SE Asia should ban imports of foreign trash — environmentalists

June 19, 2019 - 8:36 AM
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Greenpeace activists protest against climate change in front of the headquarters of German utility RWE in Essen, Germany, June 18, 2019. The banner reads "Turn off coal now!". (Reuters/Wolfgang Rattay)
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BANGKOK — Environmental groups called on Tuesday for Southeast Asian countries to ban waste imports from developed countries to help tackle a plastic pollution crisis, as regional leaders prepare to meet this week in Bangkok.

Southeast Asia has seen a staggering spike in imports of plastic and electronic waste from developed countries after the world’s top recycler, China, banned imports, causing millions of tonnes of trash to be diverted to less-regulated countries.

Thailand will from Thursday host four days of meetings for leaders of the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) to discuss the region’s most pressing issues, including plastic debris in the ocean.

“Greenpeace Southeast Asia demands that ASEAN leaders put this issue on the agenda during their summits this year and make a united declaration to address the region’s plastic waste crisis,” the group said in a statement.

“Declare an immediate ban on all imports of plastic waste,” Greenpeace urged.

It was in the interests of ASEAN, whose meetings are being held under the theme of sustainability this year, to ban waste trading, said a Thai environmental group.

“Welcoming plastics and electronic waste from abroad in the name of development must urgently end,” said Penchom Saetang, director of Ecological Alert and Recovery Thailand (EARTH) Foundation.

Some Southeast Asian countries have in recent months been taking action to stem the flow of trash.

Indonesia was the latest to reject trash imports from Canada, following similar moves by Malaysia and the Philippines.

Thailand does not ban plastic waste imports, but it aims to end them by 2020. It imposes partial bans on electronic scrap.

Greenpeace also urged ASEAN countries to ratify amendments to the 30-year-old Basel Convention, a U.N. treaty on the movement and disposal of hazardous waste, to limit the flow of plastic scrap to developing countries.

“We have to ratify the Basel Ban Amendment … to prevent ASEAN member states from becoming the world’s dumping sites in the future, or actually as it is happening now,” said Tara Buakamsri, Greenpeace Thailand’s country director.

The group also urged Southeast Asian leaders to reduce the production of single-use plastic.

ASEAN will adopt a Bangkok Declaration on Combating Marine Debris during the summit, Junever Mahilum-West, a senior Philippine foreign ministry official, told a news conference in Manila earlier on Tuesday.

The leaders of Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand, four of the world’s top marine plastic polluters, after China, are attending the ASEAN meeting.

Those five countries account for up to 60 percent of plastic waste leaking into oceans, the environmental group Ocean Conservancy and the McKinsey Center for Business and Environment said in a 2015 report.

Whales have been found dead in the region in recent years with large amounts of plastic rubbish in their stomachs.—Reporting by Patpicha Tanakasempipat Editing by Robert Birsel