While most people don’t perceive uneaten scraps of steak and soiled napkins as a huge danger to the U.S., border agents work every day to prevent items such as those from entering the country.
Collecting trash and restricted materials from airplanes, ocean vessels, trucks and trains entering the United States is part of the Department of Agriculture’s regulated garbage and quarantine program.
The goal is to prevent potentially harmful plant pests and foreign animal diseases into the U.S. at more than 300 ports of entry.
“What we’re trying to do is keep some of these foreign pests and diseases from coming into the country, because even though it might be a similar type of environment where they originated, they might not have the same natural predator here in the U.S. that they have wherever they’re coming from,” Carlos Ramos, a Customs and Border Protection supervisory agriculture specialist in Laredo, Texas, said.
The Laredo port of entry along the U.S.-Mexico border is one of the busiest inland ports in the country. It includes two commercial truck and three pedestrian bridges, a commercial rail bridge and an international airport.
The treatment and disposal of regulated garbage and quarantine materials falls under two jurisdictions: the USDA and Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
“The main thing to understand is that the garbage is regulated when it’s generated onboard any means of conveyance during international or interstate movement. Usually when dealing with passenger operations, like maybe a cruise ship or airplanes, passenger trains, where they move people internationally,” Ramos said.
“At the ports of entry, CBP agriculture specialists will inspect passenger baggage, vehicles, any major conveyances coming into the U.S. What we’re looking for, again, are prohibited fruit, prohibited meats, anything that might create any kind of issue as far as pests or diseases.”
Regulated garbage includes but is not limited to food scraps, table refuse, galley refuse, food wrappers or packaging materials and other waste material from stores, food preparation areas, passengers’ or crews’ quarters, dining rooms or any other areas on means of conveyance.
“Normally, the flights that we get here in Laredo from Mexico come on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. On those days, we’ll send agricultural specialists to the airport. Obviously, we’re doing inspections on the passengers. But we’re also making sure that the garbage hauler and the processors are doing their work appropriately,” Ramos said.
The regulated garbage will be collected, bagged, sterilized and taken to an incinerator to be destroyed.
Regulated garbage and quarantine materials can also be picked up coming into the U.S. on commercial transportation, such as trucks, trains, ships and airplanes.
“Anytime CBP comes across prohibited material, it gets picked up, we process it to look for pests and diseases and then it is destroyed, whereas the regulated garbage is picked up by the compliance holder,” Ramos said.
In fiscal year 2020, CBP processed a total of 238 million passengers in land, air and sea ports of entry across the country, while also processing 32.8 million entries totaling $2.4 trillion in value.
CBP agriculture specialists intercepted a total of 91,500 pests and more than 1.1 million prohibited plant materials, meats and animal products during cargo and traveler inspections during FY 2020.
“It’s all about preventing foreign pests and other insects, diseases, anything from coming into our country and harming our industries and economy,” Ramos said.
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