EARTH Thailand

Waste from West turns Southeast Asia into global dumpyard

CGTN 24 April 2019 |Alok Gupta

China's foreign waste import ban has turned Southeast Asian countries into an illegal dumping ground for recyclable plastic, exported mostly from the rich countries, a study released on Tuesday claimed.

The United States, the European Union, Australia, and Japan are shipping large consignments of plastic and other waste to Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Turkey, India, and Vietnam after China refused to recycle them last year. 

Unable to cope with the influx of trash, it's being buried, burned, or unscientifically processed, polluting water, air and soil in these regions.

"Plastic waste from industrialized countries is literally engulfing communities in Southeast Asia, transforming what were once clean and thriving places into toxic dumpsites," said Von Hernandez, global coordinator of the Break Free from Plastic movement.

Thailand witnessed plastic waste import increase by more than 1,000 percent. In Malaysia, imports tripled to 870,000 tons last year, the report by Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) and Greenpeace East Asia said. 

Investigators found illegal recycling operations and crime syndicates, open burning, water contamination, and even crop death causing illness among locals in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand.  

Malaysia, Vietnam, and Thailand were the first victims of the illegal dumping with plastic flooding their ports and recycling units. Last May, Vietnamese ports choked with hundreds of containers loaded with plastic and paper scraps lying unclaimed.

More countries restricting foreign waste import  

Scores of illegal plastic recycling units in Thailand and Malaysia emitting toxic smoke led to angry protests by locals. The public anger led to the closure of a few such units, forcing the government to rethink national policies on waste import. 

After Malaysia and Thailand imposed restrictions on waste import, plastic exports overflowed into Indonesia, India, and Turkey.

In order to measure changes in the flow of "recyclable" plastic waste before and after China's 2018 foreign waste import ban, researchers collated import-export data from the 21 top exporters – with U.S., UK, Germany, and Japan at the top – and 21 top importers of plastics scraps.

"Once one country regulates plastic waste imports, it floods into the next unregulated destination. When that country regulates, the exports move to the next one. It's a predatory system, but it's also increasingly inefficient," said Kate Lin, a senior campaigner with Greenpeace East Asia.

Scientists from the University of Georgia calculated that China's ban would result in 111 million metric tons of plastic trash nowhere to go by 2030. 

China and its Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) had previously been importing 72.4 percent of all global plastic waste.  

In 2016, about half of the global plastic waste, 14.1 million metric tons, was exported to 123 countries. And China alone accepted a whopping 7.35 million metric tons from 43 countries for recycling.

Concerned over the large-scale dumping, Malaysia's environment minister Yeo Bee Yin Tuesday said: "We want to focus on the source of the illegal plastic imports.

"We need to stop it at the ports, and we believe that there are syndicates who are making lucrative profits from importing such waste from developed countries."