Hazardous waste management puts citizens of 28 countries at risk Listen to this article

In a globalized world, a pandemic could cause a shortage of chips produced at a factory in Valladolid in Taiwan, and a war in Ukraine could leave the shelves of a supermarket in Alicante without oil. Although most citizens are aware of the interrelationships generated by international trade, there is one product that may not exist on this exchange: garbage. Every year between 7,000 and 10,000 million tons of waste is generated in the world. Of these, up to 500 million tonnes are hazardous wastes because of their toxicity, because they are flammable or pose a biological risk. And with that comes the waste business. Over the past three decades, the hazardous waste trade has grown by 500%, and this creates both opportunities and risks.

To understand what is involved in this international network for the exchange of hazardous waste, an international team led by Ernesto Estrada, Institute of Interdisciplinary Physics and Complex Systems (CSIC-UIB) in Palma de Mallorca (Spain), has developed a mathematical model that tries to facilitate the understanding of this plot. Among other things, the authors, who incorporated data from the period 2001–2019, identified 28 countries that face a high risk of waste accumulation, something that threatens the health of citizens of those countries. including Mexico. China, Mozambique or India, but also for the environmental welfare of the rest of the planet.

Each country’s risk depends on the amount of waste it receives, but also on its ability to process it. “When a country reaches its maximum capacity to convert, handle and store this type of waste, it becomes overcrowded,” says Estrada, but there are some that are increasingly overcrowded than others. become.” This model serves to identify the protection area of ​​each country, taking into account its potential and environmental protection history.

Although it may be thought that more developed countries would use less developed countries as landfills, this is not necessarily the case. However, due to their low processing capacity, it is mainly African and South Asian countries that are most at risk from the collapse of their systems. Spain, for example, is not at risk of overcrowding, according to this analysis published today in the journal nature communication, Among the net importers of waste, a category it shares with advanced countries such as Sweden or South Korea. For its part, China, which has had significant environmental problems due to its management of hazardous waste, has become a net exporter of these products in recent years.

As Estrada explains, “Proper and rigorous storage of waste is an opportunity for countries to generate wealth and jobs. From electronic waste, for example, 56 different metals can be extracted, practically the entire periodic table of the elements”, he added. This explains why among the three types of waste studied (medical, metal and household waste), the rest ranks developed countries as importers of metal waste and exporters of the other two.

Although there is an opportunity, in many countries the processing of waste such as waste computers or spent batteries is done informally, burning the plastic to remove the scrap. “These gases are highly toxic and their effects are seen in the workers performing these tasks and the populations of those countries,” explains Estrada. In the paper published today, One study cited carried out by researchers from the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria with people who arrived in the Canary Islands from various sub-Saharan African countries such as Senegal, Nigeria or Sierra Leone. When their blood was analyzed, high levels of polychlorinated biphenyls were found, a type of toxic compound that is produced during the processing of electronic waste.

In Nigeria, 400,000 second-hand computers or parts come in for processing each year, and several reports have found high levels of heavy metal contamination where they are processed informally. In Senegal, a country that shares a high risk of waste congestion with Nigeria, the deaths of 18 children have been linked to high levels of lead in areas used to recycle batteries.

The mathematical model developed by Estrada’s team could, on the one hand, help build an alert network for countries at risk of collapse and to know where investments are necessary to process hazardous waste without endangering populations. as well as the way of wearing it. The most advanced countries are responsible when they dump their waste in countries that do not have the capacity to manage it properly.

Finally, like the rest of the international trading system, the waste trading system is dynamic. Since 2017 China has banned the import of some garbage. The Giyu region, in the south of the country, was until recently the largest center of electronic waste in the world and only 25% was formally processed. There, a plethora of damage has also been detected in newborns associated with the presence of heavy metals in the environment. With the new Chinese laws, this waste would end up in another region of the planet and the model could help manage imbalances that generate redistribution in other countries of the international network.

you can follow Case Feather Facebook, Twitter And instagramor sign up here to receive our weekly newspaper,