Jump to content
Sign in to follow this  
LoreD

Why Southeast Asia Is Flooded With Trash From America And Other Wealthy Nations

Recommended Posts

Why Southeast Asia Is Flooded With Trash From America And Other Wealthy Nations

 

Last year Malaysia became ― virtually overnight ― the world’s largest importer of plastic scrap, receiving hundreds of millions of tons from the United States, Europe, Japan and elsewhere. Malaysia’s neighbors, including Thailand and Vietnam, endured a similar deluge. The results have been shocking. 

 

In Malaysia, shipments of imported plastic are piling up at ports, and a robust underground industry of illegal recyclers has spread across the nation, affecting the health and safety of local communities.   “What’s happening in Southeast Asia, what’s happening in Malaysia, shows just how bankrupt the recycling system really is,” said Von Hernandez, the global coordinator for the Break Free From Plastic initiative, speaking from the Philippines in February. “Consumers, especially those in the West, are conditioned to believe that when they separate their recyclables and throw them out, that it’ll be properly taken care of. But that’s been exposed as a myth.”

 

U.S. companies, despite making broad promises about reducing waste and promoting recycling, are often unaware of where their used products and packaging end up. Walmart, which has vowed to reduce waste and to invest in recycling infrastructure, did not respond to questions about the bale found in Malaysia, but Jerry Powell, the executive editor of the industry publication Resource Recycling, said the company was likely clueless as to how plastic waste apparently generated at one of its U.S. stores traveled thousands of miles across the ocean only to pollute a Malaysian neighborhood.

 

A Walmart store might send its plastic rubbish to a local recycler, he said last week from Oregon, “but what their local recycler does with it, they have no idea. They don’t track where it goes from there.” Only about half the trash at the Ipoh dumpsite appeared to be from Malaysia. The other half was a hodgepodge of waste from countries like the U.S., China and New Zealand.

 

The bale with the Walmart tag was tightly packed with an array of other plastic waste, including a bag that once contained cheese from Wisconsin cheesemaker Sargento with a U.S. 800 number printed on its back and a bright blue Oreo Mini container, empty and crushed flat. The bale was wrapped in a plastic sheet stamped with “Sigma Supply of North America,” a packaging company based in Arkansas — the state where Walmart has its headquarters. (Sigma Supply did not respond to a request for comment.)

 

Most of that trash had been sitting there for at least eight months, according to activists from Greenpeace Malaysia who discovered the unlicensed dumpsite last year. Ben Muni, a Greenpeace campaigner, said the piles of unsheltered waste may eventually be burned illegally or left to decompose in the heat and humidity ― a process that could take hundreds of years. “This is probably just going to be left here to rot,” he said.

 

For months, Greenpeace has been sounding the alarm about Malaysia’s plastic crisis.

 

“America and other wealthy nations are sweeping their waste to Malaysia and other countries,” said activist Heng Kiah Chun. “Southeast Asia shouldn’t be the world’s dumping ground.”

 

The filthy secrets of the multibillion-dollar global recycling industry became apparent in the summer of 2017, when China — which had for decades been the world’s largest importer of recyclables — suddenly announced its intention to close its borders to 24 categories of recyclable waste, including several kinds of scrap plastic and mixed paper. The ban was enforced on Jan. 1, 2018, and its effects rippled around the globe.

 

The move hit hard in the U.S., which has historically exported about one-third of its recyclables annually, most of it to China. Across the U.S., mountains of plastic, paper and other materials began piling up at recycling facilities or ended up in landfills. A number of municipalities — from Sacramento, California, to Hooksett, New Hampshire — canceled or significantly curtailed their recycling programs. Cole Rosengren, a reporter for Waste Dive, a D.C.-based publisher of waste industry news, told HuffPost last July, “There is no state in the country that has not felt at least something because of the [Chinese] ban.”

 

But U.S. recyclers soon found new buyers and destinations for Americans’ garbage, particularly their plastic waste. Starting in late 2017 and escalating through 2018, Malaysia and other nations in Southeast Asia were flooded with recyclable plastics from the U.S. The region’s imports from other developed nations like the U.K., Germany, Japan and Australia also skyrocketed. The firehose of trash caught these recipient countries by surprise. None had recycling facilities that remotely compared with China’s, noted Hernandez.

 

In the first half of 2018, imports of plastic trash doubled in Vietnam and increased in Thailand by a staggering 1,370 percent compared with the same period the previous year, according to an October report in the Financial Times. At one point last June, Thailand reportedly had 30,000 containers full of imported plastic waste sitting in its ports because of a lack of capacity and issues with import permits. Vietnam reported some 9,000 idle containers of plastic waste, according to Resource Recycling.

 

From January to November 2018, Malaysia imported about 435 million pounds of plastic scrap from the U.S. alone, according to data provided by Resource Recycling. Over the same period in 2017, U.S. exporters sent just over 220 million pounds of scrap plastic to Malaysia.

 

To understand why a country like the U.S. ships so much of its plastic recyclables abroad, one must first understand the complexities of recycling plastic, particularly postconsumer plastic like used food containers and packaging. It’s a notoriously difficult and labor-intensive process ― one that’s so complex, in fact, that the bulk of discarded plastics, including the stuff thrown into recycling bins, don’t end up being recycled.

 

From 1950 to 2015, a staggering 6.9 billion tons of plastics were thrown out worldwide; of that, only an estimated 9 percent has been recycled. In the U.S. the 2018 plastic recycling rate was projected to be an abysmal 4.4 percent.

 

Experts generally point to two major flaws in the plastic recycling process as the reasons behind these low numbers: The rules about what can be recycled are confusing, and they differ depending on where you live. As a result, many well-intentioned people toss items into the recycling bin that shouldn’t be there.

 

Sorting, often by hand, is thus a necessary first step before recyclers can process postconsumer plastic. Colored soda bottles need to be separated from clear ones. Plastic bags and cling wrap, known to gum up recycling equipment, have to be fished out. Items heavily contaminated with food bits need to be removed too.

 

But since sorting is such a labor-intensive exercise, it usually doesn’t make economic sense for many recyclers in the U.S. and other developed countries. So-called clean plastic recyclables like industrial plastic waste are mostly recycled in the United States, but “easily 80 percent of America’s mixed plastics are getting sent abroad,” said Powell. “They’re too dirty to do anything with [here] in a cost-effective way.”

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 3/8/2019 at 6:16 AM, LoreD said:

U.S. companies, despite making broad promises about reducing waste and promoting recycling, are often unaware of where their used products and packaging end up.

 

In the 1950s, when this dumping of trash in Malaysia started, there was only a dim awareness of pollution and little public consciousness of global warming.  Now, public awareness has become widespread.  Nevertheless, the intensified shipping of US waste to Malaysia is just one aspect of egregious contempt for the environment displayed by the Trump administration and corrupt, conservative dominated government.

 

Today there is a vastly increased recognition of all forms of human-caused, environmental degradation.  At the same time, we now have the most regressive administration in the history of our country;  And, all movement toward tackling the twin problems of pollution, in all its forms, and greenhouse gas emissions are not only on hold, but being reversed.  The EPA is stacked with spokesmen from the most polluting industries;  Logging, drilling and mining are being introduced into our national parks;  And environmental regulation of industry is being "relaxed" across the board.

 

Beyond the fact that social cohesion and perhaps biological survival itself, is being threatened by the wastes of industrialization, it is morally unacceptable for the First World to dump its  waste in the Third World.  We can only hope that a newly progressive government after 2020 will begin to clean things up.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

this German friend of mine visiting last week lamented that these two old folks were wanting to sit down on a bench, however, there was this big empty bag of fast food trash,

filled with empty white cup, and plastic lid, that sat upon the bench, and so the old lady pushed it off the bench and into the canal.

 

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 3/9/2019 at 2:33 PM, bludog said:

We can only hope that a newly progressive government after 2020 will begin to clean things up.

 

I don't understand.  When I read the article, statements like "But U.S. recyclers soon found new buyers and destinations for Americans’ garbage, particularly their plastic waste."  made me think the Malaysians were buying our recyclable waste.  It's not like we're forcing it on them or even paying them to take it.  It sounds like they bought more than they have the capacity to recycle.   Everything you said about Trump and his EPA is probably true, but I don't know what that has to do with this case.   

 

What should our new progressive government do?  Not allow other countries to buy our recyclables?  The article explains "...since sorting is such a labor-intensive exercise, it usually doesn’t make economic sense for many recyclers in the U.S. and other developed countries."   If we don't allow them to buy the recyclable trash, then it stays here, and we would need to find people to do that 'labor intensive' work.  Digging through trash to sort into piles...I'm sure those jobs would be even harder to fill than seasonal agriculture work.  

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
20 hours ago, Renegade said:

What should our new progressive government do? 

 

I would expect any new, progressive government to resume doing two things conservative government has abandoned:  1 - Conduct basic research into large-scale recycling of plastics.   2 - Regulate industry with the goal of more extensive recycling;  And reduction of the use of plastics for disposable containers.

 

Perpetuating profitable trade agreements with Malaysian entrepreneurs only encourages American business entities to keep making more plastic products and discourages recycling.  As far as I'm concerned, one of our national objectives should be to recycle plastics as much as possible;  And produce far fewer disposable, plastic containers. 

 

Industry, with it's primary motivation being the quarterly bottom line is unlikely to regulate itself for the good of the Planet and its People .  Left to its own devices, industry will continue to sell plastic waste abroad and neglect environmentally friendly ways to manage it.

 

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this  

×