Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Exporting Trash to Poorer Countries

From The New York Times, where you can read the entire article on exporting trash by clicking here

Published: September 26, 2009
ROTTERDAM, the Netherlands — When two inspectors swung open the doors of a battered red shipping container here, they confronted a graveyard of Europe’s electronic waste — old wires, electricity meters, circuit boards — mixed with remnants of cardboard and plastic.

“This is supposed to be going to China, but it isn’t going anywhere,” said Arno Vink, an inspector from the Dutch environment ministry who impounded the container because of Europe’s strict new laws that place restrictions on all types of waste exports, from dirty pipes to broken computers to household trash.

Exporting waste illegally to poor countries has become a vast and growing international business, as companies try to minimize the costs of new environmental laws, like those here, that tax waste or require that it be recycled or otherwise disposed of in an environmentally responsible way.

Rotterdam, the busiest port in Europe, has unwittingly become Europe’s main external garbage chute, a gateway for trash bound for places like China, Indonesia, India and Africa. There, electronic waste and construction debris containing toxic chemicals are often dismantled by children at great cost to their health. Other garbage that is supposed to be recycled according to European law may be simply burned or left to rot, polluting air and water and releasing the heat-trapping gases linked to global warming.

While much of the international waste trade is legal, sent to qualified overseas recyclers, a big chunk is not. For a price, underground traders make Europe’s waste disappear overseas.

After Europe first mandated recycling electronics like televisions and computers, two to three tons of electronic waste was turned in last year, far less than the seven tons anticipated. Much of the rest was probably exported illegally, according to the European Environment Agency.

Paper, plastic and metal trash exported from Europe rose tenfold from 1995 to 2007, the agency says, with 20 million containers of waste now shipped each year either legally or illegally. Half of that passes through this huge port, where trucks and ships exchange goods around the clock.

When we were blogging about pirates in Somalia, a Somali wrote in that part of the problem was that rich western countries were dumping toxic trash off the coast of Somalia and damaging the traditional fishing wealth of the country. Once trash is exported, there is no telling where it will be dumped, or what problems we are causing for our descendants down the road. I can’t help but think that we reap what we sow – and that we need to be paying attention to what we are dumping and where we are dumping it.

September 27, 2009 - Posted by | Africa, Bureaucracy, Community, Financial Issues, Interconnected, Living Conditions, Political Issues, Social Issues, Values


  1. A few days ago I saw a news report about how people in Abidjan are suffering from toxic waste being brought from France and dumped around the capital. People are getting sick for no apparent reasons and children are being born with defects. It’s sad really how the world still views African lives having less value.

    Comment by kinano | September 27, 2009 | Reply

  2. My son was just doing an essay on recycling. He mentioned the trash dump the size of Texas that is floating in the middle of the ocean. He is only 10 but he is worried that we aren’t leaving him a great earth to live on.

    Comment by thecontemplativehousewife | September 28, 2009 | Reply

  3. kinano – good morning! You are right – much of the waste being exported by the richer countries are really dangerous things – medical waste, pesticide chemicals, dangerous processing by-products, dumping hazardous wastes of all kinds. And it is really sad that responsible leaders agree to take the waste, and make a lot of money from it, which the people of the country never see.

    Contemplative – I have not heard of that trash dump, but it sounds very very scary to me, too. There is one really good sign I see – my son and his wife take responsible living WAY farther than we used to, and we were children of the ’70’s, who wanted to save the earth. They don’t use dangerous pesticides, they recycle everything possible, they live with a much smaller footprint. We are so proud of them, and are learning a lot of new ways from them. Your son sounds like he is well on his way to being the same kind of responsible earth citizen. 🙂

    Comment by intlxpatr | September 28, 2009 | Reply

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