Waste Colonialism and the Global Waste Trade

The practice of exporting waste from higher-income countries to lower-income countries who are ill-equipped to handle this waste is a form of environmental racism. It places the burden of plastic and toxic waste on the environment, communities, and informal waste sector predominantly in the Global South.

Exporting countries and companies must take responsibility for their own plastic problem, not export their pollution elsewhere. Ultimately, the responsibility for the pollution created by the export of plastic waste to the Global South rests with companies and manufacturers who continue to rely on single-use, throwaway packaging for their products, despite the devastating impacts. 

Cities and citizens around the world are recognizing that recycling is not enough to solve the plastic pollution crisis, and are taking bold and visionary action to prevent plastic pollution before it starts through zero waste policy and systems. 

Regional Campaigns


On the 25th of May, 2021 GAIA & BFFP Africa released a solidarity video on the impact of waste colonialism on African countries. For Africa Day 2022, we continued to 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 governments.

Asia Pacific

When China took action to protect its borders from foreign plastic pollution by effectively shutting its doors to plastic waste imports in the beginning of 2018, it threw the global plastic recycling industry into chaos.

Wealthy countries had grown accustomed to exporting their plastic problems, with little thought or effort to ensure that the plastic they were exporting got recycled and did not harm other countries. North Americans and Europeans exported not just their plastic waste, but the pollution that went with getting rid of it.

Latin America & the Caribbean

According to recent research by GAIA member organizations in Mexico, Ecuador, Argentina, and Chile, plastic waste exports from the United States to some Latin American countries increased by more than 100% in 2020, at the height of the pandemic. For this reason, the organizations that make up the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) in Latin America and the Caribbean declare their rejection and state of alert before this threat.

Global Policy Campaigns

Global Plastics Treaty

In March 2022, the United Nations Environment Assembly decided on a mandate to create the world’s first Plastics Treaty, a legally binding international law aimed at reducing plastic pollution worldwide, covering the full life-cycle of plastic. GAIA members are on-the-ground in negotiations to advocate for a strong treaty that meets the scale of the crisis.

Basel Convention

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.