Why environmentalists are urging to ban trash imports

  • August 3, 2019

The influx of trash from developed economies is transforming the developing countries into toxic dumpsites. The 10-country Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) receive more than a quarter of global plastic waste, mostly from the developed nations including Canada, the United States, Australia, and Japan. According to a 2017 Ocean Conservancy report, China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Thailand dump more than half of the 8 million tonnes of plastic waste into oceans every year.


China’s move changed the scenario

For decades, China has remained the primary destination for trash influx from developed nations. According to Greenpeace, a non-governmental environmental organization, it has been taking around half of the global output, some 9 million tons, at its peak in the year 2012. However, China decided to close its doors to foreign trash at the end of 2017 to reduce heavy pollution associated with processing and recycling it.


Due to the ban imposed by China, many developing nations, especially the Southeast Asian region has witnessed an alarming rise in waste import. Although the figures in China dropped from 6,00,000 tonnes/month in 2016 to 30,000 tonnes/month in January 2018, a staggering acceleration by 171% has been noticed in Southeast Asia since 2016, based on the reports from Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) and Greenpeace, respectively.

Trash influx or waste trafficking?

The issue of cross-border waste disposal indicates environmental injustice as wherever waste will go, people are likely to suffer. Therefore, this process can be simply regarded as waste trafficking.

Soon after the Chinese ban was enforced, Malaysia took the top spot and became the prime area for piling up trash. It received approximately 7,50,000 metric tonnes of plastic in 2018, according to the ISRI. Moreover, some ASEAN countries also experienced a sharp upsurge.


The Trade Map figures mentioned in a Greenpeace report show that waste imports in Thailand have tripled between the last quarter of 2017 and the second quarter of 2018 to nearly 1,50,000 tons. In the Philippines, it quadrupled to over 1,000 tons during the same duration, and shoot up to around 5,500 tons in the subsequent quarter.

Lots of trash, little recycling

While the waste is supposed to be recycled and help in the fuelling of a developing country’s manufacturing sector, much of it, especially when improperly handled or imported illegally is useless and ends up being burned or leaking into the sea. The contaminated groundwater run-off and toxic fumes caused by disposing of plastic waste can be a considerable cause of concern, if not managed properly.


A concerted effort to pushback

The environmental groups are demanding the federal government to ban this practice of trash exports to Southeast Asia to tackle the pollution crisis. They conducted a protest ahead of a weekend meeting of the ASEAN and urged to declare an immediate ban on trash influx as many countries are struggling hard to deal with this flood of waste.

Some countries have decided to make efforts to stem the flow of trash. Malaysia and the Philippines have started shipping back mislabelled or illegally imported trash to their countries of origin. Moreover, Indonesia has also refused to be a dumping ground by returning containers of rubbish to the United States. Although Thailand has not banned plastic waste imports, it aims to get rid of it soon.

Final note: No space for waste


Just because the developed nations have an affluent consumer lifestyle, it does not give them a free pass to trash the ones trying to thrive.

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