Shipping waste around the world

Filed in Blog by on July 31, 2010 3 Comments
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Me and my girl enjoying native bluebells this spring

Me and my girl enjoying native bluebells this spring

This week we’ve been following the 8 part “Wasteful World” series recorded by Al Jazeera. We’ve seen how Cairo‘s highly efficient recycling system comes with a human cost. After that we travelled to Beijing where we met the people who made 15 cents per kilo for recycling plastic waste before going to Iraq to see the people responsible for recycling US military waste.

This evening I’ve had an email from one of our readers, Nadine, who asks “is human garbage so valuable that it must be shipped from one beautiful island to one beautiful state a few thousand miles away?” before sending me the story of a Judge who has blocked shipment of Hawaiian garbage to Klickitat County.

The story, published in The Columbian reads:

U.S. District Judge Edward Shea of Richland issued a temporary restraining order Thursday barring the shipment of hundreds of thousands of tons of Hawaiian garbage to a landfill in Klickitat County for at least 30 days.

A coalition including Friends of the Columbia Gorge, the Yakama Nation and local residents sued in federal court Wednesday to block the shipments after the U.S. Department of Agriculture cleared the way for them to begin today.

In the lawsuit, plaintiffs contend that the garbage could introduce invasive plants and animals into the Gorge environment and that the plan has not received adequate environmental analysis.

“Judge Shea’s decision today means that the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic area, the region’s agricultural base, and the Yakama Nation’s tribal treaty rights are safe for at least another 30 days,” said Michael Lang, conservation director for Friends of the Gorge. “We are hopeful that this decision will cause the USDA to step back and fully examine the very real threat of harmful invasive species being introduced into the Gorge by the importation of this garbage.”

The judge found “serious questions related to whether the USDA adequately analyzed the environmental impacts of the shipments,” whether the department adequately consulted with the Yakama Tribe, and whether the shipments comply with the National Historical Preservation Act.

A private operator, Hawaiian Waste Systems, received final approval earlier in the week to begin shipping large bales of shrink-wrapped garbage from Honolulu to be buried at the Roosevelt Regional Landfill in Klickitat County, which already receives imported garbage from mainland cities.

Under the plan, the garbage would be shipped to the Port of Longview, where it would be offloaded and shipped by rail through Clark County to the landfill.

This story was also reported in the Seattle Weekly.

These articles makes an interesting point about the concerns over invasive plants and animals  being introduced to a new area. It’s something I had not even considered before in my mission to reduce waste; so thank you Nadine for adding more fuel to the fire of responsible waste management. I’ve since discovered that in the UK non-native species, such as floating pennywort, damage Britain’s wildlife and cost the economy £2bn a year. One of my favourite flowers, British bluebells are threatened because they hybridise with Spanish bluebells while Japanese knotweed cost us £1.6bn to control. Japanese knotweed has no natural enemies here and causes problems through rapid invasion of habitats, exclusion of other plants, and damage to property. It even grows through tarmac and concrete.

According to the chief scientist at CABIinvasive species are the second biggest threat to biodiversity after habitat loss. In response to the UK’s Japanese knotweed invasion, Defra’s Wildlife Minister, Huw Irranca-Davies, granted approval for Aphalara itadori, an insect from Japan, to be released in the UK for the biological control of the invasive plant earlier this year. This is the first time such a biological control has been used in Europe against a plant. It might seem like the perfect short term answer, but what will the long term consequences be?

Take for instance the cane toad, introduced into Australia from South America by the sugar cane industry in 1935 because it was known to eat some of the most important sugar cane pests. The toads may well have removed the cane sugar pests effectively, but they also had a penchant for native fauna, including amphibians and reptiles, as well as poisoning domestic and wild animals that tried to eat them.

My advise? Reduce your waste so it doesn’t become a problem to deal with and there is no need to ship it around the world 😉
We’ll be sharing tips on reducing waste over at Green is Good FM (America’s no. 1 Green radio show no less) next week …

About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (3)

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  1. thank you for posting this important article, one aspect of biodiversity is the adaptability of flora and fauna to new surroundings. in the case of plants hitching a ride on garbage ships, there comes a load of problems.

    i had no idea that Japanese knotweed was a pest on your segment of the world..i enjoy eating it as asparagus in the spring, cut all shoots when 6 – 9 inch tall and steam, wrap ham or cheese slices around it or simply add cross cuts instead of leeks in your potato soup. if enough people eat the young shoots, the propagation will be limited…in the south of the US. kudzu causes irritation and devastation, it can cover a tree in a matter of days…but it freezes in winter.

    always enjoying the many angles from which we may help to conserve and preserve.

  2. Jane says:

    Cane toads were introduced into Australia into far north Queensland to eat a native Australian beetle that eats the tops of the shoots of the sugarcane. This was a complete disaster because in the wild cane toads don’t actually eat sugar cane beetles as cane toads can only hop to a height of about 20-30cm and the beetles live on the tops of the stalks, far out of reach of the cane toads.

  3. Mrs Green says:

    @nadine sellers: I never knew you could eat Japanese knotweed; how much I learn from the wonderful readers of this site! What a great solution to the problem – free food.

    @Jane: Ahh, that explains a lot – thank you Jane!

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