Many nations are now taking a stand against the piling of plastic imported from other countries. Some countries are placing stricter rules and even bans, while others are directly shipping the waste back to the origin countries.
Imported Plastic Waste
It used to be the norm for larger nations to send their recyclable plastic waste to other countries, particularly developing countries. It was a cheap way to get rid of waste, prevent the piling up of garbage, and meet recycling targets. On the part of the recipient countries, it was also a source of income. The European Union is the largest exporter of waste, while the United States is the top single country exporter.
However, many of the recipient countries are recently taking a stand against imported plastic waste. The problem is that only a small percentage of the waste actually gets recycled, and many of the imported waste were found to be contaminated with non-recyclables. These non-recyclables end up either having to be burned or piling up in waterways in landfills, causing health and environment problems.
The problem was highlighted after China’s ban on waste imports. Until January of 2018, China imported most of the world’s waste, but the nation implemented a ban because of contamination and pollution concerns. Since then, they only accepted recycled plastic waste that is 99.5 percent pure.
After the ban, the waste that was usually sent to China was sent to other countries such as the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Taiwan, Turkey, and South Korea. Unfortunately, the waste being sent to said countries are still not completely recyclable, and still posed health and environment threats.
Action Against Waste Imports
Recently, the Philippines returned tons of mislabeled waste to Canada, while Malaysia will be returning 3,000 tons of waste back to their origin countries. Other countries also implemented new rules such as Thailand’s temporary ban on imported plastic waste. Malaysia has also revoked import permits, while Vietnam is planning to ban all imports of plastic waste by 2025.
Just this past May, after a two-week convention, the United Nations announced that 187 countries agreed to restrict the shipment of hard-to-recycle plastics to developing nations. Should any country wish to send waste to another country, they have to secure a permit from the recipient country’s government first.
The legally binding agreement is expected to take effect within a year, with the hopes of giving the plastic trade some transparency, and of helping to control the global plastic waste problem.