Southeast Asian countries have had enough of being the West’s dumping ground.
Massive efforts to return tons of plastic wastes back to North America and Europe are now well underway.
Recently, Malaysia’s environment minister, Yeo Bee Yin, announced that the country intends to return 3,000 tons of rubbish currently sitting in a Malaysian port.
But Malaysia is not the only victim.
Countries like Canada, Australia, and the United States have been sending millions of tons of plastic waste to developing Asian countries for decades.
As a result, crates and containers of wastes have accumulated in the shores and ports of the Philippines, Vietnam, and Indonesia.
Malaysia starts a massive push-back
Malaysia has been the in the forefront of this movement since the country announced new legislation last year preventing wastes from landing in the ports.
Last May 28, Malaysia announced its intention to return 60 containers of waste back to the countries they came from.
In a statement, environment Minister Yeo Bee Yin says:
“Malaysia will not be the dumping ground of the world. We will send back the waste to the original countries.”
An investigation discovered that the U.S., Australia, Great Britain, and Germany have been illegally dumping waste into the country for years.
The rubbish containers include cables from the United Kingdom, various electronic and household wastes North America, and even contaminated milk cartons from Australia.
In two weeks, ten of the 60 containers will be leaving Malaysian shores. Kuala Lumpur has already returned 5 illegal trash containers to Spain. More waste will follow en route to the U.S., the United Kingdom, and Australia.
Malaysia has taken the brunt of the west’s waste compared to its other Southeast Asian counterparts.
According to figures released by Greenpeace, Malaysia has received 456,000 tons of plastic waste last year. In 2016, it received 168,500 tons of rubbish.
The Philippine’s fight against Canada’s plastic waste
The Philippines is also experiencing its much-publicized battle to return 1,500 tons of waste exported by Canada in 2014 and 2015.
The junk was exported to the Philippines and mislabeled as “recyclable plastics.” The tons of waste included household garbage like plastic bags, bottles, diapers, and newspapers.
The Philippine court declared in 2016 that the import of 2,400 tonnes of waste was illegal.
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Canada refused to acknowledge the issue for years. The matter recently escalated when Canada’s inaction led Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to take a more aggressive stance.
Last week, Duterte threatened to sever diplomatic ties with Canada if the country continues to refuse action. According to the president, if Canada does not act quickly, he will “sail to Canada and dump their garbage there.”
Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo expressed the Filipino sentiment, saying:
“The Philippines as an independent sovereign nation must not be treated as trash by a foreign nation.”
Finally, last May 31, the “sordid chapter” of Canada’s waste has come to its end. Much of the trash is not on its way back to Canada.
Sixty-nine containers of waste have left the Philippines and are now on their way to Canada, where they are expected to arrive by the end of June.
Modern-day environmental injustice
China, the world’s biggest plastic waste processor, made a shocking announcement in 2018. The country would stop processing the world’s trash due to environmental reasons.
Previously, China processed at least half of the world’s plastic, paper, and metal wastes. It even processed the UK’s mountain of rubbish—reportedly huge enough to fill 10,000 Olympic swimming pools.
When the country announced its decision, governments were left scurrying for quick and easy solutions.
Developing Asian countries were the prime candidates, with their lax import laws and regulations.
The resulting social, economic, and environmental costs had been high.
Plastic wastes out in the open have caused water contamination, crop death, and illness among humans and wildlife.
According to the global coordinator of the Break Free from Plastic movement, Von Hernandez:
“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.”
However, steps are being made to handle this ongoing environmental crime. A multilateral agreement, the Basel Convention, has recently been amended to prohibited these dangerous wastes from entering a country that doesn’t want it.
The amendment will not be taking effect until 2020, and many would argue that it is already a little too late.
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