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New research exposes a crisis in the global trade of “recyclable” plastics
April 22 at 9pm ET / Hong Kong — Water contamination, crop death, illness, and the open burning of plastic waste have all flooded into Southeast Asia along with the world’s “recycled” plastics. Reporting and according to a report by GAIA (Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives). That’s with data analysis on the global waste trade from Greenpeace East Asia.
To measure changes to the flow of ‘recyclable’ plastic waste before and after China’s 2018 foreign waste import ban. Greenpeace East Asia collated import-export data from the 21 top exporters. Combined with USA, UK, Germany, and Japan at the top. As well as 21 top importers of plastics scraps.
GAIA’s field investigations in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand detailed illegal recycling operations. As well as crime syndicates, open burning, water contamination, crop death, and a rise of illness tied to environmental pollution. So that has led citizens to protest and governments to rush in restrictions. All to protect their borders, many following China’s lead with import bans.
Data indicates that Southeast Asia’s current plastics crisis is the pinnacle of a global experience. With waste piling up globally and domestically for all countries involved. Ironically even former exporters. So across the board, plastic waste exports dropped almost 50 percent. That’s from 12.5 million tons in 2016 to 5.8 million tons in 2018 (available data from January to November 2018). Because plastic manufacturing is projected to rise, this drop in exports in part means ‘recyclable’ plastics will continue to stockpile or head for improper disposal at home. [Note 1]
But even the export of this waste doesn’t ensure proper disposal. Today, exports make their way into any country without adequate regulation to protect itself. North Sumengko, Indonesia, for example, turned into an international dumping ground almost overnight. GAIA’s field investigation found trash piled two meters high, makeshift dumps, and open burning in farming communities.
This process will continue until decisive action is taken. After China’s import ban, waste flooded into Malaysia, Vietnam, and Thailand, who quickly set up import restrictions. Then, exports overflowed into Indonesia, India, and Turkey.
The Basel Convention will convene April 29 to May 10 in Switzerland. That’s to consider a proposal from Norway. A proposal for greater transparency and accountability in the global trade of plastic waste. The proposal therefore says exporters of plastic waste should receive permission from destination countries in advance. A system known as “prior informed consent” that is already in place for other types of hazardous waste.
Finally, this plastics crisis also has a clear origin. They are from corporations that mass produce plastic packaging to boost profits.
As well, Greenpeace East Asia’s data analysis can be found here.
Note 1: Based on historical trends, global cumulative plastic waste generation expecting to reach over 25,000 million metric tons by 2050. Geyer, R. et al (2017) Production, use and fate of all plastics ever made. Science Advances Vol. 3, no. 7. https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/3/7/e1700782. Plastic waste generation increasing in key exporting countries like Germany (increase of 3.9% between 2015 and 2017) and USA. (estimated increase 12% in 2018 compared to 2015).