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From "Backyard" to "Dumpster": This is How the US is Using Latin America as its Dumping Ground

More than 200,000 tons of Plastic Waste were Shipped from the United States to four Latin American Countries between 2020 and 2021, according to new research. These Exports have Increased in recent years and pose a Danger to Latin Americans..

Garbage trucks

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LatinAmerican Post | María Fernanda Ramírez Ramos

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Leer en español: De "patio trasero" a "basurero": Así está usando EE.UU. a Latinoamérica como su vertedero

The "backyard of the United States" is an expression that has been used in international relations to refer to Latin America as a zone of influence of the United States. This influence has been exercised in different ways: through strategic alliances, cooperation or investments, but also with unequal use in what has been called US imperialism. Currently, the North American country is exporting large amounts of waste to Latin America, thus turning various countries in the region into its dump.

A new research report by the Global Alliance for Alternatives to Incineration, GAIA, exposes the import and export figures of plastic waste to Latin America in Mexico, Chile, Argentina, Ecuador and El Salvador. The findings show that the United States is the largest exporter of plastics to Latin America and the Caribbean. Between 2020 and 2021, the region received more than 200 thousand tons of this type of waste. "Some of the main receiving countries were Mexico and Ecuador, which went from receiving 63 thousand tons during 2020 to 84 thousand during 2021, and from 6,745 tons in 2019 to 8,253 tons in 2020, respectively," the report states. In addition, there are records that the United States also exports garbage to Colombia, Honduras and Guatemala, as well as to India, the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia, among others.

“It is irresponsible and immoral that the United States does not prevent companies from exporting plastic waste to Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as to the entire Global South. Instead of implementing proper waste reduction measures domestically, the US is perpetrating waste colonialism by dumping this toxic pollution in other countries," said Melissa Aguayo, US Coordinator of the global movement Break Free From Plastic, that links 2,724 organizations around the world. In fact, more than 70 organizations signed a declaration to reject the cross-border trade of this waste, coming from the United States, and ask this country to manage the waste within its borders.

America is not alone

There are many reasons why the United States sends its waste to other countries. It may be cheaper for companies to ship waste to other countries and get out of national legislation. Also, they do not have to manage this waste and the damage that this implies. In this sense, they take advantage of developing countries or countries with weak legislation in this area and affect local communities and the environment. This practice constitutes a new form of colonialism, which favors the increase of illegality and corruption in the most impoverished countries. It also serves as a form of "green washing" for companies.

However, this is a practice that multiple countries of the Global North carry out and thus exercise violence against countries of the Global South. Before, China was the country that imported the most waste. However, in 2018 they changed their laws. Since then, the garbage has moved to other areas of the planet, especially Southeast Asia.

The project "Plastic Waste Transparency Project", of the organization Basel Action Network, documents the export of waste in the world. According to 2021 information, the countries that export the most garbage are: Japan (560,730 tons), the United States (259,693 tons), the Netherlands (206,684 tons), Germany (94,711 tons), Australia (86,904 tons), Belgium (66,451 tons) and the United Kingdom (24,793 tons). For their part, those who receive the most are Malaysia, Indonesia, India, Thailand, Malaysia, Turkey, Vietnam and Latin American countries, mainly Mexico, El Salvador and Ecuador.

However, the reports of this organization also indicate that these exports have decreased globally in recent years: "the total global exports of the 10 main countries decreased to 3.75 million tons / year in 2021, from 4.41 million tons/year in 2020 and 6.75 million tons/year in 2017". However, it is still a worrying reality and as long as States do not implement real measures to eliminate plastics in their respective countries, it will continue to happen.

What about the Basel Convention?

The Basel Convention is an international agreement that aims to control the movement of hazardous waste and all types of waste. This has an amendment to plastics, which entered into force in 2021, which states that the country that emits the waste must request permission from the receiving country on the waste that it wishes to export. However, this amendment has not generated significant reductions in movements, according to various environmental organizations.

This is why environmental organizations and scientists have come together to call for a global agreement on plastics. They point out that "this process must be based on a fair and solid system to guarantee the participation of the interested parties and a significant implementation at all levels under a human rights-based approach", as collected by the portal www.plasticstreaty.org that meets these demands.

It is necessary to go beyond the compensation approach, which attempts to compensate for environmental and human damage through economic compensation from rich countries. However, the communities are not consulted, and in general they do not want compensation, but rather that the damage does not exist within their territories. Plastic pollution is causing diseases and damage to ecosystems that are irreversible.