Concerned over rising pollution, and limited recycling capacity, Thailand announced its plans to ban the import of plastic waste from wealthy Western nations by 2021.
With China banning 24 kinds of waste early this year, a large number of Southeast Asian countries are facing a massive influx of foreign scrap.
“The amount coming in has increased since China banned plastic,” Banjong Sukreeta, deputy director of Thailand's department of industrial works told Financial Times. “We will ban it within two years.”
Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand have been witnessing heavy dumping of waste, particularly from the US, EU, and Japan. Both Vietnam and Malaysia concerned over the poor quality of imported waste, and limited recycling facilities, have already imposed massive restrictions.
Following China's ban, Thailand emerged as a critical destination for many developed nations to recycle their waste. A recent estimate claimed the UK alone sent a whopping 6,810 tons of waste to recyclers in Thailand from January to April 2018. During the same period last year, it shipped only 123 tons of garbage.
Thailand is struggling to manage its domestic waste that has grown exponentially over the years. “We don't have an efficient collection system for domestic waste,” Rintawat Sombutsiri, director of Thailand's industrial waste management in the department of industrial works, told Financial Times. “We need two years for our pollution control department to set up a system for collecting plastic waste.”
Large-scale waste dumping has also choked Vietnamese ports, with hundreds of containers loaded with plastic and paper scraps lying unclaimed, forcing authorities to impose a temporary ban on waste imports.
“From 25th of June to 15th of October, Tan Cang – Cai Mep International Co., Ltd (TCIT) will stop receiving all imports laden containers of plastic waste,” a letter signed by general director Chang Fa Wei said.
Ngo Minh Tuan, deputy head of Saigon Newport Corporation, in an official communication, claimed previously that about 5,200 containers of plastic and paper waste had been stored for 90 days or longer at its port.
Malaysia, another preferred location for waste recycling, started witnessing protests by locals over air and water pollution. Authorities canceled import permits of 114 factories that processed plastic waste.
In 2016, Chinese recyclers imported a whopping 7.3 million metric tons, worth 18 billion US dollars, of waste metal, plastics and paper, mostly from developed countries.
From 2011 to 2015, the UK exported over 2.7 million tons of plastic waste to the Chinese mainland and Hong Kong-based recyclers. And the US exported 1.42 million tons of plastics worth 495 million US dollars to China in 2016.
Poor quality of waste dumping spurred China to enforce a ban. Notifying the World Trade Organization about its waste import ban, the Chinese government said “that large amounts of dirty wastes or even hazardous wastes are mixed in the solid waste that can be used as raw materials. This polluted China's environment seriously."
Concerned over the poor standard of exported waste, Michael Gove, the UK Secretary of State for Environment in a statement said, the Environment Agency issued fresh guidance to exporters, stating that any waste which does not meet China's new criteria will be stopped, in the same way as banned waste going to any other country.