The global trade in junk and trash


81 points | by wholeness 100 days ago


  • joe_the_user 100 days ago

    Of course, the discards weren’t always processed or used in a way that conforms to health, safety, and environmental standards found in many developed countries. But it’s difficult to argue that somebody is dumping something on a poor country when a person in the poor country is paying for the stuff.

    If someone is engaging in environmentally destructive production in a third world country using materials from the first world, one might say the "externalities" of first world production are being imported to that third world nation. This is similar to way rare earth production shifted to China when other industrialized nations regulated it's environmental impact.

    Which is to say the arguments here seem like a collection of double talk. "Denying agency" is the sort of complaint that can justify all sort of claims.

    Edit: just broadly, a big part of the article is about exploding the story that the first world dumps its trash on the third world. He dramatizes the view, denigrates the view, gives some details intended to debunk the view but doesn't really say what happen instead. "It gets bought" doesn't seem like enough detail, to say the least. Plastic scraps go to Malaysia - are burned, actually recycled, what? If one is exploding other's myths, it seems like an alternative story would be merited.

    • notahacker 100 days ago


      I mean, it's difficult to argue somebody isn't dumping something on a poor country when that poor country legislates to ban it for health and safety reasons (and some exports continue with falsified manifests...). And as highly sophisticated as the operation might be to export car batteries to villages in developing countries where they can set up cottage industries re-smelting them for their lead, I'm not persuaded by the idea the organizations running the exports deserve more agency than kids dying of lead poisoning, and I'm entirely unconvinced by the author's argument that it's emotional attachment to cars we've assumed are going to be dismantled for scrap domestically that makes us queasy about the whole thing.

      A lot of the time the waste is being exported in ships that would otherwise be empty, and the exporters are evading expensive legal disposal costs and massive taxes (a lot of organised unlawful dumping takes place closer to home of course, but there are costs and risks of doing that at scale too). And whilst I'm all in favour of taking a nuanced view of low income countries trying to make money from recycling, I also refuse to believe that someone who has written two books on the global waste trade over two decades of research has never heard of any incidents which don't fit his narrative of waste exports invarably being legitimately purchased by informed customers (really? he hasn't heard of the Khian Sea?)

    • cossatot 100 days ago

      I'm reading Minter's Junkyard Planet right now, whic is primarily about the global recycling trade. It's quite interesting, though a little too first-person/anecdotal. nonetheless it's thorough enough to give a good idea of what is happening in various parts of the trade network. Well recommended, if you're curious to what happens when you recycle a can or junk a car.

    • apo 100 days ago

      > From that point, I slowly began to understand that people in consumption-based societies assemble their identities via stuff, and become very emotional when those identities – and that stuff- is discarded in ways that don’t match their values. Over the years I’ve come to the conclusion that consumers actually care more about how their stuff is discarded, than how it is manufactured.

      Part of the problem is that so few bother to get rid of what they no longer use. They pack it around with them, unable to part with utterly useless things.

      The interview mentions Japan. In this context, it's interesting to contrast Marie Condo's Tidying Up. She talks at length about how emotions play into our inability to toss things out.

      Her system is simplicity itself. Begin by dumping all of your crap of a particular category into one big pile.

      She describes the shock most of her clients experience after doing so. If you've never tried this yourself, I can highly recommend it. It's staggering how much crap even tidy people accumulate because it's so often spread out in various places.

      It's not hard to understand how packing crap like this drives an insatiable urge for ever bigger houses and cars. You need more room to accommodate your every growing collection of crap.

      The environmental consequences of this behavior are staggering. I'm not sure whether this is is something new or not, but it's plain as day that houses, cars, and yes people are getting bigger. Look inside those houses and cars, and you're likely to find an accretion of crap whose contents even the owners can't recall.

      So there's a reluctance to toss things out, and there's a real lack of understanding about how much crap we actually have. Sounds like a first world problem to be sure, but one with bizarre emotional/psychological/environmental angles I don't think have really been explored that much.

      • thatfrenchguy 100 days ago

        > Marie Condo's Tidying Up. She talks at length about how emotions play into our inability to toss things out

        Interestingly, that always has seemed to be to be about buying more stuff. You throw away, you buy more.

        • tonyedgecombe 100 days ago

          I was surprised by that when reading her book. There wasn't anything about curbing our tendency to acquire, it was all about making space for the next cycle.

          • rvense 100 days ago

            It also encourages throwing away things that might be useful to someone else, or to yourself in the future.

            Especially the emotional way it is presented, that it is cathartic to get rid of possessions, without considering if there was another way to get rid of them but throwing them in the bin.

            We should have much more respect for our things, and be mindful of how much waste and energy (and toil) is required to make something like a computer or a set of clothes. We should buy things that last and make the effort to repair them when they break... and spend more time on the toys we have instead of getting new ones.

            • LUmBULtERA 100 days ago

              There was something -- all new things you acquire should truly spark joy for you. Under close inspection and recalling your experience purging your old things, the number of new things that would spark joy should hopefully diminish.

        • basetop 100 days ago

          There was an interesting video on youtube about global recycling.

          Since china exports so much and we export so little, rather than send empty shipping containers back to china, we fill it with our garbage and send that back to china to recycle.

          China exports goods. We export garbage to china. And it's been going on for decades.

          • reaperducer 100 days ago

            Since china exports so much and we export so little, rather than send empty shipping containers back to china, we fill it with our garbage and send that back to china to recycle.

            At one time this was true of the trucking industry, too. Trucks would haul goods to a city, then carry that city's trash back out. It was considered better than running a truck empty.

            Then they started doing it with food trucks, and the regulations came.

            • TheSpiceIsLife 100 days ago

              China has banned 24 categories of solid waste imports.


            • ars 100 days ago

              Some takeaways: Trash is never dumped onto 3rd world countries. It's sold. The people there pay money for that trash because they want it.

              When people throw things out they have expectations for what they want to happen with those items, and those expectations conflict with what really does happen, and what is the ideal result.

              • baroffoos 100 days ago

                I think people pay for it because they can make money on a small % of what they buy so they pick out the easy money and dump the trash somewhere else. So the result is pretty much the same. A bunch of trash from developed countries gets dumped on the 3rd world only 2 people made money from it and we can all feel good about it because no first world dumps trash in the ocean, they go through extra steps before that.

                • rvense 100 days ago

                  The people making money off buying trash don't have to deal with e.g. the effects of increased heavy metal poisoning on the kids growing up in these countries.

                  Just become something involves a perfectly legal and straight-forward financial transaction doesn't mean it has no bad consequences.

                • myt6fore 100 days ago

                  Just a reminder: George Carlin’s great sequence about ‘your stuff’