A small team of researchers at the Institute of Interdisciplinary Physics and Complex Systems in Spain has created what they describe as a “worldwide waste web” and have used it to track the movement of hazardous waste around the globe. In their paper published in the journal Nature Communications, the group outlines the factors that went into creating their waste web and what it showed about the movement of hazardous materials around the world.
To gain a better perspective on the waste web, and more specifically the hazardous waste trade, they created a mathematical model to describe its characteristics using data collected from countries around the world over the years 2001 to 2019 (minus data from 2010 that was not available). They found that more than 1.4 million metric tons of hazardous waste was reported by countries adhering to the Basel Convention agreements over the period they studied. They note that an unknown amount of such waste was also dumped illegally.
The researchers also found that they could use their model to identify those countries that were importing and exporting hazardous waste and also those that were at or near a saturation point. They found 28 countries that they deemed to be at high risk of oversaturation, which, they note, could lead to poor handling of such materials. Such situations are likely to lead to environmental and health problems for those near dumping sites. The researchers conclude that their model can be used by others to assess global waste issues, now and in the coming years.
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