SEATTLE (Waste Advantage): For decades, wealthy nations have transported plastic trash, and the environmental problems that go with it, to poorer countries, but researchers have found a potential bright side to this seemingly unequal trade: plastic waste may provide an economic boon for the lower-income countries.
In a study published in the Journal of World Systems Research, Yikang Bai of Washington State University and Jennifer Givens of Utah State University analyzed 11 years of data on the global plastics trade against economic measures for 85 countries. They found that the import of plastic waste was associated with growth in gross domestic product per capita in the lower-income countries.
“Our study offers a nuanced understanding of the global trade in plastic waste,” said Bai, a recent WSU Ph.D. graduate and lead author on the study. “Media coverage often has a narrative that developed countries shift environmental harms to less developed countries. There’s another layer of the story: plastic waste could be used as a resource first, even though ultimately it could still add to the environmental burdens of less-developed countries.”
The authors emphasized that plastic waste is still a big problem, especially for developing countries, as most does not get recycled and even plastics that are recycled still ultimately end up negatively affecting the environxment. This study only indicates that some plastic waste is being purchased and repurposed before being thrown away.