As harsh as it may sound, importing dirt, I mean recyclable wastes (plastic, rubble bottles, cans, etc.) will generate approximately 100,000 – 300,000 skilled and unskilled industrial jobs in the first 2 – 3 years of its operation; excluding the white-collar policy regulation and managerial jobs of nearly a quarter of the amount stated above. This projection is a calculation matching what other economies, but in particular, China benefited when they got engaged in the importation of the world’s waste. With major share of the recyclable waste imported by China from the USA, until recently when the Chinese government imposed a limit and reduced drastically the quantity of recyclable waste it is willing to import. In between China’s refusal to import the world recyclable wastes, which has created a $ 260 billion market value globally, lies the opportunity for Liberia to benefit while solving the West’s waste disposal problem. Now, you sense the rationale on which the call to import recyclable trash is based upon. Let’s consider other useful details.

The issue of waste, especially non-degradable (excluding nuclear waste) wasn’t a problem before the industrial revolution. And this was fundamentally because of two reasons: i) It was because the waste generated wasn’t made of chemically composed elements or materials and ii) secondly, the population of the world wasn’t expanding exponentially and lands for landfills were available. But, this is not the case anymore. The industrial revolution brought a kind of sophistication that gave us machines, that are capable of breaking chemical elements apart to manufacture materials that are non-degradable and some, if degradable, takes centuries. So, we are having more non-degradable waste than ever in the history of the world.

Non-degradable Waste Loading at Port for Export and Subsequent Recycling

The West Waste Problems

The problem of waste is generally derived from the increase in our purchasing power and the considerable improvement in the general welfare of the world. However, countries in the west,  and most especially the United States of America for the most part, has done extremely well, that their consumption level has reached a record high. Hence, they produced more waste, especially non-degradable waste than any country in the world. From 1995 – 2012 (16 years) the America Environmental Protection Agency has tracked solid waste disposal and it is recorded that 245 million tons of solid wastes are disposed off every year. The disintegration of this figure shows 62.9% is recyclable waste. Moreover, 35.9% of recyclable waste is non-degradable. This problem of non-gradable waste combine with America’s massive appetite in the midst of exponential material wealth has created a serious problem for the proper environmental disposal of their wastes.

Well, we could argue that America is the most developed country or in the top tier of developed countries in the world, therefore, it should be able to recycle its waste. But unfortunately, these are the disadvantages of highly developed services economies. Their production lines are stocked with highly effective machines that are unable to do certain kinds of human labor-intensive works. Moreover, as the economy transitioned to service level jobs, labor-intensive jobs that cannot be handled by machines are too costly for human labor to be hired in massive industrial factories. Hence, America is left with a viable option of exporting its wastes to other countries that have cheaper labor to handle the kind of processes that are needed in the waste recycling industry.

Manual Labor Require in the Waste Recycling Industry

The West’s traditional partner in collecting her recyclable wastes for nearly half a century has been China. But it is now difficult for China to collect all of the West’s recyclable wastes because China is as well experiencing the same change in income and an uncontrollable wealth appetite comparable to America. China now produces over 1/3 of the world’s wastes and will surpass America in less than a decade from now. Moreover, as Chinese citizens get wealthier, they tend to concentrate more on their health and environment, thereby, prompting their government to increase the environmental measures of waste recycling. Hence, the Chinese are having more of their own waste to recycle, if blended with imported wastes from other countries will create a spillover, thereby leading to environmental problems.

This leaves the West with the problem of its waste disposal. More interestingly, the West has transitioned from landfills decades ago. She has instituted waste separation for recycling purposes and has created a massive market with China and other Asian countries for the exportation of their wastes.

Waste Separation Instituted by America for Waste Exportation

Excluding China, other countries in Asia including Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia, etc. have attempted importing wastes from the West for recycling, however, they have not developed the storage and recycling facilities necessary to handle the quantity of trash produced by the West. Therefore, most of the imported wastes have ended up in landfills. Hence, their respective governments have banned, as well the importation of wastes from America and other western countries. 

China Gains Over Several Decade from Waste Industry

As stated above, China has been the West’s traditional partner certainly when it comes to the importation of their wastes. This partnership has been mutually beneficial to both sides. America and many countries in the West have instituted a genuine process of waste separation which is the first step in the recycling process and have been exporting over 7 million tons of waste a year to China. This process earns the West over 5 billion a year.

But China has had the most gains. There are three separate ways in which China has benefited from the waste recycling trade with America and the rest of the world. These are given below:

  1. Economic gains (A vast recycling industry) 
  2. Political stability
  3. Reduction of Social tensions.

The economic gains accumulated by china for the past decades from the recycling industry can be grouped into two major parts. As the Chinese economy diversifies it industrial processes, the economy experienced a rise of over 50% in service level jobs in the recycling industry. The recycling industry from 1995 – 2005(10 years) created 7 million service-level jobs. Hence, the first part of the economic gains of china from the recycling industry is the provision of service-level jobs. As more Chinese got educated and transitioned to the service sector, the demand for service-level job increases; hence, the recycling industry was able to meet up with some of those demands through the provision of managerial, supervisory, business executives employments. 

Under the economic gains, the equipment manufacturing and heavy machinery sector experience a boast of over 33% increase in output. Recycling factories were set up in different provincial localities, and the need to manufacture more recycling machines and heavy operational equipment for recycling factories grew. This increased in the production of equipment led to an increase in employment and revenue generation for the government.   

Secondly, the diversification of the economy by the introduction of the waste recycling sector increases employment and drastically reduced political tension in underprivileged areas. Most importantly, the increase in manual labor jobs in the waste recycling industry gives a momentous boost to the economic improvement of China. The data gathered from the Ministry of Commerce and the Chinese Recycling Authority shows an approximately 300,000 manual labor jobs offered every year in the recycling industry. This gain by far is the most favorable outcome of the recycling industry, cherished by the Chinese Government, as it empowers the government single authority system and grip on power approach. Creating firm political control and stability in areas previously earmarked as politically hostile or unstable regions. 

Lastly, the provisions of jobs, especially for unskilled workers, reduce social tension that could’ve erupted. This is why for several decades the Chinese government did not meddle or place stringent restrictions on the recycling industry as it did with other sectors. 

Liberia’s Economic Problem

The problem in Liberia can be diagnosed by anyone, as it is normally done on the streets of Monrovia. You can meet a non-economist or a layperson who will tell you exactly, that the country’s economic woe is tied around the shortage of JOBS or a lack of sustainable employment sectors. This diagnosis is not short-changed in any way to what top-notch economists, national and international development experts have presented to be the economic problem in the country. They concluded in several national and sectoral studies, surveys and policy forums, that the economic constraint of Liberia is tied to the lack of sustainable employment opportunities, especially for the unskilled and underprivileged populations. 

Creating jobs in an economy such as Liberia, that have limited industrial, commercial and service sector is a challenging feat for governments and leaders in these sectors. Even international organizations that extend aid and other international development assistance (IDA) will do so in an effort to boost the above-mentioned sectors with the aim to create sustainable jobs for the population.

However, the creation of gainful employment is not happening on the scale that is capable of employing a considerable number of the working population. So as it stands, the country economy is suffering huge shortage of jobs in almost every sector. For example, the Household Expenditure and Income Survey conducted by the Liberia Geo-information and Statistic Services (LIGIS) in 2016 estimates that, over half of the working-age population of Liberia is out of gainful or stable employment. This statistic is a wake up call for the diversification of the economy.

How does Liberia Fit into the Waste Recycling Industry?

Prompted by the announcement of China’s limit on the importation of recyclable wastes in early July of 2018 at the World Economic Forum in Davos. I have studied the waste recycling industry over the past several months, and I have read with keen interest and seen how a huge waste recycling market developed over the past decades has dwindled since China’s reduction in the importation of recyclable wastes from the West. The waste recycling industry, which has brought so many benefits to China as outlined above has experienced a dip. This is due to china’s reduction in the importation of wastes from the West, but it is as well attributed to China’s massive economic and social improvements, which is not the case in Liberia. Liberia should endeavor into such a sector to diversify and increase its economic activities and benefits.

Liberia should take advantage of the reduction in China’s importation of West’s waste to cement an investment in waste recycling facilities to be built with resources from credible Chinese Investors who are already in the sector or interested in the sector. The good bilateral connection that many Liberia have with China, if properly channeled can allow Liberia to harness the opportunity for investments in waste recycling facilities to be build in the country.

Most importantly, the government can convince America on a potential waste importation or recyclable wastes trade agreement. It can use the case of attracting investments in waste cycling facilities from China and the willingness and overwhelming labor available to engage in such trade as a bottom-line argument, coupled with the need to create economic opportunities to ease the social and economic tension the country is experiencing.

The demand to create gainful employments must be sort-after through every opportunity necessary. The waste industry is one viable alternative to create gainful employment in Liberia and Liberia fits neatly within the current situation holding to its current bilateral friendship with China. Moreover, the country have a huge unskilled labor force and the waste recycling process as mentioned above will value the use of such labor fully.

A tripartite arrangement, if champion properly by the Governments of Liberia, will see the Chinese investing in recycling facilities and the West serving as the source of the collection of recyclable waste. This arrangement will make Liberia the newest recycling hub for the West , like China was over the past 40 years, but with far greater gains for its struggling economy. This will in many ways addressed, if not fully but partly the unemployment issues in this country as it did for China.

The Benefit Impact Analysis

These kind of proposals are criticized on several occasions by Environmentalists and Public Health Practitioners based on arguments of environmental and subsequently health-related issues.  Hence, it is important to consider in brief benefit impacts analysis if such a proposal is implemented.

The impacts of importing recyclable wastes are mainly centered around the percentage of material that will definitely be filtered out of wastes and end up as non-recyclable material. As estimated by the Environmental Protection Agency in China, approximately under 12% of the imported recyclable waste ended up in landfill sites around China. These filtered out wastes if not properly discarded have the potential to create environmental pollution which is detrimental to the environment. It is important, therefore, to consider in detail the impact of filtered waste, the location for the establishment of the recycling industry and the long-term plan that will address adequately the disposal of the filtered out components of imported wastes.

Despite the above impact, there are huge opportunities for countries considering the amount of land available that can be used for as landfill for several decades without any major ramification. Moreover, if the sector is properly managed, the regulatory fees and incentives collected can be used to develop a sustainable means of addressing the impact to the environment.

Conclusively, it can be agreed upon that the benefits of setting up a waste recycling facility in developing countries economically exceed the impacts, and there are ample opportunities if properly planned, will lower the risks(environmental and health) as exaggerated by many environmentalists.

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