Neoliberal waste mismanagement

Minsk, Belarus plastic waste (Sergei Grits:AFP) Mar 13 2015

The caption to this photo identified this eyesore as pressed plastic waste at a dump site near Minsk, Belarus & described it as “one of the most environmentally friendly in the country.” Oh my! That’s alarming. What does the rest of the country look like?

Neoliberal waste management has become a catastrophic problem. In the privileged, plundering countries municipalities have hit or miss recycling programs only to learn tons of it still end up in the oceans; is sold to China for recycling where it sits & contaminates their environment; is dumped in the plundered countries causing massive health problems for scavengers earning their livelihood from recyclables. What’s wrong with that picture? Other than the racism, short-sighted stupidity, & utter inability to resolve the problem of waste?

Minsk is nearly 1,000 years old & has a rich economic & political history just in the 20th century during the Russian Revolution (it was part of the USSR) & both World Wars. It’s long been the industrial center of Belarus but since the collapse of the Soviet Union & under neoliberal privatization, industry was expanded without updating technologies & equipment or addressing environmental infrastructure.

There are over 250 manufactories in Minsk producing trucks, tractors, & motorcycles; refrigerators & washing machines; TVs & radios; textiles; tobacco & alcohol; construction materials; printing & metal-processing equipment. In just one district of the city they estimated the industrial slag generated at 100 thousand tons a year, including oil-containing & heavy metal waste, used car tires & batteries, mercury & ash wastes. Overall Belarus produces 22 million tons of waste annually. Without environmental technology to handle the industrial efflux it pours into rivers which drain into the Baltic & Black Sea regions.

An environmental official in Belarus claimed that in the Soviet era waste was exported to parts of the USSR (now that’s a solution whose time has not come) but now piles up outside factories & gets “sent piecemeal to conventional dumpsites if they are not too toxic.” The same official claimed in 2000 that a toxic waste processing facility was being built “but it is hard to say when it is going to be completed.” Under neoliberal waste management policies, odds are the plant is still under construction.

(Photo by Sergei Grits/AFP)

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