On the heels of massive quantities of toxic wastes arriving at the Jakarta Tanjung Priok Port last week, environmental groups led by Indonesia Toxics-Free Network, the Basel Action Network, Ban Toxics, and BaliFokus condemned the illegal trade and urged world governments that have not already done so to ratify the Basel Ban Amendment and to enforce the Basel Convention as a matter of urgency. Officials at the Jakarta port were able to intercept and seize the illegal shipments which originated from the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. Customs officials from the two countries have already begun investigating the companies and the individuals involved in the case may yet be prosecuted. However for every shipment caught it is feared many more go unnoticed.
"We were lucky to have caught this one shipment, which begs the bigger question, how many shipments are getting through under the noses of our port officials?" asked Yuyun Ismawati, founder of the Indonesia Toxics-Free Network. "In Indonesia we have regulations on illegal toxic waste traffic based on the Basel Convention, but there needs to be better national enforcement and international cooperation to implement the law."
The environmental groups also call on all governments that have not already done so to ratify the Basel Ban Amendment. Last October 2011, the Basel Convention on the Control of the Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal passed a critical decision to ensure that only 17 more ratifications are needed to allow the Basel Ban Amendment to enter into force. The Basel Ban Amendment prohibits and makes it a crime to export toxic wastes from developed to developing countries for any reason whatsoever.
"The Basel Ban places the responsibility of policing this crime not only on the importing country, such as Indonesia, but more importantly on the developed nations as well," explains Jim Puckett, Executive Director of the Basel Action Network. "The UK and Dutch port authorities missed this shipment, and thus it is clear that there needs to be greater responsibility on the shoulders of exporting countries to police unscrupulous actors that avoid costs of proper waste management by exporting toxic waste."
Increasing toxic waste generation in developed countries, increasing costs of managing pollutants, combined with high poverty and lax implementation of environmental laws drive toxic wastes from rich to poorer countries.
The generation of electronic waste or e-waste, included in this illegal shipment, amounts to about 50 million metric tons generated annually, and is increasing rapidly. Unfortunately e-waste is toxic waste containing such toxins as lead and cadmium, and thus disposal is creating major risks for public health and environment in importing countries.
"We are reaching the tipping point of the poisons that society is spewing out, and the ports and customs are the frontiers of that fight," said Richard Gutierrez, Executive Director of Ban Toxics in the Philippines. "Governments can not handle this problem single-handedly. There has to be better coordination and implementation of international and national laws. If not, developing countries like Indonesia will become the dumping grounds for the world’s toxic wastes."