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Driven by urbanization, increased consumption, and rising populations, the global waste and recycling market grew to $57.69 billion last year. Plastic, electronic, and iron waste are among major commodities traded, often from developed to developing countries. 

In a 2010 chapter, Sarah A. Moore examines how uneven regulation shapes the global hazardous waste trade. 

From the text:

“Between 1976 and 1991, the cost of disposing of hazardous waste in industrial countries increased by a factor of 25. This contributed to high levels of both legal and illegal transboundary shipments of waste, much of it from more developed countries with stricter environmental regulations to less developed countries with less strict regulations. In a ‘first-best’ world of equal trade relationships, international trade in hazardous waste would beneficial all countries involved. Such logic was echoed in the late 1990s by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which argued that hazardous wastes should be exported as it ‘constitutes raw material inputs into industrial and manufacturing processes.’ In the ‘second best’ world of environmental economics, insufficient regulation distorts the market, making international hazardous waste trade more harmful to the environment and to public health in less developed countries. One way to prevent uneven transboundary waste shipments is through international agreements such as the 1992 Basel Convention, which prevents richer countries from exporting hazardous wastes to poorer countries. It has been ratified by 172 countries, not including the United States. But these regulations only apply to legal trade of hazardous waste, overlooking the significant illegal trade. Free trade agreements are often said to bring regulatory standards of developing countries up to those of developed ones. In the case of agreements like North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), however, articles about environmental quality are less significant than free trade articles. Increasingly, free trade agreements focus on eliminating non-tariff barriers to trade (NTBs). Because environmental regulations have the potential to limit activities and profits of companies investing in foreign countries, such measures are considered NTBs. Many American corporations have cited NAFTA regulations to avoid environmental regulations pertaining to waste disposal.”

+  “Materials disposed of as e-waste in the United States become sources of value in Ghana when commodities are transformed through reuse, repurposing, and/or breakdown as raw materials.” By Richard Grant and Martin Oteng-Ababio. Link. And see Peter C. Little’s ethnography of e-waste labor in Ghana. Link

+  “The typical structure of informal municipal waste economies in India’s cities (and with local variations, across cities in the global South) takes the form of a pyramid, with waste pickers at the base and re-processing units at the apex.” By Vinay Gidwani. Link. And see Kaveri Gill’s study of Indian “scrap trading entrepreneurs.” 

+  “In this paper we analyse waste picking by Roma communities in Turin and Marseille, showing that this activity not only provides them with an income from the sale of recycled objects and materials but also allows them to access the city and its multiple resources—people, objects, spaces.” By Elisabetta Rosa and Claudia Cirell. Link. And Alexander Clapp on a Romani sludge waste entrepreneurs. Link


Mining innovation

BEATRIZ CALZADA OLVERA is an economics researcher and lecturer at Erasmus University in Rotterdam. In a recent paper, she examines innovation paradigms in the mining sector. 

From the paper:  

“The mining industry innovates through processes because there is little space for product innovation, and producers, i.e., miners, cannot control prices. This has resulted in innovation being driven mostly by cost-cutting and regulation compliance. Significant changes in the corporate strategy and environment within mining companies have led to substantial reductions of R&D groups and other intramural innovation efforts, which are now largely focused on providing services to operations. These factors contribute to a new paradigm in which innovation is developed through partnerships and collaborations, from weekend hackathons to year-long projects, such as the Mine of the Future. The de-verticalization of the industry has resulted in an intricate collection of industries: Junior firms are specialized in exploration activities, engineering firms provide Engineering, Procurement, Construction Management (EPCM), Operations and Maintenance (O&M), and environmental services, and mining firms stick to a portfolio of activities closely aligned to the core business.”

+  “The fears now are of a complete collapse of the political institutions and the end of the democratic experiment that started forty years ago with the fall of the last dictatorship.” New on PW, Matías Vernengo on Javier Milei, dollarization, and Argentina’s election. Link.

+  “Carr, Polanyi, and Mitrany all recognized that a functioning global economy could not rely on the principles of laissez faire for its organization.” Also new on PW, Randall Germain revisits E.H. Carr’s “The Twenty Years’ Crisis.” Link

+  “We are facing something completely new, a world which is now embarking on an energy transition in various messy, incomplete, but nevertheless highly dynamic ways.” On The Polycrisis, a transcript of our panel discussion about global oil politics in the “mid-transition.” Link

+  “The decline in homeownership rates among young borrowers in D.C., from 22.1
percent in 2010 to 13.7 percent in 2022, is closely linked to the surge in student loan
debt.” A new JFI-Economic Policy Institute report on student debt in DC, by Eduard Nilaj and Kyle Moore. Link

+  Sign up for the newsletter of our JFI partner organization, the Center for Active Stewardship, to get a weekly briefing of corporate governance and climate news. Link.

+  Cédric Durand and Céline Baud chart the “uneven trajectories” American retail giants Carrefour, Amazon, and Walmart. Link.

+  “Greater integration of the Brazilian food market with the global food market not only raises land use and environmental concerns, but also requires a discussion of development strategies that can ensure national food.” By Georges Flexor, Karina Yoshie Kato, and Sergio Pereira Leite. Link. And read a PW essay by Leite on the “reprimarization of the Brazilian economy.” Link

+  Pablo Ospina Peralta on the victory of banana magnate Daniel Noboa in Ecuador’s presidential elections. Link

+  “Through greater centralisation, co-ordination and rationalisation, trucking platforms in Brazil and China further serve to proletarianize their owner-operator workforces, driving down costs and eliminating barriers to the geographical circulation of capital.” By Wei Wei, Jörg Nowak, and Steve Rolf. Link. And read a PW essay by the authors. Link

+  “In the Ptolemaic Period (332-30 BC), private property disputes that did not involve royal revenues were usually handled by the court system, which applied traditional Egyptian and Greek property laws. There were in fact two sets of courts in Ptolemaic Egypt. The provincial Houses of Judgment, linked to local Egyptian temples; and courts of Greek judges for the benefit of Greek immigrants. The relationship between these two sets of courts is discussed in a royal decree issued in 118 BCE after the civil wars among Ptolemy VIII, Cleopatra II, and Cleopatra III. Official copies of the decrees were circulated throughout the country. The decree can be read to state that disputes arising from notarized contracts written in Demotic should be judged by the Egyptian judges, while disputes arising from contracts written in Greek should be judged by the Greek judges, and that the ethnicity of the parties involved was irrelevant.” By Brian Muhs. Link

Each week we highlight research from a graduate student, postdoc, or early-career professor. Send us recommendations:

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