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Due to rapidly decreasing space in urban landfills, officials have been forced to find alternate locations for municipal waste disposal. This has created significant financial incentives for rural communities to accept garbage from urban areas. Depending on the location of these rural facilities, it may be necessary to transport large quantities of wastes by a variety of methods, most often by truck, railway, or barge. Many citizens are concerned about the transportation of the waste through their communities and the risks involved. People are also concerned that the municipal waste from urban areas may be contaminated with toxic chemicals or substances that could contaminate local drinking water supplies.

Disposal of hazardous wastes in the United States can cost up to $2,500 per ton. This has led to the practice of selling waste to developing countries for disposal at a much lower cost. This international waste trade may be illegal in some instances, but the hefty sum paid to those who accept the wastes remains tempting to developing countries. However, the actual composition of the wastes received by developing countries is often misrepresented by those selling the waste. In addition, most developing countries lack the resources and technical expertise to safely manage these hazardous wastes.

Trade in hazardous wastes is a global issue. About ten percent of all hazardous wastes generated around the world cross international boundaries. A large portion goes from industrialized countries to developing countries where disposal costs are lower. Although developing countries may lack the financial and technical capacities to clean up hazardous waste releases in their countries, these countries nevertheless are sites for treatment, recycling, and disposal of wastes from abroad.

The Basel Convention on the Control of the Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal is the first global environmental treaty to control the international trade of waste. Under the Convention, trade in hazardous wastes cannot take place without the consent of the importing country and cannot occur under conditions that are assessed as not environmentally sound. As of April 2002, 150 countries had ratified the convention. A new protocol adopted by the convention in 2000 provides the first international framework establishing liability for damages that may result from the transportation or disposal of hazardous wastes across foreign


Due to overcapacity at the Islip landfills, New York, officials negotiated with Jones County, North Carolina, to accept 3,200 tons of municipal garbage in March 1987. The garbage was transported on the Mobro barge. When officials discovered hospital wastes in the garbage, North Carolina refused to accept it for fear that it might contaminate local water supplies. Louisiana, Mexico, Belize, British Honduras, and the Bahamas all refused to accept the contaminated garbage and the Mobro returned to New York. The Mobro then began a six-thousand-mile, six-month voyage looking for some place to take the garbage. After several court battles, the controversy ended when numerous flatbed trucks were used to transport the garbage to a Brooklyn incinerator where the volume was reduced and the ash was landfilled.

-Goff, Liz. "The Old Disaster: Queens' Garbage Standoff." The Queens Tribune. Available from /featurearchive/feature200i/0208 /feature_story.html

— "The Voyage of the Mobro." Available from

borders. see also Economics; Hazardous Waste; Laws and Regulations, United States; Radioactive WAste; Sewage Sludge; Solid WAste.


La Grega, Michael D.; Buckingham, Philip L.; Evans, Jeffrey C., and Environmental Resources Management. (2001). Hazardous Waste Management. Boston: McGraw Hill.

Watts, Richard J. (1998). Hazardous Wastes: Sources, Pathways, Receptors. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Internet Resources

U.S. Department of Transportation. "HAZMAT Safety." Available from http://

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. "Waste Transportation." Available from

Margrit von Braun and Deena Lilya

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