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  • Writer's pictureChelsea Gacula

The Space Between Us: Waste Colonialsm and the UK

Nonbiodegradable waste is a planetary issue as there is a finite amount of space to put it on the planet. Many governments and organizations have brainstormed solutions to manage excessive pollution; from burning the landfill to switching over to reusable products. Some have even considered sending it to space, which is not feasible. Within the space we have, we can only use certain amounts for landfills. Waste cannot be placed in “civilized” places where it is visible as it would inconvenience the people living. Rich countries such as many in the EU produce a lot of waste but do not have the space to hold it. What is one of their solution to this lack of landfill space? They ship it off instead. The final destination of this waste ends up being space in poorer countries. European countries may brag about decreasing plastic within their landfills. However, that is only because they discovered that exporting to poorer countries without effective waste management systems can solve their statistics issues instead. These countries are participants in waste colonialism.

Waste colonialism is the domination of a group of people through waste and pollution. There are many instances of a rich first-world country that would send its waste to a poor third-world country. The most prominent example is within the fashion industry. Fast fashion has often been criticized for producing and releasing excessive amounts of clothing that is cheaply made. In order to keep up with each new release, consumers and fashion companies get rid of past stock to accommodate the new. Fashion textiles are common wastes that are being sent to African countries like Ghana. Another example is plastic pollution. Single-use plastics such as water bottles do not degrade and have recently been banned in many institutions. However regardless of the ban, there are still single-use plastics on the market and once they reach a landfill, they are shipped off to Asian countries like Malaysia. Colonialism may seem like an issue of the past but many of its effects are felt today. These countries must now deal with a problem that was forced upon them.

There are often misconceptions about poorer countries being dirty and having waste. They often do not have the wealth and resources to look after their cities like in major first-world countries. They become targeted as being a large part of the problem of pollution due to this disparity. However, rich countries are actually a cause of pollution in poorer countries along with being a contributor to overall pollution. They have a larger population that has the privilege to consume more and therefore produce more waste. Many people in poorer countries cannot afford to consume in excess and as a result, take care of their belongings as it would be difficult to obtain more. It is easy for these rich countries to give others their garbage and waste because it is difficult for poorer countries to rally against it. These rich countries have power over the poor countries, therefore continuing the dominating structure caused by colonialism.

The UK is one of the European countries that take part in waste colonialism. Prior to Brexit, they followed the recycling targets set forth by the EU and were way above the target by 60%. This would be a breakthrough worth congratulating if it were not for the method used to reach this state. It was revealed these targets were met by exporting the waste to poorer countries. It was thanks to China for banning the imports of foreign waste that revealed the loophole in the waste management system in the UK. There is a history of colonialism in the UK’s past it may be no surprise that its old habits resurface in the form of waste. The UK was so focused on reaching these targets that it ignored the fact that they were harming both these countries and the planet but shipping off its landfill waste. It is unproductive to seem sustainable in the form of statistics if it is reached through these loopholes. Genuine sustainability comes when countries work together to solve these issues. To unjustly harm another country environmentally just to sound better in numbers for a sustainability goal is hypocritical. One of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals focuses on fostering partnerships among countries and organizations. It is through working together and supporting those who need help that we can really solve the issue of pollution. Imagine how much could have been achieved in terms of waste management if these rich countries collated with one another to get rid of the waste in their own countries' space.

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