1119 GMT November 28, 2020
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, theguardian.com reported.
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 tons of waste that had been exported to the Philippines in 2013 and 2014.
Canada had refused to even acknowledge the issue for years but as the dispute escalated, Duterte declared that if the government did not act quickly, the Philippines would tow the rubbish to Canadian waters and dump it there.
“The Philippines as an independent sovereign nation must not be treated as trash by a foreign nation,” said presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo.
The rhetoric was symptomatic of a wider regional pushback that began last year when Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam all introduced legislation to prevent contaminated foreign waste coming into their ports.
On April 23 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 Bin, 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 is due to announce more foreign plastic waste returns.
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.
Only nine percent of the world’s plastics are recycled, with the rest mostly ending up rotting in landfills across south-east Asia or illegally incinerated, releasing highly poisonous fumes. Campaigners in Indonesia found last year that illegal rubbish imports were being used as furnace fuel in a tofu factory.
“It is the right move by the Malaysian government, to show to the world that we are serious in protecting our borders from becoming a dumping ground,” said Mageswari Sangaralingam, research officer at Consumers Association of Penang and Friends of the Earth Malaysia. She said significant amounts of plastic waste coming into Malaysia was ‘contaminated, mixed and low grade’ which meant it could not be processed and has ended up in vast toxic waste dumps.