Dumping of Plastic Waste in Developing Countries Affects Local People’s Health and Environment, Creates Microplastics Problem

The global plastics production and trade of plastic waste has grown tremendously over the recent decades. Plastic waste is mostly traded under the banner of plastic “recycling”. A rich and developed country should have the capacity to manage its own waste. Shifting the responsibility to developing and under-resourced countries is truly an injustice. We call this waste colonialism.

An IPEN publication on the toxic chemical contamination of the food chain in Indonesia from plastic waste dumping.

What happens in the recipient countries? Much of the plastic is single-use and of little or no recycling value. However it is still destined for recycling operations although not all plastics can be recycled. Moreover what we saw coming to our shores were mixed plastics and contaminated waste.

The waste that cannot be recycled is called residual wastes. This is wastes that were being dumped openly, in remote areas and then intentionally burned. When the waste is burned, the toxic fumes cause respiratory problems and other ailments to the neighbouring communities. Some suffered from breathing difficulties, asthma, skin problems, and this may also lead to chronic illnesses.

In Surabaya, Indonesia, it was reported that communities were using plastic waste to fuel their stoves for making tofu. Dioxins were found in eggs from chickens in the neighbourhood. (…/indonesia-egg-report-long-v1_2web-en…). The cost and burden to public health and the environment far outweighs the revenue that is purportedly gained from recycling and waste trade.

Another issue is that there are also hidden plastics. This comes in the form of plastics in imports of paper bales, plastics in electronic and electrical products, textile waste, rubber and tyre waste, and then there is refuse derived fuel which contains 30-50% of plastic waste.

We need to also consider the impacts of microplastics which are formed during the recycling process and end up in water bodies. We also found microplastics from legacy waste when we went on our rounds to areas that became dumping grounds in 2018 in Malaysia.

IPEN: for a toxics-free future