyclables, almost any waste is imported into third world countries. including toxic ones.
The authorities often turn a blind eye to the lack of transparency of transactions and the environmental situation. Such imports bring a lot of money to the state budget. Therefore, “junk” contracts have long become an important part of the global economy. Ten years ago, for example, the im-port of such goods brought China 11.5 billion dollars. However, the Chinese qu-ickly realized the magnitu-de of the consequences. B-eijing has taken a sharp turn in the global garbage game and by 2021 banned the import of any waste altogether – the country’s au-thorities called it a “green fence”. This decision confused the maps of Europe and the USA: after all, it was China that dumped the most plastic and broken ele-ctronics from around the world. China has just won. The ecological situation in several regions reached such a critical point that even the politically correct local press did not keep silent about the dissatisfaction of the inhabitants. Particularly notorious was the “global cemetery of technology” in the city of Guiyu, Guangdong province, littered with millions of discarded gadgets.
Wong Ming-Hung, a professor at Hong Kong Baptist University, described the place as follows: “The whole city stinks. Workers burn plastic in enclosed spaces without ventilation. Garbage everywhere. Soil, rivers and air are polluted. Many employees have health problems.”
About a hundred recycling centers have opened, and residents of the country have begun to pay for the disposal of their own garbage. But if the environment has received dividends from these initiatives, then business has not. Therefore, Chinese impo-rters have set up new landfills in Southeast Asia. Co-ntainers from the USA, Eu-rope and Japan also went there.
Hunting for non-ferrous
Electronic waste contains lead, mercury and other toxic metals. This puts not only recyclers at risk: “miners” are infiltrating landfills around the world. They work with their bare hands for mere pennies, received from the sale of broken phones, laptops or just non-ferrous metal.
Malaysia took the lead in plastic imports. Waste comes as if for processing, but in fact they are dumped at landfills, and from there they are taken away by local residents. Low-income migrants who want to earn some money also come for non-ferrous metal. Some of the garbage is generally burned in the open air.
The Malaysian authorities are trying to stop the lawlessness. Unwrap the goods back to the point of origin. In July 2020, there was a loud scandal: 110 containers from Romania were detained in the Malaysian port of Tanjung Pelepas. It was the largest of the illegal shipments of toxic waste found on the territory of the state. The government has asked Interpol for an investigation. The further fate of the dangerous goods is unknown.
Not much better in neighboring countries. According to the “Plastic Atlas” compiled by the Heinrich Böll Foundation (Germany), in just a few months of 2018, plastic imports in Thailand increased by 70 times.
In Africa, the situation is even worse. Agbogbloshi landfill near Accra, the capital of Ghana, bloggers call the dirtiest place on earth. Hundreds of thousands of tons of e-waste from the US, EU and Britain are brought here every year. Tens of thousands of local residents are involved in the shadow trade in non-ferrous metals.
Another giant landfill, Olusosan, was located in Nigeria near the city of Lagos. For thirty years, the space was filled with European garbage. In 2018, the landfill was closed after another fire, and a park is planned to be built in its place.
Hike to the East
Waste disposal in third countries is hundreds of times cheaper than in deve-loped countries. Dumping a ton of waste costs as little as ten dollars in some reg-ions. Of course, it is more profitable to send garbage abroad and throw it away than to pay for technological recycling at home.
Europe understands the scale of the problem and seeks to limit the flow of exported waste. But it is impossible to completely turn off the tap – there is too much garbage. After the restrictions imposed by Asian countries, it increasingly settles in the Old World itself and in the immediate periphery.
In December 2021, British journalists conducted an investigation in Romania and found several toxic waste dumps there, also British. We are talking about dozens of tons of garbage imported under the guise of second-hand goods. According to the Romanian media, for recycling in the country they ask only a little more than in Africa: 17 euros per ton. In other EU countries, the price goes up to 250 euros.
The Romanian government has called the garbage trade illegal and called on the UK to take action. Although this is not the only importer: for example, in May 2021, the police detained 300 tons of waste from Germany in the port of Constanta.
Turkey may soon become another repository of European garbage. Until 2018, four thousand tons of plastic were imported into the country per month, and after the Chinese ban, the figures reached 33 thousand tons. Greenpeace reports that in 15 years the import of such waste from Europe to Turkey has increased by almost 200 times.
The Turkish city of Adana is sometimes called the garbage capital. In May 2021, an audit by the Ministry of the Environment and Urban Development revealed illegal landfills and recycling of imported plastics. They opened a criminal case. Twenty-six businesses operating without a license were fined a total of 7.02 million lira.
But the issue has not been resolved. The head of one of the districts of Adana, Najip Buluz, admits: “Believe me, this is the region with the highest level of pollution in the Mediterranean.” We are talking about a bay protected in accordance with the Ramsar Convention, where dozens of species of birds live.
Sedat Gundogdu, a researcher at Çukurov University, believes that the main problem is the nature of plastic waste imported into Turkey. According to the scientist, in many cases these wastes are unsuitable for processing, so they are burned or buried. “But in Europe you cannot open a business for such recycling. There are very serious legal sanctions for activities that affect the environment,” Gundogdu explains the policy of his western neighbors.
Plastic on the fence
When China put up a “green fence”, the Europ-ean Commission responded with a “plastic strategy”. Brussels hopes that by 2030 more than half of plastic and all packaging in the EU will be recycled. It is estimated that this will create 200,000 jobs. To make plans a reality, Europe has limited the use of disposable products. The ban incl-udes cutlery, plates, straws and even cotton swabs.
According to Eurostat data for 2020, 47.8% of plastic is recycled in the European Union. In individual countries, Germany leads with 67%. Great Britain, while being part of the EU, also fell into the top ten leaders of green progress – 44.1%. But in terms of the amount of waste, the United Kingdom is far from being in the tail – in tenth place in Europe.
According to the “Plastic Atlas”, the main exporters of garbage are the USA, Japan, Germany, Great Britain and Belgium. At the same time, Europe recognizes the presence of black exports. According to the Geneva secretariat, about a third of waste from the EU is exported illegally. The study reports that since 1950, about 6.3 billion tons of plastic waste has been generated in Europe, and almost 80% ended up in landfills in other countries.
The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes, which came into force in 1989, prohibits the export of broken electronic gadgets and their parts, even for recycling purposes. Certain types of plastics are also subject to restrictions. But legal loopholes have long been invented – as, for example, with the same “recyclable materials” that the British sent to Romania.
Broken iPhone Foundation
The import of garbage into Russia for the purpose of burial and neutralization is prohibited. But toxic waste is sometimes used to make packaging or, for example, cheap fluorescent lamps. In this form, they can absolutely legally enter Russia or other countries, for example, from China, explains Vladimir Kuznetsov, general director of the Center for Environmental Initiatives.
He emphasizes that the issue of disposal of hazardous waste is still acute. “However, after the so-called waste reform, the Ministry of Natural Resources became the controlling body in this area. This is a positive signal: the department has sufficient powers to restore order,” Kuznetsov notes.
Thus, the Ministry proposes to create a specialized fund that will accumulate environmental collection of garbage and production waste. The corresponding draft amendments to the sectoral law were published on the portal of legal information.
However, in Russia – and not only in it – people do not always know how to dispose of recyclables even at the household level. For example, what to do with failed gadgets. It is illegal to throw them away, violators face serious fines according to the Code of Administrative Offenses. However, you can find companies that buy such waste for recycling. Including retailers of household appliances and electronics: they can set off a broken iPhone when buying goods.