Southeast Asia has been serving as a substitute garbage dump for plastics and other poorly degradable waste in the world since 2018. Every year millions of tons of waste reach the garbage mountains in Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines.
After China banned imports in 2018 – leaving 7 million tons of waste to fate – the largest dumpers switched to Southeast Asia. The Malaysian authorities have already identified fourteen countries from which the plastic comes, including the US, Japan, France, Canada, Australia and Great Britain.
Yeo Bee Yin, minister of Energy, Technology, Environment and Climate reports that 60 illegally imported waste containers will be returned. “These containers were unlawfully brought into the country and violate our environmental laws,” Yeo explains after an inspection of the loads at Port Klang, the country’s largest port.
“Eat it if you want to”
The counter-movement from an Asian angle is gradually taking shape, with Malaysia leading the way. Vietnam and Thailand passed their legislation on waste control to stop the mass influx, India wants a ban by September 2019, just like China. A UK recycling company has reportedly deposited 50,000 tons of plastic waste to Malaysia in the last two years, Yeo said. “We explicitly ask you to stop exporting waste to developing countries. Anyone who ships waste to Malaysia will get it back double and thick without mercy.”
Plastic waste also led to heated discussion in the Philippines. Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte reacted furiously to the 69 waste containers from Canada. Duterte hired a private company to return the cargo, stating that the plastic ends up in the Canadian coast if they won’t accept the trash. “Eat it if you want to,” he added.
International Basel Convention
The international Basel Convention between April 29 and May 10 brought 180 countries together to look for solutions to the problem. The Convention has been regulating waste control policy for thirty years. The 1992 Basel Accord forms the spearhead. It contains both technical guidelines on prevention and transparency, as well as the control of excessive transport.
The US – the largest killer of toxic waste – stepped out of the renewed Basel pact in May, but could not fully detach itself from the norms of the agreement. The other 187 countries – out of 195 in the world – did agree with the new measures.