After China, the world’s largest waste collector for decades, said enough is enough to imports of all plastic waste from developed countries, a warning bell was sounded well across much of the western world. It upended the recycling habits of the world as western nations scurried to find a new destination for their contaminated trash.
Southeast Asia was next.
But faced with a massive trash problem of their own making, Southeast Asia too is pushing back and increasingly rejecting foreign trash imports fearing they could become the next dumping ground.
The Philippines recalled its ambassador and consuls in Canada over Ottawa’s failure to comply with a deadline to take back truckloads of garbage that Filipino officials say were illegally shipped to the Philippines years ago.
And very recently, Indonesia returned at least seven shipping containers of illegally imported waste to France and Hong Kong. The latest pushbacks from Southeast Asian nations has sparked global concerns about illegal importing of waste that is threatening to turn such countries into dumping grounds for foreign trash.
Some other countries in the last few months have already set a deadline to stop illegally imported waste after China’s crackdown.
Thailand’s ban on high-tech trash and plastic waste came mid-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 neighbour Vietnam stated it would not issue new licences for import of waste and crack down on illegal paper shipments, metal and plastic.
Thailand’s ban on e-waste came after multiple raids on factories in May which were accused of illegally importing electronic waste.
Aside from this, Thailand has also said it will ban imports of plastic waste by 2020.
Last year, after Vietnam saw a surge in plastic waste into the country, it issued a ban on new licenses for the import of waste. It raised a red flag after a huge buildup of illegal shipments at its ports that raised concerns about the environment.
The country’s Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc had said last year in a statement that Vietnam will make sure to 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.
Earlier this year, scores of factory operators and labourers were arrested at an industrial park in Malaysia after a government raid on illegal plastic recyclers in the backdrop of a crackdown on illicit waste industries. 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 last year July, Malaysian authorities have shut down on more than 140 illegal recycling factories. The country also vowed to ban plastic import in three years.
Recently, Malaysia said that hundreds of tonnes of imported plastic waste will be shipped back to where it came from, with Minister of Energy, Technology and Science Yeo Bee Yin saying, “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.
Plastic imports to Malaysia have tripled since 2016, to 870,000 tonnes last year, official data showed.
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.
The Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte raised the garbage issue in a speech last month while officials from both countries were already discussing a resolution to the issue. The volatile president said he was ready to “declare war against” Canada over the issue.
Much of Southeast Asia’s reluctance comes from the massive amount of waste it generates itself and has impacted its own local ecosystems.
On July 30, 2019, Indonesia returned nearly seven shipping containers of illegally imported waste to Hong Kong and France. This sends across a strong signal to western countries that Southeast Asia won’t accept illegally imported garbage that threatens to turn these countries into dumping grounds of foreign trash.
Indonesia, much like its Southeast Asian neighbours, has stepped up monitoring of imported waste. After China closed its doors to foreign waste last year to clean up its own environment, much of the imported waste made its way to Southeast Asia.
There has been a rising global concern about plastic pollution and its resultant effects on marine ecosystems across the world, with shocking images of waste-clogged rivers in Southeast Asia and dead sea creatures regularly making headlines.