Thursday, October 29, 2009


India should initiate a movement for all waste importing nations

‘Waste’ for long has made big business! And mind you just one sided business, wherein the developed world had been the generator and seller, whereas the devolving world had been the buyer and consumer. The economics is pretty simple out here – Large corporations reduce their costs (incurred while maintaining environmental norms and recycling) by redirecting their waste to poor countries like ours and, growing economies like ours are in need of cheap raw materials!

Recently, European Environment Agency revealed that paper, plastic and metal trash exported from Europe rose tenfold from 1995 to 2007, with 20 million containers of waste now shipped out each year, illegally. In October 2007, custom officials at Kochi ports seized around three containers containing municipal waste. These containers were shipped to Kochi port straight from New York marked and labelled as “waste paper”. Finally, it was returned back to the source nation, but then it took almost three months. During the same period, almost 35 containers filled with trash and waste was imported by the Tuticorin port, again in the veil of waste paper.

Going by various researches and studies, the total quantity of foreign garbage ‘legally’ imported in 2005-2006 would be nothing less than 1,34,400 tonnes. And this is, as stated earlier, legally exported. It is estimated that the illegal import would surpass the figure conveniently by few notches, as there is no concrete estimate of the same. This is all possible because of huge and perforated coastline of India. Add to this around 1000 non-computerised ports, managed by a few clearing officials. Since custom clearances can take place from over 1000 small customs depots (besides the seven large ones) scattered throughout the country, it becomes practically a cake walk for one to dodge the checks and import the products in veil of some other legally-accepted goods. And of course then there is corruption which makes eases challenging situations.

All thanks to vast geographic size clubbed with lousy customs clearance procedures, these waste finds their way to Indian land like any other goods. Moreover, since custom is considered as a revenue department, their focus is more on revenue generation rather than following environment related norms, in spite of several orders and directives by the Union Environment Ministry that alerted the Customs to be cautious about illegal municipal waste dumping, business seems usual. On a national level, the total amount of e-waste imports is estimated to touch a staggering figure of 4,34,000 metric tons by the end of the year. And this menace is not just about India. In their publication, In Poisoning the Poor, published last year by Greenpeace International, Jo Kuper and Martin Hojsik claim, “Sending old electronic equipment to developing countries is oft en hailed as bridging the digital divide… one estimate suggests that 25-75 per cent of second hand goods imported to Africa cannot be reused”. Around 80 per cent of the e-waste generated in the US finds its way to India, China and Pakistan. Similar trend can be felt across Hong Kong, Latin America, China, Ghana, Egypt, Nigeria – to name a few.

At the domestic level, India needs to tighten its security at ports while at the international level it needs to unite all those countries at receiving end and raise this issue at a global level. It is high time that nations like us realise that we are bearing a huge social cost at the expense of few corporations.


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