With Indonesia returning five containers of rubbish to the United States, it became the latest member in the club of Southeast Asian countries that have sent back imported waste containers to western countries in the last few days.
According to Indonesian officials, the imported containers were supposed to contain only paper scrap but instead were loaded with other waste, including bottles, plastic waste, and diapers.
“This is not appropriate and we don’t want to be a dumping ground,” an official told news agency AFP. The five containers were shipped from the United States to Indonesia in late March, the official said.
Indonesia is currently examining several other containers that are lying in ports across the country.
By returning the trash containers, Indonesia followed the footsteps of Southeast Asian countries like Malaysia, The Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand.
Before these countries, China had closed its doors to foreign waste last year after years of receiving the bulk of waste from around the world.
Mounted with a massive trash problem of their own, these countries took this step to clean-up their environment and refrain from becoming ‘a dumping ground’.
How did other Southeast Asian countries crack down on western waste imports?
Last year, after seeing a surge in plastic waste into the country, Vietnam issued a ban on new licenses for the import of waste. Owing to environmental concerns, it raised a red flag after a huge buildup of illegal shipments lined at its ports.
The country’s Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc said last year that Vietnam would track down the owners of the containers lining up at its ports and launch criminal investigations into any illegal imports or violations of environmental law.
Thailand’s ban on trash and plastic waste came last year when it raised a red flag on 432 types of electronic refuse from western countries, as per a Reuters report. The country’s decision came a few weeks after neighbour Vietnam move.
Thailand’s ban on e-waste came after multiple raids on factories in May which were accused of illegally importing electronic waste. Thailand has also said it will ban imports of plastic waste by 2020.
Recently, Malaysia said that hundreds of tonnes of imported plastic waste will be shipped back to where it came from. “We urge developed countries to stop shipping garbage to our country,” said Yeo Bee Yin, Malaysia’s minister of energy, technology, science, environment and climate change, adding it was “unfair and uncivilised”. “We will return it back to the country of origin without any mercy,” she said.
China’s refusal to take trash from the West gave an opportunity to several industries to exploit the loophole but Malaysia promptly cracked down on industries that were trying to take advantage of the situation.
Since July last year, Malaysian authorities have shut down on more than 140 illegal recycling factories. The country also vowed to ban plastic import in three years. Plastic imports to Malaysia have tripled since 2016, to 870,000 tonnes last year, official data showed.
The Phillippines returned 69 shipping containers of rotting waste in a cargo ship to Canada last month, after a prolonged diplomatic row between the two countries over the trash.
Tonnes of rubbish were dumped by Canada in the Philippines more than five years ago.
At least 103 containers of household trash, including plastic bottles and bags, newspapers and diapers, were shipped in batches from Canada to the Philippines from 2013 to 2014. Most of the shipping containers remain in two ports in Manila and northern Subic freeport, sparking protests from environmental activists.
Philippine officials say they were falsely declared by a private firm as recyclable plastic scraps and have asked Canada to take back the garbage. President Rodrigo Duterte said he was ready to “declare war against” Canada over the issue.
According to the Worldwide Fund for Nature, around 300 million tonnes of plastic are produced every year. Much of that ends up in landfill or in the seas.