GLOBAL PLASTICS RECYCLING
Greenpeace report shows US, Japan and Germany were top exporters of plastics scrap 2018 / Norway proposal under discussion at UN Basel Convention meeting
Southeast Asia is on the receiving end of the world’s low-quality plastics waste flow, along with having to deal with water contamination, crop death and illness, according to a new report by the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA; www.no-burn.org). The report includes data from Greenpeace East Asia (Hong Kong; www.greenpeace.org/eastasia), which assessed plastics waste trade before and after China’s 2018 ban on imported waste (see Plasteurope.com of 26.07.2017) by looking at data from the top 21 exporters and top 21 importers of plastics scrap.

GAIA's field investigations in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand have detailed illegal recycling operations, open burning of waste, water contamination, crop death and a rise of illness tied to environmental pollution. The alliance has a dedicated microsite for these studies.



The Greenpeace data show that Southeast Asia’s current plastics crisis involves waste piling up domestically and globally. Total plastics waste exports of the top 21 exporting countries plummeted 49%, from 12.5m t in 2016 to 5.8m t in the January to November 2018 period. Greenpeace says this drop in exports in part means that "recyclable" plastics will continue to pile up or be disposed improperly. The top five exporting countries between January and November 2018 were the US (with a 16.5% share of total exports), Japan (15.3%), Germany (15.6%), the UK (9.4%) and Belgium (6.9%).

Southeast Asia became a primary importing region for plastics waste from mid-2017 to mid-2018, with in particular Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand taking up large quantities. From January to November 2018, the top five importing countries/regions were Malaysia (15.7% of total imports), Thailand (8.1%), Vietnam (7.6%), Hong Kong (6.8%) and the US (6.1%).

Following China’s import ban and the resulting waste that flooded into Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand, the three countries set up import restrictions shortly afterwards – see Plasteurope.com of 05.11.2018. This presented a challenge for exporters including those in Europe – see Plasteurope.com of 02.07.2018. In early 2019, Malaysia had a crackdown on illegal plastics recycling plants – see Plasteurope.com of 01.02.2019. Exports then flowed into other countries, with increases seen in India, Taiwan, South Korea, Turkey and Indonesia. Greenpeace says this second wave of other countries accepting more imports shows a markedly smaller rise, which does not fully account for the drop in imports from the restrictions imposed in Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand.



In March 2019, India announced it would restrict plastics waste imports – see Plasteurope.com of 14.03.2019. Greenpeace's data show that India’s plastics waste imports rose from 12,000 t per month in 2016 to 35,000 t per month in mid-2018, with imports from the US accounting for most of this increase. The much smaller country of Taiwan also witnessed imports that shot up from 10,000 t per month in mid-2017 to 50,000 t per month in mid-2018, dropping to 20,000 t per month in late 2018 after it restricted imports of plastics scrap – see Plasteurope.com of 14.12.2018. Its main export partner was Japan.

"Once one country regulates plastics waste imports, it floods into the next un-regulated destination," said Kate Lin, a senior campaigner with Greenpeace East Asia. " It’s a predatory system, but it’s also increasingly inefficient. Each new iteration shows more and more plastic going off grid – where we can’t see what’s done with it – and that’s unacceptable."

Hong Kong was a major import-export hub of plastics waste to mainland China. Before 2018, almost all of the plastics waste imported to Hong Kong was re-exported to the Chinese mainland. The city’s imports dropped from over 200,000 t per month in 2016 to 40,000 t per month in early-2018, and have since remained steady, according to Greenpeace. Its main export partners were the US, Japan and Germany. Hong Kong's exports also dropped drastically from around 250,000 t per month in 2016 to around 25,000 t per month in 2018. The government has so far not announced a ban on imports. The Greenpeace report lists Indonesia, South Korea and Turkey as also not having announced any import restrictions.

Greenpeace notes that waste exports currently get into countries without adequate local regulations. For example, the village of North Sumengko / Indonesia quickly turned into an international dumping ground, and GAIA’s investigation there found plastics waste piles up to 2 m high on and alongside roads and open burning in the farming community.
Plastics on the agenda at UN Basel Convention meeting
The current UN meeting on the Basel Convention, running from 29 April to 10 May 2019 in Geneva / Switzerland, is to consider a proposal from Norway submitted in 2018 – see also Plasteurope.com of 20.08.2018 – for greater transparency and accountability in the global trade of plastics waste. Representatives from more than 180 countries are discussing how to reduce exports of waste that is difficult to recycle and prevent illegal exporting of E&E and hazardous waste. The Norway proposal says plastics waste exporters should receive permission from destination countries in advance – a "prior informed consent" system that is already in place for other types of hazardous waste.

Greenpeace supports the Norway proposal for an adjustment to the convention, which would prevent low-quality plastics waste from being exported to countries with poor disposal and recycling standards. German environmental organisation NABU and the British Plastics Federation (BPF, London / UK; www.bpf.co.uk) are also on board. The BPF has published a position paper in favour of improved controls over plastics waste exports to developing countries. The association says it is in line with current efforts to boost recycling rates in the UK. An adjustment to the Basel Convention would prevent low-quality plastics waste from being exported to countries with low disposal and recycling standards.
03.05.2019 Plasteurope.com 1027 [242363-0]
Published on 03.05.2019

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