As is the case in many developing countries, environmental regulations are considerably more lax than in richer countries. And as a result, it’s not uncommon for rich countries, like the United States, to ‘donate’ used buses or other automobiles with expired utility to developing countries, like Guatemala, which lack either the financial, infrastructural or industrial capacity to supply their own.
For all intent and purpose, programs such as these are well intended, but it’s difficult to reconcile the long-term consequences – primarily the air pollution.
In a little-known form of environmental dumping, your city’s used bus or your old car might have a new life in a developing country. It is a pattern that plays out all over the world. Many of the buses that crowd Guatemala City’s streets came from the US. Sri Lanka imports used cars from Japan. A 20-year-old German car might end up on Lagos’s crowded roads. In developing countries with no domestic vehicle manufacturing and only limited controls on emissions, vehicles can continue operating for years beyond what is considered their useful lifetime in their countries of origin.
Trade in used vehicles is a challenge for both exporting and importing countries. There are no uniform emissions standards worldwide, so low-income countries end up bearing the brunt of air pollution from inefficient used vehicles. Of the 2bn vehicles operating worldwide, an estimated 40m reach end-of-life every year, according to a July report from the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) in New Delhi, and large numbers of these are traded to low-income countries.
“The global community which has, time and again, expressed its deep concern about the deteriorating air quality in the southern world, cannot look away from this problem of dumping any more,” said Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director of research and advocacy at the CSE.
The CSE report also found that exports of used vehicles to Africa and South Asia were contributing to dangerous air pollution, and points out that there are no uniform criteria to determine when a used vehicle becomes so unfit it should be barred from export.