Tag Archives: Basel Convention Hazardous Waste

How to Spend $18 billion on Foreign Garbage

image from wikipedia

China sucked in more than half the world’s exports of scrap copper and waste paper in 2016, and half of its used plastic. All in all, China spent over $18bn on imports of rubbish in 2016. America, meanwhile, is an eager supplier. In 2016 nearly a quarter of America’s biggest exporters by volume were recyclers of paper, plastic or metal. Topping the list was America Chung Nam, a California-based supplier of waste paper which last year exported a whopping 333,900 containers, almost all of them to China.

This may soon change. On July 18, 2017 China told the World Trade Organisation that by the end of the year, it will no longer accept imports of 24 categories of solid waste as part of a government campaign against yang laji or “foreign garbage”. The Ministry of Environmental Protection says restricting such imports will protect the environment and improve public health. But the proposed import ban will disrupt billions of dollars in trade. Recyclers worry that other categories of waste may soon receive the same treatment.

It is often cheaper to recycle scrap copper, iron and steel, as well as waste paper and plastic, than to make such materials from scratch, especially when commodity prices are high. So as commodity prices rose during the 2000s, the burgeoning trade in waste benefited both exporters, who made money from previously worthless trash, and importers, who gained access to a reliable stream of precious feedstock. Between 1995 and 2016 Chinese imports of waste grew tenfold, from 4.5m to 45m tonnes.

But imports of recyclable waste are often dirty, poorly sorted or contaminated with hazardous substances such as lead or mercury. In 1996 factories in Xinjiang inadvertently imported more than 100 tonnes of radioactive metal from Kazakhstan. The following year an American businessman was convicted of smuggling over 200 tonnes of unsorted rubbish labelled as waste paper. Even when the intended material is imported, it is often recycled improperly. In 2002 the authorities faced widespread criticism after a documentary showed workers in Guangdong province crudely dismantling discarded electronic devices and dumping the toxic remains into a river. Officials may have been spurred into the latest restrictions by the release of Plastic China, an unflattering documentary about the plastic-recycling industry which was screened at Sundance, a grand American film festival, in January 2017,

The government had already been campaigning to block imports of illegal and low-quality waste under a crackdown called Operation Green Fence launched in 2013….Whereas Green Fence was aimed at improving the quality of imported waste, the government’s latest move bans several types of waste outright, threatening some $5bn in trade. But…. recyclers who rely on imports may now switch to grubbier domestic stock.

Excerpts from Waste Management: Anti-Dumping, Economist, Aug. 5, 2017, at 32

The Waste that Circles the World: Canada to Philippines

Image from Philippine Bureau of Customs

Fifty containers of Canadian garbage, including used adult diapers, have been languishing in the port of Manila in the Philippines for almost two years and setting off recent protests by environmental and public health activists.The activists, among them a Catholic priest, say the containers hold toxic and hazardous waste, although a recent study by Philippines officials suggests they’re simply stuffed with household garbage.

Late last year (2014), the Philippines government recommended the containers be returned to Canada under the provisions of the Basel Convention, which prohibits developed countries from shipping waste to developing nations.“The Basel Convention says, as a developed country, (Canada) cannot export waste,” Filipino environment secretary Ramon Paje said in a televised interview. “That would be considered as dumping.”…

A spokeswoman for Foreign Affairs (Canada) reiterated the government’s long-stated opinion that the case is a private commercial matter involving a Canadian company and its Philippines partner.….Chronic Inc., a plastics exporter based in Whitby, Ontario , shipped the containers — supposedly filled with recyclable Vancouver plastics — to the Philippines in the spring and summer of 2013. But upon inspection, the country’s Bureau of Customs found the containers were filled with stinking household garbage, including used adult diapers and kitchen waste.
The bureau said the material could “pose biohazard risks” and impounded the shipment.
Jim Makris, head of the Lee-Anne Goodmandenied last year that he shipped garbage to the Philippines….The Philippine Daily Inquirer reported in 2014 that the Bureau of Customs is investigating the 150-worker plant in Valenzuela City started by Makris to sort and sell the plastic he ships.

Excerpts from Lee-Anne Goodman, 50 containers of Canadian garbage rots in Manila for two years, Canadian Press, Mar. 20, 2015

How to Mismanage Biomedical Waste, India

biohazard

*(India) Walk past any GVMC* [civic body that governs the city of Visakhapatnam, India]  garbage dump at Ramnagar, Maharanipeta or the areas around King George Hospital (KGH) and you can be sure to spot used syringes, saline bottles or bandages strewn around dustbins.  Rag-pickers and GVMC staff rummage through these bins and stray animals litter the hazardous biomedical waste on the roads – an open invitation to HIV, Hepatitis and other infections.

Though biomedical waste should be properly segregated and then incinerated in a separate plant at Kappulupada on the city’s outskirts, in reality the norms are often flouted blatantly and hazardous waste is dumped in regular garbage bins, jeopardising the health of denizens.

To blame are the ignorance and apathy of hospital staff and those collecting the waste as they don’t segregate it properly in respective colour-coded disposal bins. As per norms, biomedical waste should be segregated at the hospital itself and put into colour-coded bins or bags. Black bags are meant for throwing remnants of food, red bags for plastic disposables such as catheter, gloves and IV fluid bottles, while yellow bags are meant for disposing human waste including used dressing pads, plaster, and needles and so on. Also needle tips need to be destroyed in needle cutters and hubs disposed of in red covers.

Commenting on the improper segregation, a senior surgeon from King George Hospital (KGH), said, “Even though the paramedics, ward-boys and staff are trained, they callously dump the waste in any bin that’s close at hand, irrespective of colour codes. There’s neither proper supervision nor any disciplinary action being taken for these acts of omission,” he said.

The lack of timely availability of colour-coded bags, especially the frequently used yellow and black bags, also poses another problem. “The bags collected from various wards are overfilled and their mouths are not tied properly. Stray dogs cause a spillage while searching food,” pointed out another senior doctor.

There are also allegations that used saline bottles are sold and syringes and needles not destroyed before being disposed. “Sometimes, hospital workers sell used saline bottles outside for Rs 50-Rs 100 and these are recycled or reused, putting public health at risk. Needles are also disposed of without breaking them in needle cutters exposing rag-pickers, GVMC sanitation staff and even our garbage collectors to the risk of HIV and other dangerous ailments if they come in contact with them. Furthermore, disposal he vehicles that carry the uncovered biomedical waste litter them on the road….

Biomedical waste should be segregated at the hospital itself and put into colour-coded bins or bags, treated and incinerated in a separate plant at Kappulupada on the city’s outskirts.

*The GVMC (officially Greater Visakhapatnam Municipal Corporation), formerly known as the Visakhapatnam Municipal Corporation, is the civic body that governs the city of Visakhapatnam, India.