The Basel Convention to control illegal trade of toxic waste was signed in 1992. Despite this, toxic waste is still dumped in Asian and African ports. A five-day conference in Bali this week aimed at finding solutions.
Computers at a dump in China
At the ship breaking yards of Bangladesh, every day is a gamble for the labourers who recycle parts of old carrier ships. With little or no protective gear, these often uneducated labourers battle harmful chemicals and gases as they dismantle the ship using welding torches and haul the parts to land using cables. Apart from the constant danger of accidents including explosions, they also suffer from skin, respiratory and eye ailments.
Shaheen Dill-Riaz, a Berlin-based filmmaker has portrayed the lives of these ship breakers in his film ‘The Iron Eaters’. He says that the situation of these labourers is crucial, as the modes of recruitment and payment at the yard are not systematic. ``On the other hand, are the technical dangers and conditions they have to fight with,’’ says Dill-Riaz.
Developed countries dump toxic waste in Asia
Like Bangladesh, many countries in Asia serve as dumping grounds for all kinds of hazardous waste including old ships, plastic, chemicals, and electronic waste like computers and mobile phones. The low cost of labour, lax environmental and labour regulations in Asian countries make it a lucrative option for international traders to ship their waste to these countries.
The countries often fail to effectively enforce regulations because of the sheer volume of imports of hazardous waste, says Martin Hojsik, toxics campaigner for Greenpeace International.
Hojsik says that Asian countries like India and China have to monitor all the containers and good coming into the country to prevent hazardous waste. ``With the amount of trade going on, it is quite a burden for the authorities to do this,’’ says Hojsik. The situation will get worse in the future as the countries are also growing.
Producers also need to take responsibility
Another dilemma in these countries is poverty and lack of resources. But it is not only the importing countries that are responsible. The exporting countries, or the producers also need to step forward, says Hojsik.
``Greenpeace believes that the producers should be held responsible for taking care of the entire lifecycle of the products, including the waste,’’ he says. This would include ensuring the old products are collected and treated properly so that they do not end up on the yards in countries like India and China.
The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Waste and its Disposal aimed at fixing responsibility on the waste generators as well as the importing countries. Yet international traders have been manipulating loopholes in the Convention regulations and international trade laws so that they can continue to gain profit from recycling this hazardous waste.
Conference declares greater efforts in the future
At the five-day conference of the Basel Convention in Nusa Dua on the Indonesian island of Bali, the member parties reaffirmed commitment to preventing illegal trade of toxic waste. To achieve this aim, they agreed to promote international, inter-regional and inter-agency cooperation and also create awareness about environmentally sound waste management practices.
The member parties have also called for a clearer definition of the term ‘toxic waste’, says World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) member Anton Sripopiyantolo. Meanwhile, African and other countries have called for a ban on all toxic waste exports. But this has been opposed by countries like the USA, Japan and even India, who fear that this would stifle the growing recycling industry.