In september 2006, the dumping by the tanker Probo Koala, of 580 tons of highly toxic hydrocarbon residue in Abidjan, Ivory Coast was a strong reminder to the whole world of the existence of an international waste traffic. This slop , coming from the bottom of the tanks of the russian tanker were dumped in the city landfills killing some ten persons and affecting 100 000 others. In the eighties this kind of practice was already frequently denounced.
In 1992 the Basel Convention came into effect . It offers a partial answer to the problems of these international flows of waste . It regulates the transport of toxic waste between 170 countries . The signatories to the convention are not allowed to send their toxic waste to a non signatory country Their import is submitted to the agreement of the recipient country and the existence of proper processing facilities
In the management of waste, two issues are important : the cost of transportation and the cost of labour. In rich countries, waste is taken to the landfills or reprocessed. In 2004 , it was estimated that some 1 204 million tons of municipal waste , have been collected in the world, and this figure is probably very far from the stark reality.This represents a huge market ; the products, especially packaging and electronic items are sent to developing countries where labour is cheap and regulations more flexible.
This activity, salvaging materials, allows a great number of people in the world to survive, in spite of the harshness of the work, of the social exclusion they suffer and the health hazards
they run. Decommissioned ships are sent to Bangladesh to be scraped , in spite of the dangers for the workers of being in contact with toxic substances such as asbestos . In poor countries waste is a ressource. Their inhabitants , by foraging in the landfills, collecting, selling and purchasing what can be salvaged are part of this recycling process.At the end the raw matertials are bought back by industries : glass and aluminium for example are more easily recycled than others.