How China’s clean-up could dump on Southeast Asia
China imported 8 million tons of plastic waste in 2016, according to the Bureau of International Recycling
A canal filled with waste in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Photo: AFP/Tang Chhin Sothy
Cambodia and wider Southeast Asia may soon receive a lot more rubbish after China’s move this month to stop importing 24 categories of solid waste, much of which was recycled for raw materials.
With China now seemingly out of the waste import business, some believe that Southeast Asia could fill the gap. PCI Wood Mackenzie, a United Kingdom-based consultancy, wrote in a recent report that Southeast Asia could soon become a “world leader” for plastic waste recycling due to China’s ban.
Critical questions are already being asked, however, about whether such commercial assessments are overly optimistic and indeed if developing a comparative advantage in importing other countries’ waste is desirable at all.
That will pose a quandary for Southeast Asian nations desperate for foreign investment, but wary of increasingly environmentally conscious citizenships. The answer likely lies in sorting out their own messes before importing those of others.