"I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable and we should face up to it."
Lawrence Summers, Economist
Environmental dumping can be defined as the transportation of waste to other countries in order to get rid of it. Many countries, especially in the Western world, produce huge amounts of waste and often do not want to deal with the disposal issue.
Therefore, the waste is shipped to other countries where it is recycled or disposed. Environmental dumping implies several issues, especially for countries which receive the waste since they will often not be able to deal with the excessive amounts of waste properly.
In this article, the extent, causes, effects and solutions regarding environmental dumping are examined.
Most of the waste that is subject to environmental dumping comes from OECD member states. It is estimated that OECD countries export waste related to ecological dumping amounting to around five million tons each year. Although most of the waste is non-hazardous, a small fraction may be hazardous and can cause serious environmental issues, especially in the states where it will finally end up.
A big cause for environmental dumping is our excessive consumption behavior. Especially in the Western world, people consume large amounts of material things every day. Most of these things are actually just bringing little or no value at all regarding peoples’ happiness level, yet everyone wants to have the hippest clothes and the newest smartphone.
However, this consumption behavior leads to the production of enormous amounts of waste, from which we have to get rid somehow. An easy way to do so is to ship part of this waste to foreign countries where it can be recycled or disposed instead of dealing with the waste in the respective waste production country.
In our daily life, we produce large amounts of waste. Since many products are excessively packaged into plastic or other packaging material, plenty of unnecessary waste is produced each day.
This is especially true when it comes to the use of delivery services. People who are ordering online will often send back a big fraction of their order, which leads to enormous amounts of waste, both from packaging but also since the things that are returned will often not be resold but rather disposed into the garbage since it is often cheaper for companies to do so.
Therefore, the excessive waste production also contributes to the environmental dumping issue since the part of the waste will be shipped to other countries in order to get rid of it.
Moreover, also the nature of the packaging itself often plays a crucial role for waste production and the related issue of ecological dumping. Many of our daily life products are excessively packaged which leads to significant amounts of waste. Moreover, a big fraction of this packaging is made out of plastic, which is often hard to recycle and will therefore lead to significant levels of pollution since part of it may end up in our oceans.
Industrial processes and the related waste production are another big cause for the environmental dumping issue. Since industries usually try to produce in a cost-minimizing manner, they do not care to much about the amount of waste produced if they can keep their costs low. Thus, if waste disposal is quite cheap due to environmental dumping practices, industries have no incentive to lower their waste production.
It is also quite convenient for countries to ship their waste to other countries instead of dealing with the waste and the related issues themselves. Convenience may also play a role in the political discussion regarding environmental dumping.
It will often be easier for politicians to just leave the waste management processes unchanged than to make efforts to change them, since there is always plenty of lobbying activities in political decisions which will make it hard to make a stand against the practice of environmental dumping.
Another reason for environmental dumping is that it is often quite cheap to get rid of the waste by shipping it to other countries compared to dealing with the waste in the waste producing country.
This is due to the fact that wages are usually quite low in the countries where the waste is shipped to and locals often rely on their income from the waste management processes.
The low price regarding ecological dumping therefore is another cause for the delivery of waste to other countries.
Not only the disposal of waste in foreign countries usually is quite cheap, also the recycling of materials will not be costly compared to the costs of recycling processes in developed Western countries. This also increases the incentive for countries to engage in environmental dumping.
Although there are several environmental issues related to the shipping of garbage to foreign countries, there may also be an upside to it. People living in the waste-receiving countries may benefit from environmental dumping since they often can make a better income compared to other conventional jobs in their area. This gives people a big incentive to work in the waste shipping process.
Environmental dumping may also increase tax revenues for poor developing countries significantly, which gives these countries a big incentive to continue to manage the waste disposal for other countries since the additional tax revenue is needed to build infrastructure and other important projects.
Countries engaging in environmental dumping can also get a political advantage over countries shipping their waste to the waste-receiving countries. The waste-receiving countries will get some political pressure since they may threaten to refrain from accepting waste shipping to their countries.
This would lead to severe issues for the Western world, since they may have problems to deal with the huge amounts of waste by themselves. Thus, the Western world will be kind of dependent on the waste-receiving countries.
Environmental dumping will lead to a significant level of ocean dumping. Since countries are often overwhelmed by the sheer amount of waste that is shipped to them, they will simply dispose some of this garbage into the ocean in order to get rid of it. This is especially true for waste that has just low recycling value, which makes it even more attractive to get rid of this kind of waste by dumping it into the ocean.
The number of landfills due to environmental dumping in the waste-receiving countries is enormous. Since landfills in poor developing countries are often not set up properly, there may be several environmental issues and pollution due to that. The level of pollution resulting from landfills usually increases with the number of landfills that are operating.
Soil pollution can be a big problem that occurs when landfills are not set up properly and when the waste related to environmental dumping is not processed in a safe manner. Part of the waste disposed into landfills is hazardous or even toxic. If these toxic components enter the soil due to lacks in the landfills, they could significantly pollute the soil.
Environmental dumping can also lead to water pollution. Since part of the waste is not disposed properly but often just disposed into the ocean in order to get rid of it, harmful or even toxic substances can enter the water and pollute it. This may lead to severe issues for a variety of sea animals and plants, which may not be able to adapt to the pollution levels and may therefore drop in population or move to other locations in order to survive.
Environmental dumping can indirectly lead to significant levels of air pollution, since the waste-receiving countries often have lower standards regarding waste processing and may burn a big part of it. However, burning material that is hazardous or even toxic may lead to the emission of harmful gases into the air, including greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide which also contribute to the global warming issue.
There may also be a significant level of biodiversity loss in the regions who are literally drowning in waste. Since those regions may not be able to process all of the waste properly, a fraction of the overall waste may be dumped into rivers, forests, lakes or the ocean.
The animals and plants living in the respective areas will suffer from a significant destruction of their natural living conditions, which may lead to a loss of biodiversity since some of the species will not be able to adjust to the new conditions and may die due to that.
Environmental dumping not only may lead to biodiversity loss, but may even lead to the endangerment of whole species or even to the extinction of some species. This is especially true when it comes to species that are only living in a few areas of our planet. If these areas become polluted, these species may become extinct since they lose their natural living conditions and may not be able to adapt to the new environmental circumstances.
In order to get rid of the large amounts of waste that are shipped to the waste-receiving countries every day, illegal dumping practices are sometimes used since it is often easier to dispose the waste into water bodies or forests instead of processing it in a proper manner. This is especially true for waste that is of low recycling value since it is less profitable for companies to process this type of waste compared to just disposing it in a cheap manner.
There may also be significant health issues related to the practice of environmental dumping. Many workers may not be equipped with proper safety gear in order to be protected against harmful substances. Moreover, also the working conditions on landfills may be quite bad and the safety standards quite low. Thus, the probability for injuries may be significantly higher for those workers compared to other jobs.
There may be a number of potential accidents that can happen in the process of shipping the waste from industrialized to developing countries. For instance, ships with large amounts of waste may sink due to storms and high waves, which will lead to enormous water pollution due to toxic substances that will enter the water.
Environmental dumping may also lead to significant levels of visual pollution. Since some countries are drowning in trash, these countries will have large areas where the garbage is stored. Especially in these areas, the living quality might be quite bad due to the visual pollution. Moreover, there may be plenty of smell in the affected areas, which further lowers the quality of life for people living nearby.
Since ecological dumping leads to several adverse environmental issues, it can also be held accountable for the environmental degradation issue. In the long run, the shipping of waste from industrialized to poor developing countries will likely not be sustainable since the environment will suffer too much and alternatives and solutions to this issue have to be developed.
One effective measure against environmental dumping would be to prohibit the shipping of waste to other countries. By doing so, countries would have to set up processes to deal with their waste themselves. This would countries give the incentive to take measures to avoid the overall waste production.
Moreover, the countries which are currently drowning waste will experience a relief from the vast amounts of waste. This agreement for a prohibition of ecological dumping should be made on a global scale so that most of the countries have an obligation to stick to it.
Another solution for the mitigation of the issue would be to increase the costs of shipping trash to other countries. This could come in the form of higher tolls or also by increasing the price for every ton of useless waste. This would make environmental dumping less attractive since it would become more expensive to ship waste to foreign countries.
Everyone of us can mitigate the environmental dumping issue by simply reducing and avoiding unnecessary consumption. We consume all kinds of material things in our daily life that we actually do not need just to impress other people. This has to stop in order to reduce the overall amounts of waste that are produced on a global scale in order to mitigate the waste problem.
Organic food stores often offer the option to by unpackaged food rather than food packaged in plastic like in conventional food stores. Therefore, the amount of plastic waste that is produced each day can be lowered dramatically through switching from conventional to organic food stores.
The waste production can also be significantly reduced by refraining from buying items that are excessively packaged. Packaging material amounts to vast amounts of waste each year, since it is mostly just used for a single time and then disposed into the garbage. Thus, it is crucial that we reduce the consumption of packaging material whenever possible.
It is estimated that we use around 500 billion disposable plastic cups each year. Imagine the amount of plastic waste that is produced due to this consumption behavior. Part of this waste will be shipped to other countries which have to deal with the issues related to that. In order to relief those countries, we should refrain from using disposable plastic cups in our daily life and rather bring our own cups that can be used for several refills.
In the food production process, plenty of work is carried out until the food finally ends up in our grocery stores. However, plenty of food is dumped into the garbage can every day. This is due to the fact that people often thing the best-before date really means that after the respective date, the food is not suitable for consumption anymore.
However, this is not correct! The best-before date just gives a rough estimation on how long the respective food item will be good for consumption. The food can also be suitable for consumption many days after the best-before date has been passed.
Thus, plenty of unnecessary food waste is produced each day which exacerbates the issue of environmental dumping. Therefore, in order to relief foreign countries from drowning in waste, we have to use our food more efficiently in order to reduce the amount of food waste.
You should also try to reuse your material stuff in order to reduce waste. If you want to have the newest version of electronic devices, you can hand your old version to your family members or friends. If you find no one who wants to use your old stuff, make sure that you separate your waste in order to ensure that it can be recycled efficiently.
In order to mitigate the issue, it is also crucial that we raise the awareness on the topic and on the adverse effects related to the shipping of waste to other countries.
Most of the population in Western countries are even not aware of the fact that their trash is carried to other countries since our official media channels do not often talk about this unpleasant topic.
Therefore, it is crucial to raise the awareness and thus to increase the pressure on politicians to take actions in order to solve the issues.
Education is key when it come to solving problems. This is also true for the issue of environmental dumping. We have to show our children how our waste is processed and how people in foreign countries may suffer due to our waste production.
By doing so, these children are more likely to avoid waste and may also convince their parents about the importance of waste reduction. This will often lead parents to also make efforts to reduce the amount of waste they produce.
You should also try to convince your family and friends regarding the importance of waste reduction in the context of environmental dumping. By showing these people the adverse consequences for the people living in foreign countries, they are more aware to change their behavior in an environmentally-friendly manner.
Environmental dumping is a big issue that is not addressed enough in our nowadays society and in our media. Many people in poor developing countries suffer from our consumption and waste production behavior.
Moreover, the shipping of waste to foreign countries also implies a variety of environmental issues which have to be prevented in order to make our lifestyle more sustainable.
There are several measures politicians and also you in your daily life can take in order to mitigate the issue and therefore to contribute to a livable future for the next generations.
About the author
My name is Andreas and my mission is to educate people of all ages about our environmental problems and how everyone can make a contribution to mitigate these issues.
As I went to university and got my Master's degree in Economics, I did plenty of research in the field of Development Economics.
After finishing university, I traveled around the world. From this time on, I wanted to make a contribution to ensure a livable future for the next generations in every part of our beautiful planet.
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