SOURCE: The Guardian

DATE: May 28, 2019

SNIP: For the past year, the waste of the world has been gathering on the shores of south-east Asia. Crates of unwanted rubbish from the west have accumulated in the ports of the Philippines, Indonesia and Vietnam while vast toxic wastelands of plastics imported from Europe and the US have built up across Malaysia.

But not for much longer it seems. A pushback is beginning, as nations across south-east Asia vow to send the garbage back to where it came from.

Last week the president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, threatened to sever diplomatic ties with Canada if the government did not agree to take back 69 containers containing 1,500 tonnes of waste that had been exported to the Philippines in 2013 and 2014.

On 23 April a Malaysian government investigation revealed that waste from the UK, Australia, United States and Germany was pouring into the country illegally, falsely declared as other imports.

Enough was enough, said Yeo Bee Yin, the environment minister. “Malaysia will not be the dumping ground of the world. We will send back [the waste] to the original countries.”

She has been as good as her word. Five containers of illegal rubbish from Spain discovered at a Malaysian port have just been sent back and on Tuesday Yeo announced that 3,000 tonnes of illegally imported plastic waste from the UK, the US, Australia, Japan, France and Canada would be returned imminently.

Many believe this is the only way that countries, mainly in the west, will finally be forced to confront their own waste problems, rather than burdening developing countries.

The problem began for south-east Asia in early 2018 after China stopped accepting plastic waste and recycling from the rest of the world due to environmental concerns. The outright ban was problematic: in 2016, China processed at least half of the world’s exports of plastic, paper and metals, including enough rubbish from the UK to fill 10,000 olympic swimming pools.

In the wake of China’s ban, private corporations handling waste for national governments began scrambling for other countries to bear the burden. With most of the rubbish channelled through Hong Kong, south-east Asia, which was nearby and had lax regulation, became an attractive alternative destination for the rubbish.

Malaysia has borne the brunt of the re-directed waste. According to Greenpeace, imports of plastic waste to Malaysia increased from 168,500 tonnes in 2016 to 456,000 tonnes in just the first six months of 2018, mainly coming from the UK, Germany, Spain, France Australia and the US. The environmental and social cost has been high. A report by Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) detailed how across south-east Asia, the influx of toxic waste has caused contaminated water, crop death and respiratory illnesses.