Tracing the global path of hazardous garbage

People worldwide are thinking more and more about their garbage and how to reduce its impact on the environment. But we all learn very little about how hazardous waste is managed at the industrial level.

In fact, the exact size of this global trade is unknown. The most comprehensive mechanism monitoring the cross-border movements of hazardous waste is a UN treaty, namely the Basel Convention. Still, figures on hazardous waste generation and imports/exports are far from being accurate and complete.

Even though 183 of the 195 sovereign states recognized worldwide are member-parties in the convention, fewer than 50 percent report to the Convention’s Secretariat every year - as they are expected to - the type and amount of hazardous wastes and other wastes they have exported and imported to and from other countries. In addition, the U.S., one of the largest generators of hazardous waste, is among those thirteen countries where the treaty is not even in force.

On the basis of the reports received by the Basel Convention’s Secretariat, every year at least 8 million to 10 million metric tons of hazardous waste are shipped across borders to be disposed of or recycled. This waste is mainly residue from industrial waste disposal operations, waste mineral oils, and lead and/or lead compounds.

Much is unknown about hazardous waste exported from more to less developed countries, represented by about 0,7% of the overall exports reported between 2007 and 2013. In the whole African continent, for instance, an average of only 15 states (out of 54) actually reported their movements for 2012, 2013, 2014.

Explore the data


"Toxic waste routes" is a joint project between DensityDesign Lab and Guia Baggi, aimed at enhancing transparency on toxic wastes movements across the world. The current tool is a first prototype based on Basel Convention annual reports, and the visualization reflects data features: inconsistencies and missing reports are often the norm, and there is a clear need for a better data transparency on the topic.

If you find any bug or error, please open an issue on Github.
To give us feedback, contact us at:


Guia Baggi

Guia Baggi is co-founder of the Investigative Reporting Project Italy (IRPI), a centre for investigative journalism based in Italy. She is currently based in Florence, Italy. In the first part of 2016, she spent five months in New York as a Knight/Vice/CUNY Innovators’ Fund fellow developing the idea behind Toxic Waste Routes: a global reporting project on trans-boundary movements of hazardous waste of which this is just a first step. For contacts or collaborations:

Zanna McKay

Zanna K. McKay is a multimedia journalist who has recently reported from Italy, Mali and Southeast Asia. She specializes in featuring local people who are tackling pressing, large-scale social issues such as universal education, worker's rights and environmental degradation. She is currently based in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. She is contributing to bring "Toxic Waste Routes" to the next level.

Michele Invernizzi

Michele is attending his last year as M.Sc. student in Communication Design at Politecnico di Milano, trying to combine his passion for interaction design, data visualization and programming. He developed "Toxic waste routes" as part of his internship at DensityDesign.

Michele Mauri

Collaborating with DensityDesign since 2009, he is currently research fellow at Polytechnic University of Milan, where he teaches and researches. He coordinated the development of "Toxic waste routes".