Wealthy Countries Offload Trash Despite International Convention

Wealthy Countries Offload Trash Despite International Convention

Despite international protocol to stop wealthier countries from offloading their trash on the rest of the world, violations have been "rampant.” according to a report by the nonprofit Basel Action Network. The Basel Convention aims to regulate the movement of hazardous substances around the world. At the beginning of 2021, plastic waste was added to its purview. But that hasn’t stopped the US, Canada, and the EU from shipping hundreds of millions of tons of plastic to other countries.

The US alone sent more than 800 million pounds of plastic waste to other countries, including Mexico, Malaysia, India, and Vietnam. While the US is one of the eight countries worldwide that hasn’t ratified the international convention, it’s still likely to be in violation. The necessary level of waste management isn’t carried out for recycling in the US, as plastic would need to be free of contamination and sorted by type.

The Story of Stuff Project: The Story of Plastic, April 21, 2021.

The Fifth Estate: Canadian recycling companies caught shipping illegal trash overseas, April 20, 2022.

Why This Matters

Developing countries shouldn’t be forced to deal with the consequences of trash from wealthy countries. Plastic waste is especially harmful. It is effectively not recyclable and releases hazardous chemicals into the air when burned. Having it sit in landfills -- especially unofficial sites -- leaches toxins into the groundwater. Up to a million people a year are killed globally from mismanaged waste. Since 1950, humans have made more than 8 billion tons of plastic and almost all of it has ended up incinerated or in landfills, where it takes hundreds of years to decompose.

PBS: How the Plastics Industry Used Recycling to Fend Off Bans, March 31, 2021.

TRT World Now: 20 companies responsible for most single-use plastic waste, May 18, 2021.

The Future of Circular Landfills

Offloading plastic waste onto other countries is a solid example of how not to approach waste management. But on Newfoundland’s northern peninsula, a new company has created a forward-looking model for landfills. 3F Waste Recovery takes in waste from fishers, foresters, and farmers -- three of the primary industries in the area -- and repurposes them into everything from pet treats and protein powder to compost. 3F is built on the island’s ethos of repurposing and founder Ben Wiper’s belief that a circular economy is necessary for the future of survival. The company works with what’s there and provides industries with a one-stop-shop that is as easy as dropping off trash at the landfill.

"3F is founded on the principle that every molecule that comes through our door, we want to have an application for it,” Wiper told Hakai Magazine. My vision is the landfill of the future -- where producers can take anything they haven’t processed, to break it down into a form that has a function.”

Teemill: TED talk | How to design the circular economy, April 1, 2022.

ENDEVR: What Is Behind a HUGE Landfill in California | Secrets of Mega Landfill, October 10, 2021