The global battle about who will deal with the world’s trash
is raging on. This week, Malaysia sent back 3,000 tons of plastic waste in 60 shipping containers to several countries because the waste counts as contaminated under a new law in the country. On Friday, Filipino President Duterte returned 1,500 tons of household waste to Canada after years of legal battle.
Slowly but surely, the global waste trade that kept a low profile for years is entering the public eye. Plastic waste, which is still imported by some countries for use by recycling companies, has been making headlines recently after China decided to prohibit its import amid environmental concerns. While the recycling of foreign plastic waste can be lucrative, lack of regulations and oversight have caused a myriad of problems in receiving countries. After China backed out, Malaysia became one of the biggest plastic waste importers (and is trying to change that).
This turning of the tide is felt in Japan, the United States and Germany, which were the biggest exporters of plastic scrap and waste in 2018. According to data retrieved from the UN Comtrade platform,
Japan shipped almost 926,000 tons abroad in the previous year. If the waste was anything like that shipped back from Malaysia this week, that would equal 18,500 shipping containers. The U.S. clocked in more than 811,000 tons, or 16,200 containers, while Germany was responsible for 701,000 tons, or 14,000 containers.
Experts expect the streams of plastic waste exported from industrialized nations to continue shifting to countries where regulation are not (yet) in place.