Pak: A dumping ground for hazardous waste?
By S Khan
A parliamentary committee has taken notice of reports that huge amounts of hazardous waste from several countries, including the United Kingdom, Iran, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, are being dumped into Pakistan, according to local media. Senator Mohammad Humayun Mohmand, a member of the committee, confirmed these reports to DW. “Relevant authorities have told us that Pakistan is importing waste from other countries but it does not have the required technology to separate hazardous waste from normal waste. We were told that up to 14% of normal waste could contain hazardous elements,” he said.
As to why the Pakistani government accepted the waste, the senator said that authorities have records of these imports and that the matter will be investigated. Senator Taj Haider, another member of the committee, also confirmed to DW that Pakistan has been the recipient of hazardous waste from developed countries. However, the parliamentary committee has not been given detailed information about what kind of hazardous waste is coming to Pakistan. Hazardous waste is classified as material listed by regulatory authorities originating from non-specified sources or containing discarded chemical products. Another trait of hazardous waste is that it cannot be disposed of by common methods.
Syed Mujtaba Hussain, a senior official at the Ministry of Climate Change, said Pakistan is a signatory to the Basel Convention on the control of transboundary movement of hazardous waste, which prohibits its disposal and import. But sometimes the normal waste is mixed up with hazardous waste, for instance plastic waste could include clinical waste, he told DW. “In 2019, 624 containers of plastic waste that we imported from the US were contaminated. We launched a formal complaint,” Hussain said.
Zaigham Abbas, a Ministry of Climate Change official, said that developed nations often do not have sufficient sites to dump hazardous waste and recycling it could be costly for them. On the other hand, countries like Pakistan need normal waste like compressor scrap, aluminium scrap, plastic scrap and lead scrap that serve as raw materials to manufacture items such as fans, cables, motors, fiber, windows and doors. Abbas pointed out a loophole in laws dealing with waste imports.
“There is a category called ‘other items,’ under which the countries exporting waste are not obliged to declare what is being sent,” he said.
Hussain said the Pakistani government raised the issue in 2019, at the Conferences of Parties to Basel Convention in Geneva, Switzerland. “This waste is dangerous for the environment because it contaminates soil and water, whereas burning it causes air pollution.” The official declined to provide a list of hazardous waste items to DW. A provincial Sindh government official told DW on condition of anonymity that Pakistan does not have the technology to segregate normal waste from hazardous waste, therefore the exact amount of hazardous waste cannot be determined.
Experts say that corruption among government officials and private recycling companies allows foreign countries to dump harmful waste in Pakistan. Ahmad Shabbar, the CEO of a waste management company in Karachi, said that a ban by China on the import of hazardous waste has prompted advanced nations to send it to Pakistan and other developing countries. “It is a matter of grave concern because we have no effective safety protocols for the dumping of such waste,” Shabbar told DW. “There is no scientific mechanism in place in Pakistan to dump such waste. This means that we are creating air pollution by burning the waste or contaminating groundwater by throwing it in rivers,” he added.
This article was provided by Deutsche Welle