EARTH Thailand

Anti-hazardous Waste Network Calls for an Immediate End of Plastic Waste Import

Bangkok Tribune 25 August 2021

The import of “plastic waste” would hamper the state’s efforts to tackle plastic waste in the country while jeopardizing the local recycling business, the group reasons.

The network, led by EARTH and the Saleng and Junk Shop Association, has submitted a letter to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment calling for an end of the plastic waste import by this year. Over 108 CSOs and 32,000 supporters have signed through an online campaign in support of their move.

The group demands that the government-appointed sub-panel dealing with plastic waste chaired by the Environment Minister immediately scrap a plan to extend the period of time for the plastic waste import to another five years.

Penchom Saetang, Director of EARTH, campaigning against hazardous waste in the country, said the plan would hamper the state’s efforts to tackle plastic waster in the country. It would also jeopardise the local recycling business as imported plastic waste is far cheaper, she added.

“They should not bow to pressure from the industry,” said Ms. Penchom, referring to some manufacturers as well as industry officials who pushed for the idea to continue the import of plastic waste.

The plastic waste issue came to light following the flood of waste in the country around three or four years ago when China had decided to close the doors for plastic waste and recycled items sent to its mainland. Since, those materials have been seen flooding elsewhere, including Thailand, prompting the anti-waste campaigners to become alert about the shifting trend in the region. They have been trying to work with the government to turn against the tide.

According to the group’s monitoring, plastic waste had been imported to the country as cheap raw materials for recycled plastics around 76,000 tons during 2010-2016. But as China shut its doors in 2017, the amount of plastic waste then increased over 100,000 tons a year from 2017 to 2020, and in those years, nearly 553,000 tons of plastic waste was once recorded to have been imported to the country.

In order to address the issue, the government appointed a new sub-panel on integrated management of imported plastic waste and e-waste, which in late 2018 decided to scrap the import of the materials by 2020.

But in September last year, there was a move made by some manufacturers and industry officials to pressure for the extension of the import. They reasoned that they needed over 680,000 tons of plastic waste a year. The sub-panel in January this year decided to extend the period of time for the plastic waste export to another five years as such.

Under the panel’s new resolution, the import would gradually decline until it is banned in the fifth year. Early this month, the Environment Minister Varawut Silpa-Archa called for a meeting with concerned officials to discuss in detail measures and law enactment to regulate the plastic waste import and would call for the panel’s meeting on Monday to consider the matter.

According to the proposal from the meeting early this month, 250,000 tons of plastic waste would be allowed to be imported this year, while manufacturers will be encouraged to use another 250,000 tons of recycled plastics in the country. The amount of the imported plastic waste will then gradually be reduced by 20% each year or 50,000 tons until it is totally banned.

The officials prefer to call it “usable plastic scrap”.

The world’s trash bin

Ms. Penchom said Thailand should not be the world’s trash bin. During the years that plastic waste flooded into the country, her organization found that over 80 countries had exported the waste to Thailand. Alongside, recycling plants run by foreign firms have been mushrooming in response to the imported waste. Their waste management standards are often found to have caused a problem to the environment and the health of community residents nearby.

“We have to oppose against this activity not only because it harms our environment and health, but it’s unjust that we would be the one who takes other countries’ trash,” said Ms. Penchom.

In addition, the activity would jeopardise the country’s recycling business seen as a crucial mechanism in helping tackle plastic waste in the country, Ms. Penchom pointed.

The organization has also learned that there is more plastic waste imported to the so-called free tax zone. Over 100,000 tons of plastic waste is imported into this zone a year and this is a big legal loophole that needs to be fixed, said Ms. Penchom.

Athapol Charoenshunsa, Director-General of the Department of Pollution Control met the group and said he would bring the issues raised by the group to the coming meeting on Monday.

Peerada Patithas, the waste revolution alliance from Suphanburi province said he wished the minister, who comes from the same province as his, see the intention of the locals in his province to help fulfil the government’s Circular Economy, which is part of its ambitious BCG economic model.

“We have been working this far (through strong recycling business). If you bring in more waste, the Circular Economy will fail,” said Mr. Peerada.

Tawat Krairak, a recycling business owner, said every time the government allowed the import of plastic waste, the prices of their recycled plastics went down, the situation which has become particularly critical during the Covid-19 epidemic. If the prices go further down, the recycling business would soon finish, he said.