Environmental NGOs call for hazardous waste exports and “dirty recycling” to end worldwide

by admin

June 8, 2021 at 12:17:22 PM

BANGKOK/PRAGUE – In recognition of World Environment Day 2021, the NGOs EARTH (1,3) and Arnika (2,3) have called for an end to hazardous waste exports and dirty recycling industries through the universal ratification of the Basel Ban Amendment (4). As the world enters the UN decade of ecosystem restoration, pollution from dirty recycling continues to devastate local environments and health around the world. Without universal ratification of the Basel Ban Amendment, this problem will continue.

After China’s 2018 waste import ban came into effect in January 2018, the amount of plastic scrap and e-waste exported to Thailand increased (5). Recycling processes, especially those related to plastic, have been identified as sources of dangerous pollutants (5). These pollutants could impact on the environment and livelihoods of communities living near recycling plants. In response, civil society organizations mobilized and called for prohibitions and regulation of imports of plastic scrap and e-waste. In August 2018, the Thai government produced a resolution to ban imports of e-waste categorized under the Basel Convention and a plan to phase out imports of general plastic scrap within the next two years.

EARTH conducted a data survey to determine whether the imports of plastic scrap and e-waste have changed with these governmental measures. According to data from the Customs Department, the quantity of plastic scrap – products under Custom Code 3915 (6) – imported into Thailand in 2017 is estimated at 152,737 tons (7). In 2018, after China’s ban, the quantity of plastic scrap imported increased to 552,721 tons (7) (see Table 1 for more information). EARTH found out that the number of new plastic industries that received permits increased to 289, larger than any in the past seven years (usually between 132 and 195 units per year) (8). Not only had the two-year plan to ban imports of plastic scrap not materialized, but in March 2021, the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment and the Department of Industrial Works resolved to allow imports of plastic scrap for another six years.

The ban on e-waste came into effect on 15th September 2020, prohibiting 428 types of e-waste. However, this ban leaves out types of e-waste that fall under the custom code 8548 (7). These include parts of machinery and electrical components (9). Since the promulgation of the ban, types of e-waste under the custom code 8548 are still being imported, albeit at a declining rate (7). Aside from this custom code, EARTH finds that the ban contains legal loopholes that allow many more types of e-waste to be imported (10). Under this condition, e-waste imports have continued into 2021 (7).

Between the incomplete e-waste ban and the reluctance to phase out plastic scrap imports, recycling factories in Thailand continue to grow (8). Miroslava Jopkova from the Czech NGO Arnika points to the differences between recycling plants in Thailand and the EU: “Many recycling plants in Thailand do not follow high safety standards like we are used to in Europe. These plants are very often a huge source of emissions of hazardous substances, with poor working conditions.”

Since 2017, EARTH has observed many recycling plants that burn and process metals without precautionary measures and emit airborne contaminants. “Dirty recycling industries have had a devastating impact on the environment and livelihoods in Thailand. On one hand, they have pushed out smaller waste processors and trash collectors, causing financial difficulties for many of them. On the other hand, the improper waste processing methods have caused pollution of the local environment,” explains Akarapon Teebthaisong, Research and Technical Officer from EARTH. “Pollutants such as heavy metals have contaminated the local atmosphere and water sources. Persistent Organic Pollutants such as Dioxins/Furans also pose the threat of long-term contamination of the eco-systems and of the food web, potentially threatening the health of the population on a regional to national level.”

Local communities have not been silent in the face of such threats. Thamonwan Wannapirun, leader of the Tha Than-Ban Song group, has been advocating closure of transnational recycling factories in her community, after their presence and operations led to severe contamination of the local waterway and groundwater wells as well as constant air and noise pollution: “We would like countries around the world to stop exporting their waste to countries with weaker legislation and poorer enforcement standards. Right now, Thailand has become a garbage dumping ground, and local communities like us are suffering from the consequences.”

Thamonwan would like to see countries around the world ratify the Basel Ban Amendment, as a significant step to ending the international trade in hazardous waste and dirty recycling. The amendment’s prohibition of imports and exports of hazardous wastes between member states will close the loopholes and end policies that allowed the continuation of e-waste and plastic scrap imports. “We would like the leaders of nations and industries to think of the masses of people living with the consequences of their actions. Every human deserves clean air, clean water, a clean environment, and a healthy livelihood. Please think of this and join the amendment. This will help the global effort to protect and improve the environment.” The main exporters of e-waste and plastic scrap to Thailand in 2021 and their status regarding the Basel Convention and the ban amendment are listed in Table 2 and Table 3.

Miroslava Jopkova from Arnika states: “When international waste trading and dirty recycling are not properly controlled they have an impact on communities. We urge the Thai government to ratify the Basel Ban Amendment (4), which will allow the prohibition of hazardous wastes in Annexes I, III, VIII, and IX. This failure to act is unfortunately common in other countries in ASEAN and around the world. Without the active commitment of states, international laws such as the Basel Convention (4) have no impact on the global effort to protect the environment. Therefore, as World Environment Day 2021 marks the global community’s entrance into a new decade of ecosystem restoration, we unequivocally call for an end to exports of hazardous wastes and dirty recycling industries through universal ratification of the Basel Ban Amendment.”

Table 1: Amount of imports of plastic scrap (HS3915) into Thailand between 2015 and 2021.

Year Amounts (unit: tons)
2015 56,213
2016 69,506
2017 152,737
2018 552,721
2019 323,167
2020 150,807
2021 (January-April) 44,307

The information shown in the table is compiled and organized by EARTH. Source of raw data: Information and Communication Technology Center, Ministry of Commerce with cooperation of the Customs Department. URL: http://tradereport.moc.go.th/TradeThai.aspx.

Table 2: Main exporters of plastic scrap (HS3915) into Thailand in 2021 (January-April).

Exporting Country Amount of plastic scrap (HS3915)
(unit: tons)
Ratified the Basel Convention Ratified the Ban Amendment
  All countries (37) 44,307    
1 Japan  13,119 Yes No
2 U.S.A.  10,379 No No
3 China  5,177 Yes Yes
4 Hong Kong  2,781 Yes Yes
5 Canada  2,312 Yes No
6 Australia  1,619 Yes No
7 Germany  1,285 Yes Yes
8 Mexico  1,118 Yes No
9 Netherlands  1,052 Yes Yes
10 Spain  863 Yes Yes
11 Malaysia  794 Yes Yes
12 Poland  735 Yes Yes
13 Taiwan  562  No No
14 South Korea  504 Yes No
15 Indonesia  276 Yes Yes
16 Belgium  251 Yes Yes
17 United Kingdom  242 Yes Yes
18 Singapore  240 Yes No
19 Lithuania  132 Yes Yes
20 Myanmar  103 Yes No
17 Other Countries 761

The information shown in the table is compiled and organized by EARTH. Source of raw data: Information and Communication Technology Center, Ministry of Commerce with cooperation of the Customs Department. URL: http://tradereport.moc.go.th/TradeThai.aspx.

Table 3: Main exporters of e-waste (HS8548) into Thailand in 2021 (January-April).

  Exporting Country Amount of e-waste (HS8548)

(unit: tons)

Ratified the Basel Convention Ratified the Ban Amendment
  All countries (39) 13,562    
1 U.S.A.  10,856 No No
2 China  949 Yes Yes
3 Japan  898 Yes No
4 Belgium  276 Yes Yes
5 France  214 Yes Yes
6 United Kingdom  100 Yes Yes
7 Canada  85 Yes No
8 South Korea  75 Yes No
9 Myanmar  34 Yes No
10 Italy  27 Yes Yes
11 Hong Kong  11 Yes Yes
12 Vietnam  10 Yes No
13 Taiwan  6  No No
14 India  5 Yes No
15 Poland  5 Yes Yes
16 Malaysia  3 Yes Yes
17 Czech Republic  3 Yes Yes
18 Indonesia  1 Yes Yes
19 New Zealand  1 Yes No
20 Slovakia 1 Yes Yes
19 Other Countries 3

The Information shown in the table is compiled and organized by EARTH. Source of raw data: Information and Communication Technology Center, Ministry of Commerce with cooperation of the Customs Department. URL: http://tradereport.moc.go.th/TradeThai.aspx.

For more information please contact:

EARTH | Akarapon Teebthaisong – Research and Technical Officer: akarapon.t@earththailand.org, www.earththailand.org/en

Arnika | Miroslava Jopková – coordinator of the project: miroslava.jopkova@arnika.org, 

Arnika | Markéta Dosoudilová – international PR: marketa.dosoudilova@arnika.org

www.arnika.org/en

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