The Stream

Why is Southeast Asia the world’s dumping ground?

Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines among countries battling to deal with avalanche of rubbish imported from rich nations.

‘Recycling’ brings to mind an intensive process where used plastic, metal and paper is cleaned and re-purposed for a second lease of life that limits environmental pollution. But a great deal of apparently recyclable rubbish generated in developed countries often ends up dumped in countries across Southeast Asia.

The region became a market of choice for waste exporters in 2017 when China announced strict restrictions on imports of certain types of solid waste, as well as shipments of material contaminated with items that cannot be reprocessed. Waste and scrap exports from countries including the US, UK, France, Canada and Australia are now directed to Southeast Asian countries, where environmental regulation is scant and processing facilities are limited and overwhelmed. Incoming material is seldom salvaged or recycled – it usually goes straight into unmanaged landfill or is incinerated, polluting the air and waterways and imperiling the health of both people and wildlife.

Now there are signs that countries in the region have had enough. Earlier this month Indonesia declared it will send 210 tons of unsorted hazardous material back to Australia. In May, Malaysia rejected 3,000 tons of imported rubbish, with the environment minister saying the country will no longer “be the dumping ground of the world”. That came as the Philippine government sent 69 containers of mixed household and electrical waste from Canada that had festered in port for five years and which had fueled a diplomatic rift between the countries.

We’ll look at the impact that an avalanche of waste is having on communities across Southeast Asia and ask what’s needed worldwide to deal more ethically and responsibly with the rubbish we leave behind. Join the conversation.

On this episode of The Stream, we speak with:

Kate O’Neill, @kmoneill2530
Associate Professor, Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management, UC Berkeley

Lea Guerrero, @gpph
Country Director, Greenpeace- Philippines

Yuyun Ismawati, @ismawati64
Co-founder and Senior Advisor of Nexus3 Foundation

Read more:
‘The odour of burning wakes us’: inside the Philippines’ Plastic City – The Guardian
As more developing countries reject plastic waste exports, wealthy nations seek solutions at home – The Conversation

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