Malaysia and Vietnam next to reject plastic imports

Countries shipping their waste overseas has become commonplace due to it reducing the country’s own landfill and being good for the economy; they save money through this cheap method whilst those taking in the waste profit from it. With many such shipments being contaminated by plastics or general waste and being dealt with through illegal processing, however, has led to new global reforms being in the works.


Countries within Asia such as China, and more recently, Malaysia, have expressed their concern with other countries using them as dumping grounds, with China having banned numerous types of wastes for over the last year.

The EU and US make up the biggest exporters of waste shipping. Despite the gigantic amount these two alone produce, however, a very low percentage of the plastics within the waste are recycled. The difficulty in recycling certain plastics leads to such plastics being illegally incinerated or dumped within landfills/waterways; both leading to the environment and general health for those nearby being damaged.


The Actions Against Dumping

Amongst the Asian countries starting to combat these waste problems is the Philippines, with them shipping back all the waste from Canada between 2013 and 14 that was apparently falsely referred to as recyclable plastic.

Malaysia also sent back five contaminated plastic waste containers to Spain this month alone, which has brought down the country’s plastic imports to the lowest it has been for two years. They also plan on returning up to 3,000 tonnes of other non-recyclables to their origins in the UK, US, Norway, Canada, Australia, China, the Netherlands, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Singapore and France.


The Influence of China’s Bans

As mentioned before, China is the key player in this change in attitude towards waste shipping. They have stopped accepting shipments where plastics have less than 99.5% purity ever since January 2018, with last year’s global plastic exports having halved from what they were in 2016 according to Greenpeace.

This has disrupted the rest of the world slightly. China’s decision lead to a lot of waste pile ups in or exports to other Asian nations such as Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Taiwan, South Korea and India, as well as nations outside of the continent such as Poland and Turkey.

As you can imagine, Malaysia’s recent protests have come from it having taken up a lot of the plastic imports, receiving just as much from 10 countries in the span of 2018’s first 6 months as it did throughout the entirety of 2016 and 17.


Despite this, the problem wasn’t resolved and, instead, was just moved somewhere else. Like with China, the waste Malaysia received was often non-recyclable, leading to the nation criticising many western powers such as the UK. It has revoked many import permits that didn’t meet their standard and are now making an active effort to shut down any illegal importing plants.


The Protest of Other Nations

It’s not only Malaysia that is fighting back against the waste that has been transported there, with the other nations having made changes of their own to limit the type of waste brought into their country. These include:


  • Poland providing higher regulations as of May 2018 to waste imports due to multiple fires at waste dumps.
  • Thailand prohibiting plastic waste imports and showing plans of making them a permanent ban by 2021.
  • Vietnam not issuing new licenses and plan on a full import ban by 2025.
  • Taiwan only importing single-source plastic waste.
  • India banning imports of solid plastic waste and scrap.


The Aftermath

With so many countries limiting or banning imports, the demand for locations to send the waste has grown substantially. In some cases, countries initially posing sanctions may have started taking in larger amounts of waste with less individual imports.


To put things in perspective, the annual volume of plastic waste produced during 2016 was 235 million tonnes, enough to fill up 4.8 million Olympic sized swimming pools. By 2030, the annual figure is expected to have flown all the way up to 417 million.


Needless to say, revolutionary methods of dealing with non-recyclable waste will have to be reached on a global level for pollution to not overrun the planet.


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