From California to Kanpur: USA’s waste gets illegally dumped in India

Indonesian customs officers lock containers full of plastic at Tanjung Priok port in Jakarta, Indonesia (Credits: AP Photo/Achmad Ibrahim )

A load of 38 containers full of plastic and hazardous waste was illegally shipped to India, an investigation by Indonesia based Nexus3 (NGO) and Basel Action Network (BAN), a global waste trade watchdog, revealed. It all started when hundreds of containers reached Indonesia. The original U.S. waste shipments were imported by the Indonesian paper recycling companies PT Mega Surya Eratama and PT Surabaya Mekabox located in East Java.

Upon arrival, they were deemed illegal by Indonesian authorities when they were found to contain large amounts of plastic and hazardous wastes mixed into what was supposed to be paper scrap. Out of the 70 seized containers, 58 were from the USA. Out of these 58 containers in Indonesia, 25 were shipped from Cosco Shipping Line, 13 from Maersk Shipping Line and 20 from Hyundai Line.

“It is an international norm that illegal waste exports are the responsibility of the state of export, in this case the United States, and the exporting state has the duty to reimport the wastes,” said Jim Puckett, Executive Director of Basel Action Network (BAN). “In this way the exporters can be prosecuted for any illegality and the problem can actually be solved rather than simply passed on to other unsuspecting victim countries and communities.”

Out of these 58 U.S. containers, 38 were diverted by Indonesian Government Authorities to India, three to South Korea and one each to Thailand, Vietnam, Mexico, Netherlands, Canada. Only 12 containers were sent back to the country of origin i.e. USA by the Indonesian Government. All these illegal containers arrived in Indonesia from June 27 to August 2.

25 containers that were shipped to India reached via Mundra Port by Adani Ports in Gujarat while the remaining 13 containers arrived India via Jawahar Lal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT), Navi Mumbai, Maharashtra. Further, they were transported to Kanpur Concor CFS by a truck. However, the investigators are not known about the fact that whether the U.S. Government was aware of the illegal exports to Indonesia or not. Also, it remains unclear whether the receiving countries were aware or notified to obtain consent for dumping the waste.

Director-General of Indonesian Customs and Excise Heru Pambudi speaks to the press near containers full of plastic waste at Tanjung Priok port in Jakarta, Indonesia  (Credits: AP Photo/Achmad Ibrahim)

“After promising that the illegal plastic waste imports would be returned to their countries of origin, our officials have instead, engaged in a global waste shell game, victimizing more countries with the unwanted, illegal and contaminated shipments,” said Yuyun Ismawati of the Indonesian NGO, Nexus3. “Meanwhile the U.S. government and the original perpetrators of the illegal shipments are let off the hook. The public has been lied to, the environment is further harmed, and the criminals go free. It’s outrageous.”

To ensure sustainable management of hazardous wastes and regulate the transboundary movement of wastes, the Government of India notified the Hazardous Waste (Management& Transboundary Movement) Rules, 2016. Rule 12 states the strategy for import and export of hazardous and other wastes. The sub-rules strictly prohibits any kind of import of the hazardous and other wastes from any country to India for disposal. For import of any specific forms of hazardous wastes, prior informed consent of the exporting country and permission from of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change is required.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has declared to make country single-use plastic-free by 2022. Not only this, the Government recently shelved the idea to implement the blanket ban on single-use plastic items on 2 October, which was also the 150th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. The illegal dumping of waste from Indonesia raises grave concerns on India’s management of waste movement in and outside the country’s boundary. The role of shipping lines and ports will also come under scanner after the incident.

To access the full report by Nexus3 and BAN, click here.

Rishabh Shrivastava Author

Author is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Analysis