69 Individuals and 136 Organizations Call on Leaders To Stop Illegal U.S. Export of Waste to Africa

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: 22 JUNE, 2022

Civil society organizations, including the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives and Break Free from Plastic, are calling on leaders in the U.S. and Africa to stop waste colonialism—the illegal importing of waste from countries in the Global North to African nations already impacted by the waste and climate crises. 

Their demand letter was first introduced at the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Basel Convention in Geneva, Switzerland, the first of a series of negotiations following the March adoption at UNEA-5 of a global, legally-binding treaty addressing the full lifecycle of plastics.

The U.S. is one of only three countries that have not ratified the Basel Convention, which prohibits the export of hazardous waste from OECD countries (primarily wealthier nations) to non-OECD countries (primarily low-income countries in the Global South). Recent research from the Basel Action Network found that U.S. ports exported 150 tons of PVC waste to Nigeria in 2021, in violation of the Convention. Many of the exporting ports are located in environmental justice communities, which like their counterparts in Africa are impacted by the waste and climate crises. 

“Whatever waste is not burned in our communities is being illegally sent to relatives and grassroots partners in the global South,” says Chris Tandazo, Community Connections Program Coordinator at New Jersey Environmental Justice Alliance. “Fighting for waste justice here would mean waste justice for communities in the Global South. We cannot allow the white supremacist colonial practice of dumping waste in low-income and communities of color to continue. We will continue to organize against polluting industries at home, and globally.”

Rather than stopping plastic pollution at its source, waste colonialism encourages waste management approaches that create severe health implications for workers, communities and the environment by generating significant amounts of greenhouse gases, toxic air pollutants, highly toxic ash, and other potentially hazardous residues. This includes waste incineration, chemical “recycling”, plastic-to-fuel or plastic-to-chemical processes, pyrolysis, and gasification.

“Colonialism is alive and fully functioning in the ways that waste, toxicants, and end-of-life products produced by and for overdeveloped societies move to Indigenous lands,” says Dr. Max Liboiron, director of the Civic Laboratory for Environmental Action Research (CLEAR) at Memorial University, Canada. “Without access to other people’s lands and waters, the economic systems of overdeveloped countries simply don’t work. This assumed access to other’s lands and waters is colonialism.”

“Nigeria is already overwhelmed with plastic waste—we barely have enough facilities to recycle internally generated plastics in Nigeria,” says Weyinmi Okotie, Intervention Officer of Green Knowledge Foundation (GKF) Nigeria. “I’m urging the Federal Government of Nigeria to sign the Bamako convention on toxic waste, as it will be an effective legal tool in stemming the importation of toxic wastes into Africa.”  

“Ensuring that countries manage their own waste is the best way to prevent global environmental injustice. It is also essential for countries to truly come to terms with their waste footprint rather than shipping it off in containers. Once countries fully realize the absurdity of wasting precious materials and resources, harming the planet, our climate, and human health in the process, they become ready to shift to local zero waste economies centered around reuse, repair and composting of bio-waste,” says Sirine Rached, Global Plastics Policy Coordinator for the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA). 

Media Contact:

Zoë Beery, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternative
zoe@no-burn.org

For more information, see no-burn.org/stopwastecolonialism. 

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Contact

Claire Arkin, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA), claire@no-burn.org 

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Kenya Waste Pickers, in Nairobi, at  Dandora Dumpsite (2022)

The term decolonisation describes the process of indigenous people achieving sovereignty over their land, culture, political and economic systems. African countries have largely achieved political independence from colonial powers, and have attempted to dismantle political systems and symbols of oppression. Sadly, in the 21st century, we are facing a new wave of neo-colonialism from Multinational Corporations. 

Colonial settler objectives are rooted in principles of gaining control and exploiting indigenous territories. Likewise, corporations have taken over public space, destroyed consumer choice and displaced individuals from their traditional mechanisms of subsistence. 

In the waste sector, colonialism is evident in several ways. It can be described as the export of waste from economically powerful countries to lower-income countries, where there is a clear lack of infrastructure to manage problematic waste streams. This is further compounded by the double standards that corporates have by sending cheap, single-use products to African countries- under the guise of development while boasting effective sustainable waste management practices where they operate in the Global North. Petrochemical plants which are part of the plastic production process are often placed in poorer communities at the expense of their health and wellbeing. Waste colonialism is also evident when corporations propose false solutions like Waste-To-Energy incineration (WTE), which disregards and will displace waste pickers and their contribution to the local economy. Fundamentally, these practices of waste colonialism treat people as disposable and that is unacceptable.

In Ghana, a German company McDavid Green Solutions has proposed to construct a facility in the Ashanti region.3  Waste workers in Ghana have helped increase waste management services across the 261 Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies (MMDAs) to 80%, across the country.4 A facility like this risks displacing waste workers who are integral to the country’s waste management system. Since there is a high level of organic waste in the African waste stream, in order to meet the quotas of waste needed to be burnt to make incinerators financially feasible, it would need recyclable materials to be burnt as well.

The way forward |

We need African governments to:

  • Uphold existing legislation like the Basel and Bamako conventions, which prohibit the illegal exportation of waste from economically powerful countries. 
  • Invest in the ongoing discussions around a global plastic treaty, and ensure this mandate reflects the local plastic pollution realities within the region and attempts are made to address the problems of plastic across its entire value chain with significant emphasis on slowing down production.
  • Avoid false solutions like WTE, and rather empower individuals with local solutions to waste management by adopting zero waste practices. 

Last year we commemorated  Africa Day on the 25 May 2021, by releasing a solidarity video on Waste Colonialism.  This year we continued creating awareness on the different impacts and forms of waste colonialism by holding an online meeting with our African member organisations, with presentations from expert speakers. In addition to the online meeting, we developed a sign-on letter on waste colonialism directed to African government, which was launched on 01 June 2022.  

To quote Griffins Ochieng, director of the Centre for Environmental Justice and Development in Kenya: “When waste is within your boundaries, it is your responsibility to deal with it, and assess how you manage this waste. You don’t export this to other countries to live with your problem.”

Ends 

GAIA and its members are fighting to end Global North plastic waste dumping in Global South countries, and advocating Basel Convention leadership for a worldwide shift towards localized zero waste economies that foster sharply reduced plastic production, discourage false solutions like so-called “chemical recycling,” and end plastic waste burning, which poisons people and planet and harms our climate. 

For more information on the Global Plastics Treaty, visit our webpage.


Policy Brief: Plastics at Basel COP 15

Three years after the Basel Convention COP14 adopted the plastic waste trade amendments that came into force in January 2021, the global plastic waste trade has shifted but remains a cause of environmental injustice, with communities and ecosystems in importing countries bearing a disproportionate portion of the toxic burden associated with the dumping, burning and environmentally-unsound recycling of plastic waste.

Chemical Recycling: Status, Sustainability, and Environmental Impacts

This technical assessment reveals that chemical recycling is polluting, energy intensive, and has a track record of technical failures, and concludes that it is impossible for chemical recycling to be a viable solution in the short window of time left to solve the plastic problem, especially at the scale needed.

waste beach
Comments on the Plastic Waste Technical Guidelines

Comments on the Basel Convention Draft Updated Technical Guidelines on the Environmentally Sound Management of Plastic Wastes and for their Disposal Submitted by Basel Action Network, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, Environmental Investigation Agency

Additional Resources

Policy Brief: Plastics Treaty and Waste Trade

Top exporters such as the United States, Germany, the UK, Japan and Australia are placing a disproportionate toxic burden on the environment and communities in importing countries. A Global Plastics Treaty can enact stricter measures on the waste trade to prevent environmental injustices.

Mr Yoga, (left) poses for a portrait with his wife and daughter amongst imported plastic waste at his recycling factory in Bangun Village, near Gresik, Surabaya, Indonesia on 22nd February, 2019.

Investigative Report: Discarded– Communities on the Frontlines of the Global Plastic Crisis

When China closed its borders to foreign waste in 2018, countries in Southeast Asia were flooded with garbage masquerading as recycling, primarily from wealthy countries in the Global North. This investigative report uncovers how communities on the ground were impacted by the sudden influx of foreign pollution, and how they’re fighting back.

Between January and August 2020, the United States shipped 44,173 tons of plastic waste, the same tonnage as almost 300 blue whales, to 15 Latin American countries, approximately 35 containers per day. An investigative report by GAIA LAC (Latin America and the Caribbean) members reveals the untold story of how the United States is exporting its plastic problems to Latin America–disregarding international and national laws–and the harm that it’s causing to the Latin American people and environment. 

Policy Brief: Transposing the Basel Convention plastic waste amendments

Before April 2019, most plastic waste flows between countries were uncontrolled under international law. Exporters only had to obtain prior informed consent from importing countries before shipping hazardous plastic waste, as is the case for all hazardous waste under the Basel Convention. However, companies in high-income countries have been exporting mixed, heavily-contaminated and
often unrecyclable plastic waste abroad in order to avoid paying to properly manage it locally.

Basel Action Network: Plastic Waste Transparency Project

Here, activists, policy makers, academics and industry stakeholders can find up-to-date information on the global trade in plastic waste, the countries and actors engaged in it, as well as campaign information to combat the unsustainable trade in plastic waste.

#StopShippingPlasticWaste

Waste trade is the international trade of waste between countries for further treatment, disposal, or recycling. Often, toxic or hazardous wastes are exported by developed countries to developing countries, such as those in Asia-Pacific. Since 1988, more than a quarter of a billion tonnes of plastic waste has been exported around the world. In 2021, a report by the Environmental Investigative Agency and Rethink Plastic found that if the world is serious about tackling marine plastic pollution, waste trade issues must be addressed, alongside other solutions.

IPEN: Basel Convention Resources

Policy briefs and other resources pertaining to the Basel Convention.

EARTH Thailand: Banking on citizen science towards environmental activism and protection

Interview with Penchom Saetang by Sonia G. Astudillo and Dan Abril

Filing an EIA lawsuit. Photo courtesy of EARTH Thailand

For Penchom Saetang, Executive Director of EARTH Thailand, it all started in the 1991 chemical explosion in the port of Klong Toey in Bangkok that ripped chemical warehouses and shanties in the area.  With over 23 kinds of chemicals stored in the warehouses and a newly established military government, “the Thai officers could not handle the explosion, nor identify the kind and volume of chemicals present.”

Together with like-minded friends, Penchom organized a public seminar to explore the situation and demand the government to release information about the explosion and provide assistance to the victims.  By the end of 1991, a Toxic Chemical Committee was formed to assist victims, discuss industrialization issues, assess existing industrial policies, and provide support for banning hazardous chemicals. 

From the committee, this Liberal Arts and Journalism graduate, set up the Campaign for Alternative Industrial Network (CAIN) in 1998 and eleven years later in 2009, CAIN gave way to Ecological Alert and Recovery or simply, EARTH Thailand which was registered as a foundation. 

From 3 to 4 staff, EARTH now has 10 regular employees and while it has the same objectives and mission as CAIN’s, the work has greatly expanded with more activities like environmental monitoring in communities, tools to analyze chemicals in the environment, and more experts in the field who can provide assistance including legal assistance to the community.

GAIA sat down with Penchom to talk about EARTH’s project, plans, challenges, and successes. 

What are EARTH Thailand’s top priorities?

We promote social and environmental justice to communities affected by bad waste management, illegal dumping, and communities that are being affected by hazardous waste recycling. We also work with communities affected by the waste trade of plastic scraps and other scraps. In 2008, the Thailand and the Japanese government were entering into a contract on economic partnership or the form of free trade agreement.  We learned that the draft bipartite contract would allow waste trade and that once we enter into the partnership, Japan can send in their waste to Thailand.  We could not stop the partnership because a number of Asian countries already signed it.  That was the first time we had a campaign against the waste trade. Since then, we wanted to know the impacts related to waste imports.  We found that Thailand imported huge volumes of plastic waste from other countries and there was an increase in this importation in 2018 when China signed the Sword Policy banning the import of plastic and other materials.

Ban Plastic.  Photo courtesy of EARTH Thailand

What are EARTH Thailand’s main and ongoing campaigns? 

We work on the waste importation issue.  This includes plastic, electronics, metal scraps, and other hazardous waste.  We are also opposing the recycling of electronics and hazardous waste and also pushing for the Basel ban amendment ratification.

There are several waste-to-energy project proposals in the country and we are opposing that too.  

We have several citizen science projects on environment, health, and reducing industrial pollution.  What we do is we provide support to communities to have environmental monitoring and sampling and support them by producing reports that they can use to push the government to solve environmental issues in the area.

We also work with partners on other issues such as mercury and sustainable development.  

What are your biggest accomplishments/achievements?

What we do is strengthen the community and give them a better solution / stronger negotiation to their problem. Our role in supporting the communities has stimulated/encouraged the actions of the environmental and health agencies.

Some concrete achievements like in 2002, we succeeded in the campaign in calling for additional health damage compensation provided to the chemical explosion victim of 1991 from the government.

We are also a part of the social movement to support the Minamata Convention and Basel Convention. We supported the government to ratify the Minamata Convention and the Thai government now had accession to the Minamata Convention. This year the government is considering ratifying the Basel Ban Amendment. And now we are campaigning to end the plastic scrap importation to Thailand and we hope it will succeed.

Using the citizen science approach, we have set up environmental monitoring activities in different communities. This can empower the communities in their fight with industrial pollution and toxic waste problems in a number of communities.

We do research to support lawsuits of communities against the hazardous waste recycling case and in 2020 one community in Ratchaburi Province which had fought for almost 20 years against the recycling company won a class-action lawsuit against the recycling company

There are three levels to our work:

  • Community which includes training, consultancy, data gathering, and simplifying information for their use in environmental movement
  • Connecting with international network such as IPEN, GAIA, and CSOs in Thailand
  • Policy Advocacy and law improvement which involves advocating for environmental law.
Photo courtesy of EARTH Thailand

What challenges are you currently facing?  How is your work impacted by the COVID crisis?

There are many.  There are external factors such as in the earlier period of our activities, we found that we cannot coordinate with agencies such as environmental agencies that should be working on industrial pollution. There was no collaboration there.  Recently, it is getting better but still challenging because the biggest environmental policies are being dominated by industrial investors or big businesses.  It is difficult to overcome them, particularly in the legal & policy areas.

With regards to waste management, plastic waste is very challenging, especially at the policy level.  Local political parties and authorities didn’t want to enforce measures to encourage the general public to reduce plastic waste. Plastic reduction is still on a voluntary base.  We still have a lot to do to solve the plastic issue.

With environmental justice, our problem is the mentality and attitude of the government and judicial authority. The process takes a long time.  We need a platform for dialogue to change attitudes and mindsets on environmental justice.  We need to think about how we can enter into their way of thinking.  Corruption is also a big challenge.

Internally, EARTH has a big problem with staff turnover.  Most of the staff stay short term and often move to other fields such as the government or private sectors or pursue higher education.  Every time it happens, I have to start again and train new staff on how to analyze data, do advocacy work…  It is hard for us to continue working efficiently and to conduct effective campaigns. In fighting the hazardous waste and pollution issue, we still need more knowledge and technical things to strengthen our action and campaign.

The budget is also difficult because we have to raise funds.  Projects last for four years at most and we have to comply with all the requirements of the funding agencies and it is difficult to handle everything.

With the pandemic, we cannot move and do environmental monitoring, particularly in impacted areas. Project implementation could not happen and there are an increasing number of online meetings and conferences. 

What are the main environmental issues that your country/region is facing?

There are big issues such as environmental contamination/deterioration by industrial pollution, the state of marginalized people and their land rights and then there are dam constructions and climate change related to deforestation.  Lots of things but now the big challenge we have in Thailand is about special economic development.  It is a  big and tough challenge for CSOs and many communities.  Thailand just declared 3 provinces under the Eastern Economic Corridor (ECC) when they will receive a special period in investment and we know those industrial investments do not always go well with environmental protection.  The government also announced more than 20 special economic zones across the country and those have all become pollution hotspots.

KhonKaen hotspot. Photo courtesy of EARTH Thailand

Farmers and agriculturists are affected, then the marginalized groups who are discriminated against under different laws but even more so with the special economic zone, and then labour groups discriminated against on their daily wage and no risk protection to chemical exposure, and then migrant workers who are the worst of.

Tha Thum Hotspot.  Photo courtesy of EARTH Thailand

These economic zones bring in big investors and corporations and all types of investments from multinational corporations.  We observe from 2018 that there have been an increasing number of waste recycling being promoted and constructed in the EEC area.  We launched a campaign against dirty recycling this 2021 and call for more regulations and measures to control toxic emissions.   Beyond air pollution, other problems from waste recycling are wastewater, land contamination, and illegal dumping.  Waste recycling is now one of the big problems of EARTH Thailand aside from WTE projects and waste dumping.

Lawsuit against dirty recycling.  Photo courtesy of EARTH Thailand

How do you see your organization’s work evolving in the next few years? 

We try to promote the citizen scientist team to have better technical knowledge with some scientific tools which can help them provide environmental monitoring and analyzing contamination in areas, provide good reports, and teach negotiating power to communities to policy and decision-makers.

We hope to develop local communities to campaign against dirty recyclers.  We can build the citizen scientist team to provide training support and provide consultancy to affected communities.  In parallel, we have to move on and advocate for other policy changes such as the modification of the environmental laws.

We will also campaign for Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) and continue working on it along with the circular economy.

Photo courtesy of EARTH Thailand

Citizen science is very important because when we talk about health, the environment, and science, people have the belief that those things fall in the hands of scientists, economists, and academic institutions.  When we want to do environmental monitoring, the community doesn’t have the skill to do that.  But we have to fight environmental problems.  Citizen scientists need to work with the community.  If we don’t have a device, we can’t do anything and we can’t ask for assistance from academic institutions for free.  People need to depend on people.  If we’re fighting pollution, we need to strengthen citizen science and use our knowledge and provide support to affected communities.

Citizen science approach is used by many countries to empower the negotiation skills of the people.

What are your thoughts on the waste crisis that many countries in your region (and in the world) are living in right now? 

Waste importation from the west is still happening.  Thailand and other countries in the region are targets for dumping due to corruption in these countries and the low labour cost. 

Plastic waste is related to consumption and economic “development”.  We have to keep watching this issue because it will be a big crisis in the future even if countries have policies and similar goals to reduce.  

I call this the crisis of recycling.  Low-income countries such as Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and other low-income countries in Africa are dealing with the plastic waste trade because richer countries can send their waste to them in the guise of recycling and there are no environmental regulations to control this.

Who inspires you the most in the environmental work (in your country or in the world)?

I respect and admire those who contribute to public interest and social well being, no specific idols. I learned from some teachers and friends during my schooling and undergraduate life and I wanted to do something related to public interest like them. After graduation, I initially was not interested in environmental work.  But later, I realized that in this area, I can do something for the greater good.  

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Interested to support the work of EARTH Thailand?  Visit www.earththailand.org/en/

December 16th, 2021More than 70 organisations from around the world signed a public statement to reject the transboundary trade of plastic waste in Latin American countries and to demand that the United States, the main exporter of thousands of tons of plastic waste, manage its waste on its territory.

December 16th – Member organizations of the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) in Latin America from Mexico, Ecuador, Argentina and Chile published significant data that showed that plastic waste exports from the United States to some Latin American countries increased by more than 100% in 2020. Mexico, El Salvador and Ecuador are the main importers of plastic imports in the region. 

Key findings:

  • According to the U.S. International free trade database, USA Trade Online, between January and August 2020, 44,173 tons of plastic waste arrived from the United States to 15 Latin American countries.  The US exported 44,173 tonnes of plastic waste to 15 Latin American countries between January and August 2020, sending at least 35 containers of plastic waste per day to the region.
  • Mexico, El Salvador, and Ecuador are the leading importers of plastic waste in the region.Between January and August 2020 alone, 32,650 tonnes arrived in Mexico; 4,054 tonnes in El Salvador; and 3,665 tonnes in Ecuador.
  • Currently, trade in plastic waste is carried out through ambiguous and generic tariff classifications, which hinders traceability until their final use. From the experiences of Asian countries, there is ample evidence that waste arrives contaminated or is difficult to recycle, which has a serious impact on the receiving countries.

Plastic waste exports became a threat after China stopped this type of import in 2018 to protect its territory from contamination. Globally, there is growing concern about the shipment of plastic waste from significant powerhouses such as the United States, the largest exporter of plastic waste and not a signatory to the Basel Convention, to nations with weak legislation and controls such as countries in Latin America, South East Asia and Africa. This issue highlights the fragility of recycling systems worldwide, the imperative need to move towards zero waste systems that prioritise reduction and reuse and, most importantly, that each country, especially those in the global North, manage their waste within their own territories.

Signatory organizations, demand that:

  • Latin American and Caribbean countries adapt their legislation to implement the Basel Convention (all signatories except Haiti) and its Plastics Amendment.
  • Authorities should make information on imports of plastic waste transparent and strengthen their controls.
  • Customs registries should be in place to know precisely the type and state of plastic waste entering Latin American ports.
  • The protection of territories and its communities should be a priority in the face of bilateral or multilateral agreements such as free trade agreements which could facilitate the entry of plastic waste.

Fernanda Soliz, Health Area Director at Simón Bolívar University, Ecuador.

“Crossborder plastic waste trade is perhaps one of the most nefarious expressions of the commercialization of common goods and the colonial occupation of territories of the geopolitical south to turn them into sacrifice zones. Latin America and the Caribbean are not the backyards of the United States. We are sovereign territories, and we demand the respect of the rights of Nature and our peoples” 

Melissa Aguayo, Break Free From Plastic – U.S. Coordinator.

“It is irresponsible and immoral that the United States fails to prevent companies from exporting plastic waste to Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as throughout the Global South. Rather than implementing proper waste reduction measures domestically, the U.S. is perpetrating waste colonialism by dumping this toxic pollution on other countries. We are in solidarity with our Latin American partners and allies who demand their national governments stop accepting waste imports. We will hold the U.S. government accountable for real and equitable solutions to the plastic pollution crisis.”

More Information

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CONTACT: Camila Aguilera – camila@no-burn.org / +569 51111599

GAIA is a worldwide alliance of more than 800 grassroots groups, non-governmental organizations, and individuals in over 90 countries. With our work we aim to catalyze a global shift towards environmental justice by strengthening grassroots social movements that advance solutions to waste and pollution. We envision a just, zero waste world built on respect for ecological limits and community rights, where people are free from the burden of toxic pollution, and resources are sustainably conserved, not burned or dumped.

Colonialismo de la basura

Más de 70 organizaciones de todo el mundo respaldaron una declaración pública para rechazar el comercio transfronterizo de desechos plásticos en países de América Latina y exigir que Estados Unidos, principal exportador de miles de toneladas de desechos plásticos se haga cargo de sus residuos en su territorio.

© Fully Handoko/Ecoton

16 de diciembre

Organizaciones miembro de la Alianza Global por Alternativas a la Incineración (GAIA) de México, Ecuador, Argentina y Chile publicaron una investigación que alertó que en 2020, las exportaciones de residuos plásticos desde Estados Unidos hacia algunos países de América Latina aumentaron en más del 100%. México, El Salvador y Ecuador son los principales importadores de desechos plásticos en la región.

Principales hallazgos de la investigación:

  • Según la base de datos de libre comercio internacional de Estados Unidos, USA Trade Online, entre enero y agosto de 2020 llegaron 44.173 toneladas de desechos plásticos procedentes de Estados Unidos a 15 países latinoamericanos. Eso significó el envío de aproximadamente 35 contenedores diarios a la región con estos materiales.
  • México, El Salvador y Ecuador son los principales destinos en América Latina de estos desechos plásticos. Solo entre enero y agosto de 2020, llegaron 32.650 toneladas a México; 4.054 toneladas a El Salvador; y 3.665 toneladas a Ecuador. 
  • Actualmente, el comercio de residuos plásticos se realiza a través de partidas, subpartidas y fracciones arancelarias amplias y ambiguas, que no permiten el seguimiento de estos materiales hasta su uso final. Por las experiencias de países asiáticos, existe amplia evidencia de que estos desechos llegan contaminados o son difíciles de reciclar, lo cual causa un grave impacto en los países receptores. 

Las alarmas se encendieron cuando en 2018, China prohibió este tipo de importaciones para proteger su territorio de la contaminación, dejando en evidencia la fragilidad de los sistemas de reciclaje y una crisis de los residuos que ha convertido a América Latina en un destino emergente para el envío de la basura plástica mundial. A escala global, existe una creciente preocupación sobre el envío de residuos plásticos desde potencias como Estados Unidos, el mayor exportador de residuos plásticos y país no suscrito al Convenio de Basilea, hacia naciones con legislaciones débiles y menores controles como las de América Latina, Asia Pacífico y África. Este problema deja en evidencia la fragilidad de los sistemas de reciclaje a nivel mundial, la necesidad imperante de avanzar hacia sistemas basura cero que prioricen la reducción y la reutilización y sobre todo, que cada país, en especial los del Norte global, que gestionen sus residuos dentro de sus propios territorios. 

Fernanda Soliz, directora área de salud, Universidad Simón Bolívar, Ecuador

“El comercio transfronterizo de desechos plásticos es quizás una de las expresiones más nefastas de la mercantilización de los bienes comunes y de la ocupación colonial de los territorios del sur geopolítico para convertirlos en zonas de sacrificio. América Latina y el Caribe no somos el patio trasero de los Estados Unidos, somos territorios soberanos y exigimos el cumplimiento de los derechos de la Naturaleza y de nuestros pueblos”.

Melissa Aguayo, Coordinadora de Break Free From Plastic, Estados Unidos

“Que Estados Unidos no haga nada para que las empresas dejen de exportar residuos plásticos a América Latina y el Caribe, así como a todo el Sur Global, es irresponsable e inmoral. En vez de aplicar en su país las medidas adecuadas de reducción, Estados Unidos está perpetrando un colonialismo de residuos al depositar esta contaminación tóxica en otros países. Solidarizamos con nuestros socios y aliados latinoamericanos que les están exigiendo a sus gobiernos que dejen de aceptar las importaciones de residuos, y exigimos al gobierno de EE.UU. que se responsabilice de encontrar soluciones reales y equitativas a la crisis de la contaminación por plástico.”


Más información

Contacto de prensa: Camila Aguilera – camila@no-burn.org / +569 51111599

 

Between January and August 2020, the United States shipped 44,173 tons of plastic waste, the same tonnage as almost 300 blue whales, to 15 Latin American countries, approximately 35 containers per day. An investigative report by GAIA LAC (Latin America and the Caribbean) members reveals the untold story of how the United States is exporting its plastic problems to Latin America–disregarding international and national laws–and the harm that it’s causing to the Latin American people and environment. The Executive Summary of the report, including its key findings, has been translated into English.

 

 

En una reciente investigación de organizaciones miembro de GAIA en México, Ecuador, Argentina y Chile, se alertó que en 2020, en plena pandemia, las exportaciones de residuos plásticos desde Estados Unidos hacia algunos países de América Latina aumentaron en más del 100%. 

Por eso, las organizaciones que conforman la Alianza Global por Alternativas a la Incineración (GAIA) en América Latina y el Caribe declaran su rechazo y estado de alerta ante esta amenaza, que convierte a nuestra región en un destino emergente de la basura plástica mundial luego de que China detuviera en 2018 ese tipo de importaciones para proteger su territorio de la contaminación.

A escala mundial, existe una creciente preocupación sobre el envío de residuos plásticos desde potencias como Estados Unidos, el mayor exportador de residuos plásticos, hacia naciones con débiles legislaciones y controles. Ante esta situación, vemos con preocupación que: 

  • Según la base de datos de libre comercio internacional de Estados Unidos, USA Trade Online, entre enero y agosto de 2020 llegaron 44.173 toneladas de desechos plásticos procedentes de Estados Unidos a 15 países latinoamericanos. Eso significó el envío de aproximadamente 35 contenedores diarios a la región con estos materiales. 
  • Pese a las normativas y a las iniciales acciones gubernamentales, en los países investigados aún se desconoce el estado en que ingresan, a través de puertos y fronteras, miles de toneladas de desechos plásticos cuyo principal origen es Estados Unidos, que además no es parte firmante del Convenio de Basilea.
  • Actualmente, el comercio de residuos plásticos se realiza a través de partidas, subpartidas y fracciones arancelarias amplias y ambiguas, que no permiten el seguimiento de estos materiales hasta su uso final. Por las experiencias de países asiáticos, existe amplia evidencia de que estos desechos llegan contaminados o son difíciles de reciclar, lo cual causa un impacto en los países receptores. 
  • GAIA no es la única organización que ha observado con preocupación el aumento de los flujos de desechos plásticos hacia la región. Un informe de Interpol de 2020, alertó que el sector del reciclaje está creciendo en América Latina, con inversores chinos que han mostrado su interés en nuestro continente para instalar sus fábricas debido al acceso a mano de obra barata y la cercanía con Estados Unidos.
  • México, El Salvador y Ecuador son los principales importadores de desechos plásticos en la región. Solo entre enero y agosto de 2020, llegaron 32.650 toneladas a México; 4.054 toneladas a El Salvador; y 3.665 toneladas a Ecuador, según los datos recopilados por The Last Beach Cleanup.

Alertamos que estamos ante un peligro inminente de contaminación de la naturaleza y vulneración de los derechos de las comunidades de vivir en un ambiente seguro para su salud y la de sus territorios. Asimismo, representantes de distintas organizaciones han manifestado su adhesión y preocupación indicando:

“El comercio transfronterizo de desechos plásticos es quizás una de las expresiones más nefastas de la mercantilización de los bienes comunes y de la ocupación colonial de los territorios del sur geopolítico para convertirlos en zonas de sacrificio. América Latina y el Caribe no somos el patio trasero de los Estados Unidos, somos territorios soberanos y exigimos el cumplimiento de los derechos de la Naturaleza y de nuestros pueblos” – Fernanda Soliz, directora área de salud, Universidad Simón Bolívar, Ecuador.

“Que Estados Unidos no haga nada para que las empresas dejen de exportar residuos plásticos a América Latina y el Caribe, así como a todo el Sur Global, es irresponsable e inmoral. En vez de aplicar en su país las medidas adecuadas de reducción, Estados Unidos está perpetrando un colonialismo de residuos al depositar esta contaminación tóxica en otros países. Solidarizamos con nuestros socios y aliados latinoamericanos que les están exigiendo a sus gobiernos que dejen de aceptar las importaciones de residuos, y exigimos al gobierno de EE.UU. que se responsabilice de encontrar soluciones reales y equitativas a la crisis de la contaminación por plástico.” – Melissa Aguayo, Coordinadora, Break Free From Plastic, Estados Unidos.

El problema de la contaminación por plástico no es sólo una cuestión de acumulación de residuos, es también un problema de justicia medioambiental y un factor que alimenta nuestra crisis climática. Este informe muestra que las desigualdades y los daños causados por la contaminación plástica no tienen fronteras y, en última instancia, perjudican a las comunidades de color. Nuestras comunidades latinxs en Estados Unidos y en los países latinoamericanos, viven esta contaminación todos los días, desde la extracción hasta la incineración. Este informe realmente pone de manifiesto que no existe tal cosa como “lejos” – y que tenemos que empezar a abordar el problema de la contaminación con soluciones concretas.” Mariana Del Valle – GreenLatinos 

Las organizaciones firmantes exigimos con urgencia que :

  • Los países de América Latina y el Caribe adapten sus legislaciones para aplicar el Convenio de Basilea (del que todos son suscriptores, menos Haití) y su Enmienda de Plásticos.
  • Las autoridades transparenten la información respecto a las importaciones de residuos plásticos y reforzar sus controles.
  • Deben existir registros aduaneros que permitan saber con exactitud el tipo y el estado de los desechos plásticos que ingresan a los puertos latinoamericanos.
  • La protección de nuestro territorio y sus comunidades sean prioritarios ante acuerdos bilaterales o multilaterales como tratados de libre comercio que podrían abrir puertas al ingreso de desechos plásticos.

Estamos ante una crisis de los residuos que muestra que para alcanzar el éxito en los esfuerzos hacia una gestión de residuos realmente sustentable, se deben priorizar políticas de reducción, y en segundo término asegurar la reutilización y reciclabilidad de los envases, asegurando que su reciclaje se realice en sitios cercanos a donde se generan. Rechazamos tajantemente que las altas cifras de reciclaje que muestran los países ricos sean a costa de convertir nuestro continente en un basurero.

Adhieren:

Acción Ecológica, Ecuador
Acción Ecológica y Academia Mexicana de Derecho Ambiental
Agrupación Aitué de Huillinco, Chile
Alianza Basura Cero Chile
Arnika, República Checa.
Asociación Ecológica Santo Tomás, México.
Ban SUP (Single Use Plastic), Estados Unidos.
C-CUBED, Nigeria
CAAN Glens Falls, Estados Unidos.
Cafeteria Culture, Estados Unidos.
Climate Reality Project Philippines, Filipinas
Colectivo VientoSur, Chile.
Community Research, Estados Unidos.
CREPD, Camerún.
CT Coalition for EJ, Estados Unidos.
Digital Data Standards LLC, Estados Unidos.
East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice, Estados Unidos.
Ecoton, Estados Unidos.
Ecoviable, Colombia.
Evestico Ltd, Reino Unido.
FoCo Trash Mob, Estados Unidos.
Fronteras Comunes, México.
Fundación Basura, Chile,
Fundación El Árbol, Chile.
Fundación Lenga, Chile.
Galena Green Team, Estados Unidos.
Gili Eco Trust, Indonesia.
Greenpeace Finlandia.
Health and Environment Justice Support (HEJSupport), internacional.
Humusz Waste Prevention Allience, Hungría.
ICA Agro SpA, Chile.
INTA, Argentina.
JA!Justica Ambiental, Mozambique.
Just Goods, Estados Unidos.
KY Environmental Foundation, Estados Unidos.
Local Futures, Estados Unidos.
Love Plant Nourish by Ike & Eli’s Organic Farm, LLC , Estados Unidos.
Mingas por el mar, Ecuador.
Missouri River Bird Observatory, Estados Unidos.
MN BIPOC Environmental Justice Table, Estados Unidos.
Nipe Fagio, Tanzania.
PCC Environmental Club, Trinidad y Tobago.
Plastic Free Society, Francia.
Plastic Oceans International
Plastic Pollution Coalition, Estados Unidos.
Plataforma Antiincineración de Montcada, España.
Public Environmental Centre for Sustainable Development, Bulgaria.
Purge Plastic, Reino Unido.
Red de Acción por los Derechos Ambientales RADA, Chile.
SAISOCA, Venezuela.
Sea Hugger, Estados Unidos.
Six Senses Hotels Resorts Spas, Tailandia.
StopPlastics, Canadá.
Sustainable Environment Development Initiative, Nigeria.
Sustainable Mill Valley, Estados Unidos.
Taller de Comunicación Ambiental (Rosario), Argentina.
Taller Ecologista, Argentina.
TECHshare – Technik, Bildung, Solidarität, Suiza.
The Last Beach Cleanup, Estados Unidos.
The Last Plastic Straw, Estados Unidos.
The Ocean Project, Estados Unidos.
UANL, México.
UDD, Chile.
Universidad Santo Tomás, Colombia.
UUFHCT, Estados Unidos.
VMCH, Australia.
WasteLess, India.
Whole Vashon Project, Estados Unidos.
Wonderfil, Estados Unidos.
Zero Waste Association of South Africa, Sudáfrica.
Zero Waste Lab Portugal.

Foto: Andy Li en Unsplash

 

En 2020, en plena pandemia, las exportaciones de residuos plásticos desde Estados Unidos hacia algunos países de América Latina aumentaron en más del 100%. A escala mundial, existe una creciente preocupación sobre el envío de residuos plásticos desde potencias, como Estados Unidos, hacia naciones pobres con débiles legislaciones y controles. 

 

Estados Unidos exportó 44.173 toneladas de desechos plásticos a 15 países latinoamericanos, entre enero y agosto de 2020, lo que significó el envío de por lo menos 35 contenedores diarios a la región con estos residuos. Esto ocurre en medio de un creciente rechazo mundial al comercio transfronterizo de desechos plásticos por su impacto en los países receptores, generalmente en vías de desarrollo. 

Esta es una de las revelaciones de una investigación realizada por organizaciones sociales y medioambientales de México, Ecuador, Argentina y Chile*, con el apoyo de la Alianza Global para Alternativas a la Incineración (GAIA, por sus siglas en inglés), que promueve estrategias de basura cero. 

Según GAIA, América Latina y el Caribe se están convirtiendo a pasos acelerados en un nuevo destino de la basura plástica mundial, en especial de la procedente de Estados Unidos, el mayor exportador de estos desechos. La región se ha sumado a países del sudeste asiático como receptores de estos desperdicios. 

Este movimiento es parte de una nueva tendencia que se originó en 2018 después de que China restringiera esas importaciones. En ese año, la potencia asiática cerró las puertas a los desechos plásticos de Estados Unidos, que llegaban sucios o eran difíciles de reciclar, lo cual generaba mayor contaminación en su territorio. 

Ahora ese flujo ha desembarcado en puertos y fronteras de la región y la tendencia es hacia el alza. De acuerdo a la información recopilada, México, El Salvador y Ecuador son los principales destinos en América Latina de estos desechos plásticos. Solo entre enero y agosto de 2020, llegaron 32.650 toneladas a México; 4.054 toneladas a El Salvador; y 3.665 toneladas a Ecuador. El estudio se concentró en los casos de México y Ecuador. 

Foto: Pat Whelen en Unsplash

Ambos países registraron fuertes incrementos en las importaciones de desechos plásticos desde Estados Unidos, pese a la pandemia. En México, en 2019, los envíos no superaron las 4.000 toneladas mensuales. Pero en julio de 2020, se registró un súbito aumento a más de 6.700 toneladas. Entre enero y agosto de 2020 el crecimiento de estas importaciones fue del 135%. 

Ecuador tuvo un repunte similar en el mismo periodo del 137%. En enero de 2020 importó desde Estados Unidos 446,3 toneladas y en agosto la cifra fue de 1.059,7 toneladas. Anualmente, las compras de estos desechos por empresarios ecuatorianos equivalen a la producción total de residuos plásticos de 40 cantones del país sudamericano. Este es un grave contrasentido para una nación que entierra el 96 % de su basura.

Por estados, California fue el principal exportador de desechos plásticos a estos dos países de la región. Estos desechos ingresaron a México, principalmente por vía terrestre en camiones. A Ecuador, a través de sus puertos. California lidera las exportaciones de residuos plásticos a países con mala gestión de residuos. México, El Salvador y Ecuador están entre los 13 países del mundo que más desechos plásticos reciben desde California, según cifras de la base de datos de libre comercio internacional de Estados Unidos, USA Trade Online, levantadas por la organización norteamericana The Last Beach Cleanup. 

Chile y Argentina están en el lado opuesto. Estos países tienen importaciones mínimas de residuos plásticos en comparación con México y Ecuador. A Chile llegaron 102 toneladas entre enero y agosto de 2020. A Argentina, 301 toneladas en el mismo lapso. Este último país tiene normas restrictivas para el ingreso de residuos peligrosos y de desechos recolectados en la calle o procedentes de la industria desde el exterior. Pero en 2019, el presidente Mauricio Macri flexibilizó el ingreso de esos desechos al derogar el Decreto 181 de 1992, una medida que fue revertida por su sucesor, Alberto Fernández.

En México, los investigadores reportaron la existencia de legislaciones con vacíos, inconsistencias y duplicidades en una serie de normas que abordan este tipo de. En Ecuador, hay normativas  que establecen regulaciones a todo movimiento transfronterizo de residuos o desechos, sean peligrosos, especiales o no peligrosos. Estos deben contar con la autorización del Ministerio del Ambiente, pero esa entidad solo ha recibido tres solicitudes, lo cual contrasta con el creciente número de importaciones hacia ese país.

GAIA no es la única organización que ha observado con preocupación el aumento de los flujos de desechos plásticos hacia la región. En agosto de 2020, la Interpol publicó un informe que menciona el crecimiento del sector reciclaje en América Latina, lo que podría abrir nuevos mercados para los residuos plásticos, sobre todo de Estados Unidos. Explicó que existen crecientes inversiones en la región para implantar nuevas instalaciones de reciclaje en México, Argentina y otros países de América Central, del Sur y en el Caribe. 

Residuos plásticos ilegales importado desde Estados Unidos a Batam, Indonesia en 2019 que fueron enviado de regreso. Con cientos de containers que llegan al país todos los días, es imposible para las autoridades locales inspeccionar el contenido de cada contenedor. Sei Ratifa AFP.

 

América Latina, obligada a controlar el comercio de desechos plásticos 

 

En los países de estudio, la investigación evidenció la falta de información y de controles por parte de las autoridades a los desechos plásticos que ingresan a sus territorios. Aquello supone un mayor reto para la aplicación del Convenio de Basilea y de su Enmienda de plásticos, de la que son suscriptores casi todos los países latinoamericanos, con excepción de Haití. 

El Convenio de Basilea es un acuerdo internacional sobre el control de los movimientos transfronterizos de los desechos peligrosos y otros desechos. En mayo de 2019, los países parte adoptaron la Enmienda de plásticos ante la creciente contaminación mundial por basura plástica y microplásticos. 

La Enmienda de plásticos agregó al acuerdo el control de los residuos plásticos mezclados, no reciclables, sucios y halogenados (que generan emisiones tóxicas cuando se someten a ciertas temperaturas o son quemados), así como todos los residuos plásticos no destinados a un reciclaje ambientalmente racional. Su propósito es mejorar el control de los movimientos transfronterizos de los desechos plásticos y evitar que los países industrializados inunden a los países pobres con su basura. No es una prohibición a la importación, pero sí requiere a los exportadores el consentimiento de los países receptores. La Enmienda entró en vigencia en enero de 2021. 

En la región, los gobiernos están adaptando sus legislaciones para acoger los postulados del acuerdo, pero la investigación demuestra graves deficiencias respecto a la transparencia de las cifras sobre este tipo de importaciones y la existencia de registros aduaneros imprecisos y ambiguos que no permiten saber qué tipo de desechos plásticos y en qué estado llegan a los puertos latinoamericanos. 

A ello se suman otros desafíos como los acuerdo bilaterales o multilaterales como tratados de libre comercio como el existente Estados Unidos, México y Canadá (T-MEC), que abren las puertas al ingreso de esos desechos y entran en conflicto con los postulados del Convenio de Basilea. 

Para Magdalena Donoso, coordinadora en América Latina de GAIA, la región vive un nuevo colonialismo. Los recursos naturales de la región latinoamericana han sido desde los tiempos de la colonia explotados y extraídos de manera sistemática y brutal. Hoy estos materiales se exportan en grandes cantidades, mientras muchos de ellos son devueltos a nosotros en la forma de residuos y productos baratos hechos de materiales reciclados tóxicos. Este es a todas luces un nuevo colonialismo de los países del norte, los que hoy exportan su problema de generación excesiva de residuos hacia los territorios latinoamericanos”, afirma. 

GAIA y sus organizaciones aliadas en los países de estudio exigen a los gobiernos el cumplimiento del Convenio de Basilea y mayor transparencia sobre el tipo de desechos plásticos que están llegando a la región, para evitar que nuestros países se conviertan en nuevos vertederos de la basura mundial. 

 

*Organizaciones participantes por cada país:
Argentina: Taller Ecologista.
Chile: Alianza Basura Cero Chile
Ecuador: Universidad Andina Simón Bolívar, Alianza Basura Cero Ecuador, VLIR–UOS.

México: Acción Ecológica, AMDA, Asociación Ecológica Santo Tomás, Fronteras Comunes, Greenpeace, LIDECS.