Members of the Basel Convention are set to consider a proposal that exporters of plastic waste should receive permission from destination countries in advance of material being sent.
According to Zero Waste Europe, the proposal – being put forward by Norway – is for a system known as “prior informed consent” to generate greater transparency and accountability in the global trade of plastic waste. The system is already in place for other types of hazardous waste, the group says.
Zero Waste Europe revealed that data related to China’s foreign waste import ban indicates that Southeast Asia’s current plastics crisis “is the pinnacle of a global experience, with waste piling up globally and domestically for all countries involved”.
According to a report by GAIA (Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives) – a global network of which Zero Waste Europe is a member – open burning of plastic waste has “flooded” into Southeast Asia, along with the world’s “recycled” plastics.
“Plastic waste from industrialised countries is literally engulfing communities in Southeast Asia, transforming what were once clean and thriving places into toxic dumpsites. It is the height of injustice that countries and communities with less capacity and resources to deal with plastic pollution are being targeted as escape valves for the throwaway plastic generated by industrialised countries,” said Von Hernandez, global coordinator of the Break Free from Plastic movement.
To measure changes to the flow of ‘recyclable’ plastic waste before and after China’s 2018 foreign waste import ban, Greenpeace East Asia collated import-export data from the 21 top exporters — with USA, UK, Germany, and Japan at the top — and 21 top importers of plastics scraps.
Meanwhile, GAIA’s field investigations in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand detailed “illegal recycling operations and crime syndicates, open burning, water contamination, crop death, and a rise of illness tied to environmental pollution”. This has led many governments to follow China’s lead with import bans.
Across the board, plastic waste exports dropped almost 50%, from 12.5 million tonnes in 2016 to 5.8 million tons in 2018, Zero Waste Europe says. Because plastic manufacturing is projected to rise, this drop in exports means recyclable plastics will continue to stockpile or head for improper disposal at home, it claims.
According to Zero Waste Europe, after China’s import ban, waste “flooded” into Malaysia, Vietnam, and Thailand, who quickly set up import restrictions. Then, exports overflowed into Indonesia, India, and Turkey.
“Once one country regulates plastic waste imports, it floods into the next un-regulated destination,” said Kate Lin, a senior campaigner with Greenpeace East Asia. “It’s a predatory system, but it’s also increasingly inefficient.”
“Ultimately, exporting countries need to deal with their plastic pollution problem at home instead of passing the burden onto other communities.”Beau Baconguis
GAIA Asia Pacific
“Ultimately, exporting countries need to deal with their plastic pollution problem at home instead of passing the burden onto other communities,” said Beau Baconguis, regional plastics coordinator at GAIA Asia Pacific.
Earlier this year, a number of politicians through the Policy Connect organisation called for a “target of net zero exports of recyclable plastic packaging by 2030 at the latest”. This was meant with a warning from the Recycling Association that export markets are vital for the sector (see letsrecycle.com story).
The Basel Convention will convene 29 April to 10 May in Switzerland to consider the proposal from Norway.
Zero Waste Europe
Zero Waste Europe is a network of members – including local leaders, businesses and experts – working towards a vision of “eliminating waste” in society.