Seventy-five per cent of globally exported waste ends up in Asia. But since July 2017 — when China began to ban imports of plastic waste — Southeast Asia in particular has become a dumping ground for wealthier countries’ waste.
After China’s ban, the amount of plastic waste imported to countries like the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia more than doubled.
As the amount of foreign waste accumulates and resentment grows among local populations, Southeast Asian governments are beginning to refuse to act as the world’s dumpsite.
Both Malaysia and the Philippines recently announced plans to return waste from Western countries that had improper labelling.
Malaysia and the Philippines have already returned waste to Spain and South Korea, respectively. Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam recently restricted plastic waste imports, with a complete ban planned for in the coming years.
Do these return shipments and restrictions signal that waste management is changing and improving in the region? Yes and no.
There is increasing awareness of the environmental and social problems of waste — particularly plastic. As highlighted in a report by Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, across Southeast Asia waste is causing tainted water, failed crops and respiratory illnesses.
Fish are ingesting plastic
Dead whales are turning up in Thailand and Indonesia with many kilograms of plastic in their stomachs. These various factors contribute to the recent refusals or restrictions in accepting additional waste from high-income countries.
On another positive note, the Basel Convention — a treaty governing global movement of hazardous waste — was amended in May 2019 to make it illegal for unrecyclable plastic waste to be exported to developing countries without their consent. But the United States, the world’s biggest plastic waste exporter, is not a party to the convention and the new rules will not take effect until 2020. The Convention’s proponents hope that the changes will force high-income countries to address their own waste problems, rather than avoiding them by saddling developing countries.
Less positively, some Asian countries still do not have strict restrictions on waste. Indonesia still permits the importation of plastic waste to support industrial operations.
Statistics reveal that the amount of plastic waste and scrap the country imported in 2018 jumped by 141 per cent.
A lot of waste is also illegally entering Southeast Asian countries
An audit found that almost one-third of waste imported into East Java, for instance, was labelled as paper scraps despite actually being illegal scrap plastic. This means that these piecemeal bans could have counterproductive effects. For example, Indonesia’s waste processing is worse than in many other places but, as the NGO Balifokus projects, the country will soon become the largest importer of waste.
A larger problem is that the changes that are needed to drastically improve these countries’ plastic management have yet to occur. Single-use plastic consumption is still worryingly high in these countries. And comprehensive bans or taxes, such as on single-use bags, are few to non-existent. Voluntary measures have often been promoted, but they still have limited effectiveness. Thailand, for example, still uses around 200 billion plastic bags each year.
These countries’ waste management is also woefully inadequate. Recycling rates throughout the world, but especially in Southeast Asia, remain low. In many places there is no separation of household waste.
Littering remains pervasive
At the household and community scales, inadequate infrastructure contributes significantly to the plastic pollution problem. Rubbish bins are often too small, uncovered and infrequently collected.
Many Southeast Asian dumpsites are unprepared to deal with the burgeoning volumes of plastic waste. Of Thailand’s 27.8 million tons of plastic waste in 2018, at least 27 per cent was improperly disposed, including via open dumping. Much of this plastic ended up in waterways, then flowing into oceans. More than half of Indonesia’s landfills are open dumpsites. In these sites, waste is piled improperly — increasing the risk of floods, fires and trash avalanches. This has led to deaths in the Philippines, Indonesia and India.
Some waste is also illegally incinerated, releasing toxic gases that harm human health. Policymakers in Southeast Asia have yet to prioritise waste management. They need to significantly invest in improving waste infrastructure and facilities.
If Southeast Asian countries no longer accept waste from high-income countries, where will the waste go? Only 9 per cent of plastic waste…
Author: Danny Marks, City University of Hong Kong
Climate Change Could Force 49 Million People to Migrate in East Asia and the Pacific
Out-migration hotspots in agricultural areas of central Thailand and Myanmar coincide with areas expected to see declines in both water availability and crop productivity
The World Bank’s updated Groundswell report released today finds that climate change, an increasingly potent driver of migration, could force 216 million people across six world regions to move within their countries by 2050.(more…)
Thailand BOI Approves Measures to Support Carbon Reduction
greenhouse gas emission as well as an enhanced scheme for electric vehicles and measures to mitigate Covid-19 impacts and support local vaccine development
The Thailand Board of Investment (BOI) approved incentives to encourage companies to reduce greenhouse gas emission as well as an enhanced scheme for electric vehicles and measures to mitigate Covid-19 impacts and support local vaccine development, Ms Duangjai Asawachintachit, Secretary General of the BOI, announced today.(more…)
Can border reopening revive tourism in South-East Asia?
In Thailand, where pre-pandemic tourism accounted for 11-12% of GDP, the country lost an estimated $50bn last year as Covid-19...
Thailand dropped from UK’s tough covid-19 travel ‘red list’
Earlier, Thailand was listed among countries with high infection levels that were put on a ‘red list’, requiring arrivals to...
The ASEAN-Russia Trade and Investment Cooperation Work Program
ASEAN and Russia recently agreed to enhance and widen economic cooperation at the 10th ASEAN Economic Ministers (AEM)-Russia Consultations held...
Flexible Workspace Startup Worklounge Debuts with 20+ Luxury Member Lounges in Thailand
Worklounge launches a premium membership granting remote professionals and executives access to exclusive hotel lounges across Thailand. Their platform is...
5 insights to guide ASEAN’s digital generation in a post-pandemic world
We surveyed 86,000 people from six ASEAN countries about their views for a post-pandemic world. The ASEAN Digital Generation Report...