South-East Asian countries are cracking down on waste imports after facing increased dumping of waste from industrialised nations, predominantly Britain, Germany, Australia and the United States.
After China stopped importing 45% of the worlds refuse for recycling to cut down on pollution, Thailand’s imports spiked to 75,000 tonnes per month in early-2018 according to Greenpeace’s 2018 Recycling Myth Report. In response, Thailand’s Natural Resources and Environment Department announced plans to completely ban recyclable plastic imports by 2020.
Additionally, Malaysian authorities have shut down 139 unlicensed plastic recyclers that are profiting from the global trade in plastic waste, which is valued at more than the U.S. $5 billion per year.
The 2019 Basel convention amended the 1989 treaty to reduce the movement of plastic and hazardous waste across national borders. These amendments will be enforced from Jan 1st 2021 and will require nations that export plastic waste to first obtain permission from receiving countries.
Single-use plastics have led to a phenomenal waste problem with an unfortunate result in a profitable plastic trade business that economically advanced countries are taking advantage of. Exporting waste to less developed countries slows SDG’s, strains diplomatic relations and widens the gap of inequality.
The illegal recycling firms that have come to fruition from this trade challenge development by choosing profit in favour of public health; burning plastics can lead to a series of health problems including respiratory ailments and stress on the immune system.
Additionally, the plastics trade signifies an attitude of nationalism from those countries exporting waste to others. At a time when collaboration is imperative to the future of human life on the planet, it is clear that this business is letting us down.
Legislation towards banning the importing of waste will drive mindset shift when governments have to face up to the waste that they create. Will recycling systems in economically advanced countries be improved as a result? Will efforts towards banning single-use plastics be hastened?
Sending waste around the earth further pollutes the oceans, air and land. Rather than looking for importing waste solutions, we should be reducing the total waste created.