The world-wide waste web

Johann H. Martínez1,2, Sergi Romero1, José J. Ramasco1 and Ernesto Estrada1,3

1Instituto de Física Interdisciplinar y Sistemas Complejos IFISC (CSIC-UIB), 07122 Palma de Mallorca, Spain.
2Department of Biomedical Engineering, Universidad de los Andes, Cr 1 18A-12, Bogotá, Colombia.
3 Institute of Mathematics and Applications, University of Zaragoza, Pedro Cerbuna 12, Zaragoza 50009, Spain; ARAID Foundation, Government of Aragon, Spain.

(March 2022)

Countries globally trade with tons of waste materials every year, some of which are highly hazardous. This trade admits a network representation of the world-wide waste web, with countries as vertices and flows as directed weighted edges. Here we investigate the main properties of this network by tracking 108 categories of wastes interchanged in the period 2001-2019. Although, most of the hazardous waste was traded between developed nations, a disproportionate asymmetry existed in the flow from developed to developing countries. Using a dynamical model, we simulate how waste stress propagates through the network and affects the countries. We identify 28 countries with low Environmental Performance Index that are at high risk of waste congestion. Therefore, they are at threat of improper handling and disposal of hazardous waste. We find evidence of pollution by heavy metals, by volatile organic compounds and/or by persistent organic pollutants, which are used as chemical fingerprints, due to the improper handling of waste in several of these countries.