China's ban on imports of plastic waste is forcing other nations, including Japan and the United States, to scramble for new ways to deal with their trash, including exporting recyclable waste to Southeast Asia. But instead of finding solutions, it appears the problem has only gotten worse, especially with the exploitation of developing countries, including Malaysia and Vietnam, that lack the regulatory infrastructure to prevent illegal dumping. The ripple effects of developed nations being banned from shipping their scraps to China, previously the world's biggest importer of plastic waste for recycling, have also surfaced in Japan. Waste management companies are being flooded with requests to handle the extra plastic waste, but many have reached their legal limits. "The storerooms of intermediary companies are filled to the brim with garbage from businesses and factories," said one official at a waste management company in Kanagawa Prefecture.
Only about half the trash at the Ipoh dumpsite appeared to be from Malaysia. The other half was a hodgepodge of waste from countries like the US, China and New Zealand. The bale with the Walmart tag was tightly packed with an array of other plastic waste, including a bag that once contained cheese from Wisconsin cheesemaker Sargento with a US 800 number printed on its back and a bright blue Oreo Mini container, empty and crushed flat. The bale was wrapped in a plastic sheet stamped with "Sigma Supply of North America," a packaging company based in Arkansas--the state where Walmart has its headquarters. Most of that trash had been sitting there for at least eight months, according to activists from Greenpeace Malaysia who discovered the unlicensed dumpsite last year. Ben Muni, a Greenpeace campaigner, said the piles of unsheltered waste may eventually be burned illegally or left to decompose in the heat and humidity--a process that could take hundreds of years.
This story was originally published by Yale Environment 360 and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration. It has been a year since China jammed the works of recycling programs around the world by essentially shutting down what had been the industry's biggest market. China's "National Sword" policy, enacted in January 2018, banned the import of most plastics and other materials headed for that nation's recycling processors, which had handled nearly half of the world's recyclable waste for the past quarter century. The move was an effort to halt a deluge of soiled and contaminated materials that was overwhelming Chinese processing facilities and leaving the country with yet another environmental problem--and this one not of its own making. In the year since, China's plastics imports have plummeted by 99 percent, leading to a major global shift in where and how materials tossed in the recycling bin are being processed.
A year ago, experts warned that the UK could face a mountain of waste plastic as China imposed a ban on waste imports. In recent years, the UK has heavily relied on China to take our unwanted plastic packaging. Three years ago, the UK was exporting half a million tonnes of plastic to China and Hong Kong - accounting for almost two-thirds of all our plastic sent abroad. China introduced its ban on "foreign garbage" as part of a move to upgrade its industries 12 months ago. At the time, the UK recycling industry warned that the decision would be a "game-changer" and that it would be a struggle to deal with the country's waste.
PARIS - Several Southeast Asian countries, sick of being the wealthy world's rubbish dump, have in recent weeks turned back container-loads of waste from foreign shores. It comes after China last year stopped accepting the world's used plastic, having previously been the biggest market for recyclables. On Jan. 1, 2018, China closed its doors to almost all foreign plastic waste, as well as many other recyclables, in a push to protect its environment and air quality. For many years China had received the bulk of scrap plastic from around the world, processing much of it into a higher quality material that could be used by manufacturers. Beijing's decision forced developed countries to find new destinations for plastics that are either "of poor quality and value" or not recyclable, the non-governmental group Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) said.