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Toxicomania colonialism, or toxic waste colonialism, refers to the practice of exporting hazardous waste from developed countries to underdeveloped ones for disposal.[1]


In 1992, 'toxic colonialism' was "a striking phrase coined by Jim Puckett of Greenpeace for the dumping of the industrial wastes of the West on territories of the Third World"[2] The term refers to practices of developed nations who rid themselves of toxic or hazardous waste by shipping it to less developed areas of the world. The affected communities typically lack the resources, knowledge, political organization, or capital to resist the practice.[3] In the US, the term may also be applied to exploitation of Native American reservations, where differing environment regulations allow the land to be more easily used for dump sites.

According to The Diplomat:

In the 1980s, developed nations began tightening legislation surrounding waste disposal and health standards. As a result, in order to avoid their own environmental regulations and the high cost associated with them, wealthy nations began to export their rubbish to developing nations. Rather than managing and containing their own plastic and hazardous waste, developed nations exported it by the container load to developing nations, which lacked adequate facilities to store or dispose of it. In the 1980s a new term was coined to describe this practice: “Waste colonialism.”[4]

Environmental racism vs toxic colonialismEdit

It is important to distinguish the difference between toxic colonialism and environmental racism. Toxic colonialism is the practice of targeting poor communities of color in developing nations for waste disposal and/or experimentation with risky technologies.[5] Environmental racism is the inequitable distribution of environmental hazards based on race.[5] In other words, toxic colonialism can be seen as “micro” as it focuses on a specific area or group of people. Environmental racism can be seen as “macro”, examining the issue on a larger, worldwide scale.


Despite some economic gains to developing nations, the adverse effects of toxic colonialism on the people and environment of these nations outweigh any positives. History shows that the overall impact of the toxic waste dumping in these nations has been devastating and has severely compromised all aspects of human health. In a case study for the 2010 Geneva Convention, Bashir Mohamed Hussein, PhD details one account of toxic and radioactive waste dumping in Somalia and its effects, “UNEP...reported that the people were complaining of unusual health problems including “acute respiratory infections, heavy dry coughing, mouth bleeding abdominal hemorrhage and unusual chemical skin reaction...Likewise, both Somali and non-Somali medical doctors working in Somalia have reported an excessive incidence of cancer, unknown diseases, spontaneous miscarriages of the pregnant women and child malformation.”[6] The overwhelming significance of toxic waste on humans is brought forth and it can be said that the idea of those in developing nations as being those that do not have the resources, knowledge or capital of that of the developed nations is just cause for developing nations to be subject to such treatment.

Socioeconomic aspectsEdit

Although there are many alarming health effects of toxic colonialism, these effects are often overshadowed by the economic interests of both the developing and developed nations. The number one socioeconomic aspect of toxic colonialism is money. Simply put, "developed countries want to save it, and developing countries want to earn it."[7] There is no regard for the health concerns developing countries subject their people to as long as there is a monetary or economical gain and the developed world takes full advantage of this in order to save money, “the wealth and income gaps between developing nations and developed nations have continually grown throughout the past century. As developing nations seek to boost economic growth, the enforcement of the few hazardous waste regulations in place often fall by the wayside. Many agencies in these developing countries do not have the resources to give approvals or enforce their regulations”.[7] On the other hand, “developed countries generally have increasingly stringent environmental regulations governing the domestic disposal of hazardous wastes. When compliance costs are coupled with an increased quantity of waste and local opposition to disposal, they generally produce drastically increased disposal costs for hazardous waste.”[7] Therefore, it’s easy for developed countries to seek those less developed and offer them the idea of economic relief at a seemingly minor, but substantial environment cost. In some instances, monetary funds are not the only thing exchanged between developed and developing nations, “Somali warring parties used to accept hazardous and highly toxic wastes in exchange of army and ammunition”.[6] This example is an indication of the separation between developed and developing nation and shows the lengths that not only developing nations are willing to extend to meet their needs, it also shows the desperation of developed nations to remove themselves from handling excessive toxic waste commitments.


Over the past few decades there have been improvements in environmental protection that have tried to end the illegal dumping of toxic waste worldwide. The Basel Convention in 1989 was a treaty signed by 105 countries and was intended to regulate the international shipping of toxic substances. Despite the treaty, millions of tons of toxic and hazardous materials continue to move both legally and illegally from richer countries to poorer countries each year.[5] The history of suburbanization reveals that although many forces contributed to decentralization, it has largely been an exclusionary undertaking.[8]

In 1992 the US established the US Environmental Act in an attempt to identify areas threatened by the highest levels of toxic chemicals and ensure that groups of individuals residing within those areas have opportunities and resources to participate in public discussions concerning siting and cleanup of industrial facilities. One organization that has had success in fighting toxic colonialism is the Basel Action Network (BAN).[9] BAN is focused on confronting the global environmental injustice and economic inefficiency of toxic trade (toxic wastes, products and technologies) and its devastating impacts.[9]


  1. ^ Pratt, Laura A. (February 2011). "Decreasing Dirty Dumping? A Reevaluation of Toxic Waste Colonialism and the Global Management of Transboundary Hazardous Waste". William & Mary Environmental Law and Policy Review. 35 (2): 581.
  2. ^ Dalyell, Tam (July 2, 1992). "Thistle Diary: Toxic wastes and other ethical issues". New Scientist: 50.
  3. ^ Reed, T.V. (Summer 2009). "Toxic Colonialism, Environmental Justice and Native Resistance in Silko's Almanac of the Dead". MELUS. 34 (2): 25–42. doi:10.1353/mel.0.0023. JSTOR 20532677.
  4. ^ "Asia Stands up to 'Waste Colonialism'". The Diplomat. 20 June 2019.
  5. ^ a b c Cunningham, William; Cunningham, Mary (2010). Environmental Science: A Global Concern. New York: McGraw-Hill.
  6. ^ a b Hussein, Bashir (8 June 2010). "The Evidence of Toxic And Radioactive Wastes Dumping In Somalia And Its Impact On The Enjoyment Of Human Rights: A Case Study" (PDF). Geneva: Somacent Development Research Foundation. Retrieved 30 January 2013.
  7. ^ a b c Kitt, Jennifer R. (1995). "Waste Exports to the Developing World: A Global Response". Georgetown International Environmental Law Review. 7: 485.
  8. ^ Pulido, Laura (2000-03-01). "Rethinking Environmental Racism: White Privilege and Urban Development in Southern California". Annals of the Association of American Geographers. 90 (1): 12–40. doi:10.1111/0004-5608.00182. hdl:10214/1833. ISSN 1467-8306.
  9. ^ a b "About the Basel Action Network". Basel Action Network. 2011. Retrieved 18 April 2013.

Further readingEdit

  • Lipman, Zada (Winter 2002). "A Dirty Dilemma: The Hazardous Waste Trade". Harvard International Review: 67–71.