EARTH Thailand

Why the world’s recycling system stopped working

Financial Times Magazine 25 October 2018 | Leslie Hook and John Reed

China’s refusal to become the west’s dumping ground is forcing the world to face up to a waste crisis

As the police raid at Laem Chabang revealed, some importers were falsifying customs declarations, marking containers as holding plastic scraps as a front for smuggling electronic waste. “On our inspections of plastic, 95 per cent violated rules and didn’t pass inspection,” Banjong says.

Meanwhile, hundreds of scrap-processing facilities have sprung up near the port, often triggering complaints from locals about the pollution they produce. One woman keeping tabs on these plants – not all of which are fully legal – is Penchom Saetang, the head of Ecological Alert and Recovery Thailand, a non-profit group. She counts more than 1,300 companies involved in recycling, landfills or processing electronic waste in the eight provinces around the port.

“When we talk about recycling, the concept is good and the objectives are good,” she says. “But if the recycling industry is good, why do America, Europe, Korea and Japan have to export to other countries? Can you answer me that?”

It’s a question more and more people are asking, as governments across the region try to figure out how to respond. After bales of plastic piled up at ports in Vietnam this spring, the country declared it would not “become the landfill of the world” and stopped issuing licences for imports of paper, plastic, metal and other waste.

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