The Developing World Is Being Buried in Plastic Waste by Wealthy Nations.

The Developing World Is Being Buried in Plastic Waste by Wealthy Nations.

At an Indonesian dump, a guy searches among the trash for commodities that can be sold. The SOPA/Getty

This article, which was first published by Gristand, has been reprinted on Climate Desk as part of a cooperation.

An impartial team of experts claims that high-income countries have been sending their waste abroad for recycling or disposal for a long time and that they are now flooding the developing world with much more plastic than was previously thought.

The amount of plastic that travels from the European Union, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States to poor countries is drastically underestimated annually (1.8 million metric tons), according to a new analysis published last week, because United Nations data on the global waste trade do not account for hidden plastics in textiles, contaminated paper bales, and other categories.

The Developing World Is Being Buried in Plastic Waste by Wealthy Nations.

The authors draw attention to the threats to public health and the environment posed by plastic exports to poor nations, where importers frequently burn or dispose of an uncontrollable surplus of plastic debris.

According to Therese Karlsson, a science and technical adviser for the charity International Pollution Elimination Network, or IPEN, toxic compounds from these plastics are poisoning communities. Together with a global team of researchers from Sweden, Turkey, and the US, IPEN helped organize the analysis.

A UN database that tracks various product categories using a harmonized commodity description and coding system, which provides each product category a code beginning with the letters HS, is used in many estimations of the size of the plastic garbage trade.

Researchers and policymakers frequently presume that HS 3915 trash, parings, and scrap of plastics accurately describe the overall volume of plastic that is traded internationally. However, the new report contends that since HS 3915 overlooks substantial amounts of plastic that are present in other product categories, this is simply the tip of the plastic waste iceberg.


The Developing World Is Being Buried in Plastic Waste by Wealthy Nations.

Even though 60 to 70 percent of all textiles are made of some type of plastic, discarded clothing, for instance, may be recorded as HS 5505 and not counted as plastic waste. Even though an estimated 40% of these exported items are judged unsalvageable and end up in landfills, another category called HS 6309 old apparel and accessories is expected by the UN to be reused or recycled and is therefore not even considered garbage.

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Huge piles of unsorted paper that are sent abroad for recycling also frequently go unaccounted for in estimates of the global plastic waste trade, despite the fact that these bales may include 5 to 30 percent plastic that needs to be separated and thrown away.

The amount of plastic trash exported from all the regions studied increased by as much as 1.8 million metric tons per year when only the plastic from these two product categories is taken into account—1.3 million from paper bales and 500,000 from textiles. When only plastic garbage, parings, and debris are examined, it amounts to more than twice as much plastic as was originally calculated.

Although Karlsson noted that a lack of statistics makes it difficult to estimate their precise contribution to the global plastic trash trade, other product categories such as rubber and electronics contribute considerably more. Due to the burden, this plastic puts on the waste management systems of developing nations, a lot of plastic garbage ends up in dumps, landfills, or incinerators. Burning this material pollutes the air in the local areas in a dangerous way, and landfills and dumps can release toxins like PCBs, a class of chemicals that can give humans cancer, into the soil and water supplies.

The Developing World Is Being Buried in Plastic Waste by Wealthy Nations.

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Researchers have flagged one-fourth of the more than 10,000 chemicals used in the production of plastic because of their toxicity and tendency to accumulate in the environment and people’s bodies. The report demands that regulators mandate the plastic and petrochemical sectors to use fewer, harmless chemicals and for greater information from them regarding the chemicals used to make their plastic products.

Together with enforced caps on the number of plastics the world produces initially, Karlsson also called for a complete prohibition on the trading of plastic garbage on a global scale. She told Grist that regardless of how we manage plastic waste, we must reduce the number of plastics we make since the current rate of plastic waste production is unsustainable.

By 2050, the world is on course to have produced 26 billion metric tons of plastic garbage, the majority of which will be burned, disposed of, or placed in landfills, barring urgent efforts to phase down plastic manufacturing.

Vishal Rana

Vishal is working as a Content Editor at Enviro360. He covers a wide range of topics, including media, energy, weather, industry news, daily news, climate, etc. Apart from this, Vishal is a sports enthusiast and loves to play cricket. Also, he is an avid moviegoer and spends his free time watching Web series and Hollywood Movies.

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