When night falls in the Indian village of Nabipur, the backyard furnaces come to life, burning waste tires from the West, making the air thick with acrid smoke and the soil black with soot.
Not long ago, Nabipur was a quiet farming village in northern India. Now the village is home to at least a dozen furnaces burning a steady stream of tires to make low-quality oil in a process known as pyrolysis.
Global trade in waste tires has almost doubled in the past five years, mainly to developing countries like India and Malaysia, according to customs data provided to the United Nations.
Britain is currently the largest exporter, followed by Italy and the United States. India is by far the biggest buyer, accounting for 32% of global imports last year, up from 7% five years ago, the U.N. data shows.
Many of the tires are sent to recycling operations that comply with emissions and waste disposal regulations. But there is also a vast trade to backyard pyrolysis operations that do not, according to local authorities.
In May, Reuters revealed that a mass poisoning in southern Malaysia had links to companies engaged in pyrolysis.
Using unpublished customs data and interviews with dozens of industry sources, Reuters documented a growing international trade in waste tires that pollute the communities that host them, according to local authorities and health experts.
For many developed countries, shipping tires abroad is cheaper than recycling them domestically. That helped drive international trade in rubber waste to nearly 2 million tonnes in 2018, equivalent to 200 million tyres, from 1.1 million tonnes in 2013.