Bid adieu to bad rubbish

Bid adieu to bad rubbish

On Thursday, the national sub-committee tasked with overseeing plastic and electronic waste management will hold a meeting after a ban due to come into effect on Wednesday was once again pushed back due to pressure from the waste recycling industry.

The meeting -- to be attended by officials, conservationists, plastic recycling plant representatives, groups who aid rubbish scavengers and the scrap shop business collective -- is being held because the ban has already been postponed a number of times before, and the lobbyists are seeking to ensure the current extension remains in place for another five years at least.

Meanwhile, conservationists are determined to see the ban materialise at least by the end of the year. The cabinet and National Environmental Board say they will take into account opinions from all stakeholders at the meeting before a final decision is made which will shape the future of refuse disposal, recycling and the circular economy in Thailand for years to come.

The ongoing debate and upcoming meeting puts the logic-defying nature of the domestic plastic recycling industry back into the spotlight. Theoretically it is an industry that should be helping to safeguard Thailand's natural environment. Some recycling factories in Thailand have become multinational and sought to boost revenues by processing rubbish from abroad in addition to the domestic haul. Industry representatives also claim that imports help them maintain a more reliable supply chain for recycled materials which in turn boosts the industry and helps it grow.

The import of plastic waste has caused environmental alarm and reports of hazardous electronic waste being smuggled into Thailand along with plastics for processing in and around areas of natural beauty. There have been a number of reports of illegal dumping of waste from overseas confirming the country is becoming a dumping ground for firms in rich nations keen to avoid exorbitant fees for recycling, often a legal requirement, in their own countries.

Plastics, in particular, became a source of contention in 2017 when China announced its own policy banning their import and firms turned to other countries in the region to accept their vast shipments of waste materials.

From 2017-2020, plastic imports topped 150,000 tonnes a year on average, double the annual figure of around 75,000 tonnes during the four preceding years. In 2018 alone, 552,912 tonnes of plastic rubbish were brought into the country.

That astronomical quantity prompted the government, in the same year, to announce a ban of its own that would come into force on Sept 30, 2020. And in 2019, the cabinet in 2019 approved the Roadmap on Plastic Waste Management 2018–2030, which mandates that by 2027, 100% of plastic waste must be reusable. Campaigners rejoiced at what was deemed to be sustainable policymaking.

However, hopes were dashed as that date rolled by without action being taken. A new Sept 30, 2021, date was then bandied around.

On Jan 25 this year, few eyebrows were raised when the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment pushed back the revised ban to Jan 1, 2026, giving industries five more years of plastic scrap importation.

It is imperative that the government strikes the right balance between helping an industry which can deal with such a pressing environmental concern -- scrap shops encouraging people to dispose of their possessions safely -- without promoting the import of yet more waste which causes an equal or greater amount of harm as a by-product of its processing.


Bangkok Post editorial column

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