文章 Articles

Waste exports: the underside of globalisation

Many claim the global trash trade exposes the west's hypocrisy. But are countries to blame - or companies? Governments, businesses and the public must all play a role in managing the environment, says Tang Hao.

Article image

Sky TV recently reported that the world's largest container ship, the Emma Maersk, had arrived in south China’s Lianjiao, laden with 170,000 tonnes of rubbish. The local economy has relied on waste recycling for years. As a result, fumes can be seen pouring out of Lianjiao’s chimneys, its rivers are blackened, its soil is contaminated, its water is polluted and trash can be seen piled up like mountains. The story has ignited controversy in both the UK and China.

But this is not a new phenomenon. Western nations started exporting waste to developing countries as early as the 1960s and ‘70s, with disastrous consequences. In August 2006, a boat chartered by a Netherlands-based firm dumped hundreds of tonnes of toxic waste in the Ivory Coast, killing seven and hospitalising 24, with almost 40,000 people suffering to some degree.

The overwhelming opinion of online commentators is that this demonstrated how western countries adhere to double standards with regard to the environment. But waste dumping is not carried out by nations: it is carried out by corporations.

Exporting trash has allowed firms to earn money from governments in the developed world, cutting government costs and avoiding local regulations, while the exporters earn an additional income from selling the rubbish. At the same time, developing countries get a source of raw materials. China is the world's second largest consumer of plastic; one tonne of synthetic resin costs 11,000 yuan (around US$1,420), but a tonne of imported plastic, discarded in the west, can be bought for as little as  4,000 yuan (around US$515). The work of sorting the waste is hard and dirty, but for many it is more lucrative than the alternative. “We’re poor, so we still have to,” explained one interviewee. “If we plant crops, we can only earn around 2,000 yuan (around US$260) every year. But this work pays much more quickly: as much as 800 yuan (around US$100) every month.”

When there is this kind of profit to be made, there will always be someone willing to risk others’ health by importing trash, and many more who will endanger their own to sort it: it is simple economics.

Or is it? If the UK had weaker environmental laws, money could be made processing waste there, and nobody would export rubbish to China. Trash ends up in China because developed countries have more robust green laws, greater social supervision and more effective governments; high fees associated with waste processing and pollution emissions have made it uneconomical to process the trash locally.

But the low cost of waste processing and the large profits to be made in China make it a lucrative industry. Meanwhile, government oversight is weak and punishment is mainly in the form of fines that go directly to government rather than compensating the victims of pollution. As a result, companies and individuals involved can keep on polluting. 

Globalisation benefits both developed and developing nations, but environmental laws and their enforcement are weaker in poorer countries. This gives richer nations a chance to export their waste and pollution. The economic and environmental differences are, in essence, the result of underdeveloped systems.

Globalisation increases the interaction between different systems, and exposes the gaps between them. In the same way that less-developed systems attract unregulated and risky investments, they also attract waste.

Governments, businesses and the international community should make a sustained effort to prevent the continuation and expansion of this serious problem.

International agreements that invoke the authority of a third party should be implemented. Sponsored by the United Nations or global environmental groups, such agreements would reduce the potential for harm to developing countries. The third party should also be able to help with the costs of environmental protection.

It is also important to control those factors that allow this unregulated trade. In this particular case, the UK government should bear responsibility for not implementing international agreements, take its rubbish back and discuss more effective systems for managing the international flow of solid waste with the Chinese government. Similarly, China should increase the cost of waste production and waste imports to reduce the price differentials: only this can get to the root of the problem. Otherwise, this issue will become intractable, and more problems will arise.

The Chinese government recognises the harm caused, and a law on solid waste is being rushed through the legislative process. Laws and regulations should be enough to improve the management of imported waste and reduce its environmental harm. But many have concerns about their effectiveness; waste processing and plastics are still highly lucrative industries, and the companies at the heart of the industry may just relocate.

The most basic and important measure is to build the public into the new systems. In the west, it is social pressure that blocks interest groups, keeps the government in line and pushes for strict environmental policies. Public movements inspired by environmental disasters in the 1960s and ‘70s led to a solid environmental protection system and a tradition of public oversight of the environment.

NGOs such as Greenpeace, the media, strict laws and responsible local governments must all play a part in helping China's environment to ensure that situations like this do not continue to arise.

 

Tang Hao is a Guangzhou-based academic and commentator

发表评论 Post a comment

评论通过管理员审核后翻译成中文或英文。 最大字符 1200。

Comments are translated into either Chinese or English after being moderated. Maximum characters 1200.

评论 comments

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

废物和中国的世界足迹

我建议读者点击这里到Salon.com上阅读Andrew Leonard的有趣的观点。它把全球的垃圾交易和中国对海外资源的需求联系了起来。

Andrew说唐昊在文章中指出,垃圾贸易的问题比蒋高明(在中外对话上谈有关问题时候)的民族主义观点要复杂。唐昊在文章中还谈到了无规则的全球贸易。

唐昊提出了问题:这样会如何来影响我们对中国和非洲通常无规则贸易的看法?

Waste and China's global footprint

I advise readers to look at Andrew Leonard's interesting point on Salon.com here , which links the global waste trade to China's quest for resources overseas. He says that Hao Tang's article complicates the simple nationalism of Gaoming Jiang's recent column on chinadialogue, and raises questions about unregulated, globalised trade. The question he then raises is: how does this affect our view on China's often under-regulated trade with Africa? -SL

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

非常深入的观点

不错,垃圾贸易不仅仅是谁对谁错的问题,各种原因非常复杂,唐先生的解读非常深入。

A very in-depth analysis

Indeed, waste trade is not only a matter of who wrongs. Reasons behind each position are extremely complicated. And Mr Tang’s untangling thereof, is very thorough.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

不仅仅是英国

针对中国的洋垃圾贸易,不仅仅是英国。无论是什么形式的入侵,都是八国联军式的,一个集团对一个集团,先进对落后,发达对发展。

Not only England

In connection with China’s foreign trade in waste, we should remember that it is not only England. No matter which form the invasion takes on, all of them are comparable to those led by the Eight-Nation Alliance. It is one group pitched against another; the more advanced against those lagging behind; developed versus developing nations.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

对西方国家环境保护法规的谴责

这篇文章的作者竟然费了这么多口舌去说是英国的更有力度的环境法规迫使英国公司向海外倾泻垃圾。对于这点本人实在不敢苟同。总体来说,这些西方国家公司就是如此行事。

垃圾回收虽然并不是什么光彩的工作,但是仍然会制造工作机会,给政府带来更多税收收入。如果发展中国家的政府能把对垃圾处理的收费定价更高,他们就能增加收入,减少垃圾流入并且同时还能获得廉价的生产原材料(运入的垃圾)。

在这个文章的作者身处的国家,公司管理者不可以随意行动,所以他并不明白为什么西方国家的企业管理者可以不用向政府申请就可以在外国任意妄为。nanheyangrouchuan

Blaming western green laws

The article's auther goes so far as to claim that the UK's tougher environmental laws force companies to dump waste overseas and not reprocess it at home.
Utter rubbish, it is the bottom line that forces UK and western companies in general to do this. Recycling, though unglamorous, still creates jobs, thus creating more tax revenue and increasing consumer spending in a developing country. Perhaps if developing countries made waste disposal fees painfully high, they could increase revenue, reduce total waste inflow and still have access to cheap sources of raw materials that are brought to their country as waste.

These writers come from countries where executives aren't free to act so they can't understand that western managers don't need to ask their gov't to do things outside of their countries'
borders.

nanheyangrouchuan

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

经济全球化

经济全球化,在缺乏政治全球监管的情况下,总会造成意想不到的灾难.推动全球垃圾贸易监管的责任在发达国家——那些从垃圾贸易中获得了直接或者间接好处的国家. -fying

Global commoditisation

Without a world surveillance structure, economic globalisation will cause unexpected disasters. Setting up such a surveillance structure is the responsibility of developed countries, which are exactly those, who gain from the waste trade, either directly or indirectly. -fying

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

给评论4

给评论4:你没有看明白作者在说什么,事实上,无论是在中国还是在西方,公司管理者当然是不可以随意行动的,因为他们的行为在很多时候都是不负责任的,所以必须要有相应的法律监管.在跨国的垃圾贸易中,正是因为缺乏国际监管才导致西方国家的企业管理者可以在外国任意妄为.

此外,垃圾回收虽然会制造工作机会,但从长远来看,其惨重的代价比这些短期利益要大得多,垃圾贸易是在透支这些国家人们的未来.鼓励垃圾贸易的人根本没有为这些人们真正的长远利益着想,强调这些短期利益实际上是一种伪善.

文章中说因为制度落差是无法在短时间内弥补的,所以要加强国际社会对垃圾贸易的监管,通过国际社会的努力来弥补这种制度落差.在现有条件下,这是缓解垃圾贸易对发展中国家危害的不多的可行的办法之一.因此推动这种垃圾贸易的国际监管制度的建立,是关心环保的人士应该努力的方向.

Repond to comment 4

You did not get the idea of the author. In fact, no matter in China or in the West, executives are not free to act because at most time they behave in an irresponsible way, so related laws are needed to regulate their work.

In the international trash trade, the lack of international regulations causes the irresponsible businesses conducted by western executives overseas. Although recycling creates jobs and it brings in short-term profits (for developing countries), it has huge negative impacts on the development of those nations.

Those encouraging trash trade do not really care for these people’s long-term well-being at all. Emphasizing short-term benefits is actually a hypocritical act. The article says that the gap between the systems cannot be filled shortly, so international efforts are needed to enhance regulations.

Under current situation, to strengthen international relations is one of the practical approaches to help reduce the impacts on developing countries by trash imports from the West. People who really care for the environment protection should strive to build international rules to regulate the trash trade.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

长链条与碳交易

从垃圾贸易的长链条中的每个环节来分析,各方都有责任。全球化和制度差异带来了资源的重新配置和流动,不是民族主义和情绪化那么简单的事。解决问题要从制度和激励机制上找出路。
由此联想到垃圾(或叫做另一种资源)的贸易与碳交易可有一比。京都议定书下的Clean Development Mechanism CDM同样反映的是制度差异和减排二氧化碳成本差异的问题,力图实现联合国监管下的双赢机制,把发达国家的高成本减排义务放在发展中国家以较低成本实现。为什么CDM能得到联合国和各国的鼓励和提倡?无害化做得好?

Long Chain and Carbon Trade

If decomposing the long chain of waste trading and analyzing each one of the components, we will find that all stakeholders should claim responsible for this result. It is globalisation and institutional differences that brought in the reallocating flow of resources. It is way more complicated than the interpretation of "being national and emotional". Problem solving should start from institutional factors and the design of incentive policies.

Actually waste (or, an alternative resource) trading is parallel to carbon trading in a sense.
The CDM (Clean Development Mechanism) under Kyoto is also a reflection of the existing differences on institutions and abatement costs of CO2 across different countries. It strives to follow the win-win approach under the supervision of UN and to shift the mitigation responsibilities from high-cost advanced economies to low-cost developing countries. How can CDM get so much support from the UN and its member countries? Good at making it harmless?

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

垃圾贸易的共同责任

国际上针对有害废弃物和无害废弃物贸易有不同的规定。根据《巴塞尔公约》,发达国家(经济发展组织成员国)向发展中国家(非经济发展组织成员国)出口废物的行为是被禁止的。

有害及无害废弃物贸易需遵守以下三个条件。

第一,通过国际或国内的立法,发达国家和发展中国家的企业必须对其破坏环境的行为负责,无论这些行为发生在哪里。(这项针对跨国公司的法规由于公司的游说力而变得在政治上不可行)。

第二,针对有害废物贸易的国际条款有待加强。比如,明确《巴塞尔公约》中有害废物贸易禁令(修正条款)的法律地位,并扩大对电子垃圾和拆船行为的管制。

第三,中国需改善自身处理无害废弃物的规章制度,并在进口原料是多考虑环境因素。虽然这些会让企业遭受损失,但是却可以带来长期的环境利益。但是中国政府和公众是否能够对此达成协议还有待观望。

-Andrew Stevenson

Shared responsibilities for waste trade

International regulations distinguish between hazardous and non-hazardous waste. Under the Basel Convention, hazardous waste exports from developed (OECD) countries to developing (non-OECD) countries, including China, are banned.

Tackling the issue of trade in both types of waste requires that three conditions are satisfied.

One, developed and developing countries must ensure that their corporations are held to account for environmentally destructive actions no matter where they occur. This could be done internationally (binding code of conduct for transnational corporations; but this is politically unlikely, given the power of the corporate lobby) or by national legislation.

Two, international rules governing hazardous waste trade need to be tightened - for example, clarifying the legal status of the international ban on hazardous waste shipments under the Basel Convention (the Ban Amendment), and extending controls over e-waste and shipbreaking.

Three, China needs to improve its regulation of non-hazardous waste processing at home, and put far more emphasis on environmental considerations when sourcing resources abroad. Both will require accepting higher costs and potential losses to business competitors, in return for huge but diffuse health and environmental benefits. It remains to be seen whether either the Chinese government or public is willing to strike this deal.

- Andrew Stevenson

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

大处着眼大处着眼l

我是一名中国大学生,我爱中国,但是我更爱我生存的这个地球。我希望中国能干净起来,绿色化,但是我更喜欢整个地球都能变干净变绿色...不论所有那些“谁在利用谁”“全球化的利与弊”等等的争辩,但看谁是真正的关心环境和地球胜过金钱和政治的???让我这么说吧,是的,也许中国正在快速的被污染,但是至少她在减少着大量的本要倾倒进海里的垃圾。我才不管那是英国的领海或是美国的领海,归根结底,这是我们的海!!!!!我不是说其他国家应该把垃圾运到中国好自享一个更加干净的国土。但想想看,如果中国在为世界做清洁并且能同时赚到钱,那为什么不做呢?为什么我们要把问题搞得这么复杂??????也许只是我太年轻太愚钝,但这就是我的想法。

Look big

I am a chinese uni student, i love china, but no more than the planet im living on;i would love china to be clean and green, but i want the whole earth to be clean and green even more..

despite all the "whos taking adevantage of whom" "pros and cons of globlisation" bla bla bla debates, who is really thinking about the enviornment or the globe other than money and politics????

let me put it this way, yes, maybe china is getting polluted rapidly, but at least she is reducing a huge amount of rubbish that was supposed to be dumped in the ocean. who cares if its the UK's ocean, or the States' ocean. in the end its OUR ocean!!!!!!!!

im not saying other countries should ship their rubbish to china so they can have a cleaner country. but come on, if china is cleaning up the world and making some money at the same time, then why not? why do we have to make the problem so complicated??????

maybe im just young and dumb, but thats what i think anyway

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

Panda

给评论8:

你好,我是一名在新西兰读书的中国学生.平时我一有空就出去camping, hiking, 因为新西兰的环境实在是太好了. 跟我住一起的有两个当地人, 他们告诉我, 新西兰处理不掉的垃圾, 就往中国运. 国际上是明文规定禁止这种垃圾运输, 但大家都在这样做...:(

顺便, 请问Andrew Stevenson先生是不是 Kiwi Tracks 的作者?

Panda

to Comment 8:

Hello, I'm a Chinese student in New Zealand. I'd like to go camping and hiking whenever I have time, as the nature in New Zealand really looks great. There are two locals living together with me. They told me that the waste that can't be processed by New Zealand are shipped to China. People are doing this, although this type of waste shipment is clearly forbidden by the law....:(

btw, may I ask whether Andrew Stevenson is the author of Kiwi Tracks?