Maximpact Blog

Waste: Source of Wealth and Conflict


By Sunny Lewis

JAKARTA, Indonesia, October 29, 2019 ( News) – In what environmentalists have labeled a “global waste shell game,” Indonesian officials have been caught approving re-exports of illegal U.S. waste shipments to other Asian countries instead of returning them to the United States as promised.

Instead of being returned to their senders, the waste containers have been diverted to India, Thailand, South Korea, and Vietnam.

“After promising that the illegal plastic waste imports would be returned to their countries of origin, our officials have instead engaged in a global waste shell game, victimizing more countries with the unwanted, illegal and contaminated shipments,” said Yuyun Ismawati of the Indonesian NGO, Nexus3.

“Meanwhile the U.S. government and the original perpetrators of the illegal shipments are let off the hook,” fumed Ismawati. “The public has been lied to, the environment is further harmed, and the criminals go free. It’s outrageous.”

The original U.S. waste shipments were imported by Indonesian paper recycling companies PT Mega Surya Eratama and PT Surabaya Mekabox located in East Java. Upon arrival they were deemed illegal by Indonesian authorities when they were found to contain large amounts of plastic and hazardous wastes mixed into what was supposed to be paper scrap.

In the Indonesian government statement issued on September 18, 2019, the government noted the hundreds of consignments of illegal waste imports and stated that the


Indonesian customs officials examine seized paper waste imports contaminated with plastics and hazardous wastes, October 2019 (Photo by Prigi Arisandi, Ecoton) Posted for media use

containers “will be re-exported to their country of origin.”

The waste trade watchdog group Basel Action Network (BAN), based in Seattle, Washington, then tracked the return pathways of the illicit containers. BAN discovered that of the 58 containers that were meant to be returned to the United States, 38 containers were diverted to India, three to South Korea, and one container each went to Thailand, Vietnam, Mexico, the Netherlands, and Canada. Only 12 of the 58 were actually returned to the United States as promised by the government.

“It is an international norm that illegal waste exports are the responsibility of the state of export, in this case the United States, and the exporting state has the duty to reimport the wastes,” said BAN Executive Director Jim Puckett. “In this way the exporters can be prosecuted for any illegality and the problem can actually be solved rather than simply passed on to other unsuspecting victim countries and communities.”

“In India, we thought we had banned the import of plastic wastes. Now we see more coming in through a back door,” said Dharmesh Shah of the nongovernmental organization GAIA in India. “These shipments from Indonesia must be the subject of an international inquiry.”

But Indonesia is not the only country that is struggling with floods of waste.

Tripoli’s Waste Dump on War’s Frontline


Garbage set ablaze on a street in Tripoli, Libya photographed by a physician in Tripoli who warns of “…a catastrophe situation. He says, “an area of sickness and diseases spread is building now! No officials care! Government on silence mode!” October 26, 2019 (Photo by Otman Ezogdani) Posted for media use

Halfway around the world, in Northern Africa, as the Second Libyan Civil War drags on, the capital city, Tripoli, is inundated with garbage. Tripoli residents, who must also cope with shortages of fuel, electricity and water, see tons of waste overflowing from bins and piling up on roadsides, attracting rodents and feral cats.

Municipal garbage trucks no longer collect Tripoli’s waste because the city’s primary landfill is on a frontline of the ongoing war. The dump is at Sidi al-Sayeh, 45 kilometers south of Tripoli, where forces loyal to the capital’s UN-recognized Government of National Accord are battling those of eastern strongman Khalifa Haftar, who launched an offensive on April 4 to seize the city.

Without long-term solutions and as long as fighting continues, “the crisis will worsen,” said Tarek al-Jadidi, director of environmental protection at the National Centre for the Prevention of Diseases in Tripoli.

“In addition to the lack of environmental awareness among citizens, the state is unable to manage the rubbish in the streets, while ongoing conflict prevents the implementation of plans like in other countries,” Jadidi said.

Farther south on Africa’s west coast, lies Africa’s largest city, Lagos, Migeria with its 21 million residents. Estimating per capita waste generation of 0.5 kg a day, Lagos generates more than 10,000 tons of waste every day.

Recycling Helps Nigerians Cover Costs

Nigeria generates an estimated 32 million tons of solid waste per year, one of the highest amounts in Africa. But every day in a junk yard provides an opportunity to make ends


Residents of Lagos, Nigeria collect trash for World Cleanup Day, September 22, 2019 (Photo courtesy Lagos Waste Management Authority) Posted for media use

meet for 30-year-old Awodu Suleiman.

He has been here every day for six years, scouring heaps of waste for recyclables.

When he’s done gathering and sorting plastic or aluminum, Suleiman sells what he has found to recyclers for processing.

He says the work is money for him and that is why he does it with passion. Thanks to this job, Suleiman told Voice of America in September, he was able to marry his wife. He says the money sustains them and that life has been easy with him.

Wecyclers, a new endeavor in Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city, offers convenient household recycling service using a fleet of low-cost cargo bikes. The group says, “We are powering social change using the environment by allowing people in low-income communities to capture value from their waste.”

A Memorandum of Understanding signed September 24 by food and beverages company Nestlé Nigeria and WeCyclers will empower 15,000 Nigerians through an extended plastic waste recovery system.

At the signing in Lagos, Mauricio Alarcon, managing director and CEO of Nestlé Nigeria, said, “The agreement enables Wecyclers to extend plastics recovery systems to more communities. This is through the establishment of collection points across five more communities. The project will also help to create 40 direct jobs for collection point operators and sorters, and empower an additional 15,000 Wecyclers subscribers.”

Local recyclers, including Mahmud Ahmed, 55, buy plastic and aluminum waste at a low price, then convert it into reusable products, such as pots and pans.

Environmental engineer Maryann Atseyinku, the founder of Community Waste and Recycling, says that while small in scale, local recyclers are making an impact exchanging trash for cash.

“Almost any country in the world has problems with waste management, so Nigeria is not a particularly peculiar case,” said Atseyinku. “The thing is the fundamental problem we have is because of the logistics that’s in the same. Waste management is pretty expensive.”

19,000 Ghanians Die Annually From Poor Sanitation

While waste management is a nationwide issue in Ghana, it is most obvious in the capital Accra, a fast-growing city of four million that generates about 3,000 metric tonnes of waste a day.

In 2012, the World Bank estimated that poor sanitation was costing Ghana’s economy around 420 million Ghana cedis (US$290 million) each year, equivalent to 1.6 percent of its GDP. The study found most of these costs come from the annual premature death of 19,000 Ghanaians, largely due to poor sanitation and hygiene.

Africa’s population is expected to increase to 2.5 billion people in 2050, from one billion people in 2010, and its cities are being stretched by infrastructure and resource demands.

The higher a country’s income level and rate of urbanization, the greater the amount of solid waste produced. Waste generation rates are set to more than double over the next 20 years in lower income countries, and the cost of dealing with it will increase at least four-fold, according to the World Bank.

A 2012 World Bank study projects a 70 percent global increase in urban solid waste, with developing countries facing the greatest difficulties.

The projected rise in the amount of waste, from 1.3 billion tonnes per year in 2012 to 2.2 billion tonnes per year by 2025, is projected raise the annual global costs from $205 billion to $375 billion.

The report, “What a Waste: A Global Review of Solid Waste Management,” for the first time offered consolidated data on municipal solid waste generation, collection, composition, and disposal by country and by region.

This is an accomplishment because, as the report states, reliable global municipal solid waste information is either not available or incomplete, inconsistent, and incomparable. Still, the authors of the report point to a looming crisis in municipal solid waste treatment as living standards rise and urban populations grow.

“Improving solid waste management, especially in the rapidly growing cities of low income countries, is becoming a more and more urgent issue,” said Rachel Kyte, then vice president, sustainable development at the World Bank. Kyte is now CEO of Sustainable Energy for All, a United Nations organization that helps mobilize universal energy access.

“The findings of this report are sobering, but they also offer hope that once the extent of this issue is recognized, local and national leaders, as well as the international community, will mobilize to put in place programs to reduce, reuse, recycle, or recover as much waste as possible before burning it [and recovering the energy] or otherwise disposing of it,” Kyte said. “Measuring the extent of the problem is a critical first step to resolving it.”

China’s Refusal to Take More Contaminated Waste Creates Problems

Many of the world’s waste problems began when China enacted its “National Sword” policy in January 2018, which banned the import of most plastics and other materials headed for China’s recycling processors, which had handled roughly half of the world’s recyclable waste for the past 25 years.

The policy was implemented to halt a flood of soiled and contaminated materials that was overwhelming Chinese processing facilities. Since then, China’s plastics imports have plummeted by 99 percent, leading to a major global shift in where and how materials for recycling are processed, according to Yale Environment 360, published by the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies in New Haven, Connecticut.

While the glut of plastics is the main concern, China’s imports of mixed paper have also dropped by a third. Recycled aluminum and glass are less affected by the ban.

Globally more plastics are now ending up in landfills, incinerators, or littering the environment due to rising costs to haul away recyclable materials.

In England, over half-a-million more tons of plastics and other household garbage were burned last year. Australia’s recycling industry is facing a crisis as the country struggles to handle the 1.3 million-ton stockpile of recyclable waste it had previously shipped to China.

Rome Waste Biz in the Grip of Crime Families

Italian officials warned October 2 that Rome’s burgeoning garbage crisis constituted a health risk, as rat control services worked overtime and the waste-collection company board resigned, reported Agence France Presse (AFP).

The board of Ama, the rubbish collection company that has been accused of inefficiency and corruption, stepped down September 30 over a dispute with Rome’s city council, just 100 days after it took over responsibility for waste disposal.

The previous board had been fired in February by Mayor Virginia Raggi, who has come under pressure for Rome’s overflowing bins, which attract seagulls, rats and, in some suburbs, fearsome wild boar.

“The chaos in which Ama finds itself, with the umpteenth resignation of the umpteenth Board of Directors … worries Rome’s Order of Doctors,” the organization’s president and deputy, Antonio Magi and Pierluigi Bartoletti, said in a statement.

“Piles of rubbish in every street, near schools, hospitals, public places … risk creating a health emergency,” they said.

Magi, Rome’s chief physician, issued a “hygiene alert” in July, saying that disease could spread across the city through the feces of insects and animals feasting on the rotting waste.

Rome’s mayor Virginia Raggi warned that the city was “under attack” from mobsters who would not release their grip on the lucrative waste sector. Crime families in Italy have long held control over large parts of the country’s waste management systems.

Mayor Raggi’s comments followed big fires at waste treatment plants and hundreds of bins set ablaze across the city.

Costa Rica Reinforces Green Reputation With Innovative Recycling


Costa Ricans collected trash to keep it out of the landfill, 2019 (Photo courtesy Ecolones) Posted for media use

Costa Rica’s beauty attracts tourists from around the world, but there is a serious waste problem. This small Central American country lacks landfill space, especially in landfills that do not leak or leach into the water table.

For a nation with a “green” reputation, it seems “incredible” that 80 percent of what Costa Ricans throw away is recyclable but not always recycled, says Ecolones, a new sustainable organization that pays residents to recycle.

Announced in April 2018, Ecolones is based on simple reward principles. Residents earn virtual money (ecolones) for all the recyclable materials they bring to a designated collection center that can be traded in for discounts on goods and services.

Visitors to the new Costa Rican ecolones website are introduced to an initiative that sounds ideologically futuristic and logistically mind-boggling, but is very much a reality and steadily gaining traction.

A couple who lived in the United States before moving to Costa Rica told “Howler” magazine, “Where and how often we redeem our ecolones — perhaps to see a movie or get a great discount on tire alignment – is less important to us than the satisfaction of being able to do our part for a greener Costa Rica.”

In 2018, within months of Costa Ricans being urged to give recycling their all through the new ecolones incentive program, they had chalked up a world record: 30 metric tons of used plastic bottles – 65,000 pounds – collected and spared from a landfill fate in just eight hours. For a feat that would seem astonishing anywhere, tiny-but-mighty Costa Rica earned a place in the Guinness Book of World Records for amassing the largest amount of recycling material ever collected in eight hours.

International Waste Treaty to Take Effect in December

Croatia’s September 6 deposit of ratification of the 1995 Basel Ban Amendment has allowed this global waste dumping prohibition to finally enter into the force of international law.

The Ban Amendment, adopted by the parties to the Basel Convention in 1995, prohibits the export of hazardous wastes from member states of the European Union, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and Liechtenstein to all other countries.

With Croatia’s ratification, a total of 97 countries have now ratified the ban and, most crucially, the necessary three-quarters of the parties that were present and voting in 1995. The agreement will become a new Article in the Basel Convention and will enter into force for the 97 countries after 90 days, on December 5, 2019.

“The most important idea ever conceived to promote environmental justice at the global level is now law,” said BAN’s Puckett, who has worked to achieve and implement the ban for 30 years. “We applaud Croatia and all of the 97 countries that have ratified the agreement to date and hope that all others will now do so at the earliest opportunity.”

Still absent from the list of countries having ratified the ban are the United States, Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Russia, India, Brazil, and Mexico. The United States produces the most waste per capita, but has failed to ratified the Basel Convention and has actively opposed the Ban Amendment. According to BAN, this lack of adherence to international waste trade rules has allowed unscrupulous U.S. entities to export many hundreds of containers of hazardous electronic waste each week to developing countries for so-called recycling.

Maximpact Can Help Communities Manage Waste

Innovative, interesting solutions do exist for municipal solid waste management, and Maximpact knows what they are. Cities, towns and villages can contact Maximpact at to get help in finding the right solutions for each of their specific waste-related situations.