Why China’s waste is also our business
Waste. A topic, that we in Europe are dealing with on a daily day basis. At least that’swhat we think…We are separating recyclable waste and because we are all well-behaved, we are sweeping away all that’s lying in front of our doors. And then, true to the motto ‘out of sight, out of mind’, the matter is closed. But is that what we do really enough? What happens to our old TV, after it has been ‘duly disposed’!? Here in China you are confronted with this question every day, because waste is omnipresent: on the pavement and in the backyards of many restaurants and shops you can see huge piles of waste. The Alps would be jealous if they knew. It’s hardly conceivable that those huge amounts of waste, will once be recycled in an environmentally friendly way, or transformed into available energy. But actually we are not even expecting that from a country like China, that’s not really well known for its enormous commitment in terms of environmental protection. Admittedly it even brings a certain degree of relief, that whenever hearing the keyword ‘polluter’, we can, with clear conscience, forget about the last the last time that we threw batteries into the household waste and immediately point to China.
Approximately 40 percent of the global waste is burned in open fires, which is producing enormous amounts of greenhouse gases, on top of that harmful particles, lead and gases are distributed in the air. In China, the pollution of the air can not only be put down to the heavy traffic and the fine dust air pollution resulting from that, a whole 20 percent of all dirt particles in the air are the result of burning trash in open fires.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg, because the workers (and sometimes even their children who play in between the toxic waste mountains) are exposed to poisonous vapors and caustic cleaning agents every day, mostly without protective clothing and equipment. Many of the villages near the waste incinerating plants seem to be disappearing in the big clouds of black smoke each and every day and most workers fall ill after only a few years of work there, suffering from cancer, cardiovascular disorders, or skin diseases caused by the harsh chemicals. On top of that the people in the villages are lacking access to clean drinking water, since the water is contaminated by the toxins seeping into the ground.
All this sounds alarming, but what is even more frightening is the fact, that we are also responsible for it! Theoretically, the export of hazardous waste is regulated by the Basel Convention of the United Nations, but there are still loopholes (the export of an old TV that is still fully functional, for example, is legal), which make it possible to still ship toxic waste from Europe to Asia or Africa. The electronic scrap market is booming and due to the legal situation it is very difficult to put a stop to the game of the so-called “trash mafia”.
But also tons of “harmless” plastic or paper are shipped to Asia legally, to be recycled under totally uncontrollable conditions. We are absolutely not aware that, what to us may sound like a more environmentally friendly and forward-looking method of disposal, in fact is not only polluting the environment even more but also killing people.
So the next time when it comes to discussing about environmental pollution, we should, instead of with a wagging finger pointing at China, make sure that we know what we are actually pointing at, because to a large extent it is our own trash and just because it has left the country, doesn’t mean that we can evade our responsibilities for it. In the end, although under a different name and in a different place, it is still our trash that is polluting the environment.
Because some of you requested it, this is the English version of my article “Erstmal vor der eigenen Haustür kehren”. It’s not perfect (I hate translating 😉 ), but i think it serves its purpose. Sorry to all the Germans, who have already read the German version for not posting anything ‘new’ today.