Plastic waste from 35 countries is being imported into Thailand, said deputy national police chief Wirachai Songmetta after the latest discovery of containers loaded with smuggled rubbish in Chon Buri.
The deputy national police was referring to the 58 tonnes of plastic rubbish intercepted at Laem Chabang Port on Wednesday.
Initially, the authority expected to discover electronic waste, which had been found at factories near the port earlier in the week, when they conducted raids on the import companies which were under suspicion.
However what they found was poor grade, non-recyclable plastic waste sent from 35 countries, Pol Gen Wirachai said.
"This finding shows that Thailand has become a global dumping ground and the government must fight hard to stop companies importing waste from overseas illegally," said Pol Gen Wirachai, who led a search on Friday of a factory at the Lat Krabang industrial estate in eastern Bangkok.
Among the 35 countries from where the seized plastic came were Hong Kong, the US, Britain, Canada, Australia, Germany, Korea, the Netherlands, Japan, Malaysia, China, Nigeria, Iran, Spain, Vietnam, Turkey, France, Pakistan, Dubai and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), said Pol Gen Wirachai.
The seized plastic waste, found in four cargo containers, was declared in import documents to belong to a company in Samut Sakhon, named Long Luck Plastic and Metal Co, said Pol Gen Wirachai.
During a raid, the police found no plastic-recycling machinery at the factory, despite the seized waste being declared for recycling. And since the factory apparently isn't a recycling facility as claimed, the seized plastic waste is considered falsely declared and therefore illegal, he said.
The police are currently examining the company's tax records to verify its sources of revenue and other activities.
The Department of Industrial Works had inspected the seized plastics and found that they violate the 1979 Industry Ministry's ordinances that permit local factory companies to import only good grade, recyclable plastic waste.
This offence can lead to a maximum prison term of 10 years and a fine of five times the value of the imported products.
The importer might also face a penalty for a false declaration under the Customs Act, which carries a fine of up to 500,000 baht.
Tara Buakamsri, Thailand Country Director for Greenpeace Southeast Asia, said the latest arrests are "just the tip of the iceberg", adding that there are hundreds of so-called recycling factories importing low-grade and non-recyclable waste from other countries.
"This low-grade waste will become landfill and pollute the environment. Some will also be burned and release toxic emissions," Mr Tara said.
Mr Tara said the industrial ministry must revise the laws governing recycling businesses by imposing a total ban on the importation of plastic waste.
"This country does not have the capacity to examine all the plastic waste that is imported, thus it would be more realistic to stop all of these imports," he said, adding that the factories can still do business by taking in local plastic waste.
In related news, police led by Pol Gen Wirachai subsequently raided a factory in tambon Khlong Dan in Samut Prakan's Bang Bo district on Friday.
Police suspected the factory to be an illegal recycling facility.
A foreigner reportedly identified as Song Kun, 50, who told the police he took care of the factory, was arrested.
He was charged with importing prohibited products and possession of electronic waste, which the violates the 1992 Hazardous Substances Act, said Pol Gen Wirachai.
The raided factory was found to have been originally registered as a producer of synthetic fibres in 2014.
Police found huge bags of electronics, weighing more than 1,000 tonnes in total.
There were 18 Chinese nationals who worked illegally at the factory and were all found to have overstayed their three-month visas.
While officers were questioning Mr Kun, a man speaking Chinese-accented Thai called the suspect, saying the factory was operating legally and threatening to take legal action against the police, said Pol Gen Wirachai.
The factory was ordered shut permanently, he said.
Meanwhile, officials in Phetchaburi yesterday found 30 black plastic containing what was believed to be aluminium hydroxide.
Those bags were dumped in a 1 rai wooded area in tambon Nong Chumphon.
Phiew Pikaeo, 62, who lives close to the site, said a new road was made leading to the dump site about a month ago before several trucks were seen on May 27 transporting the bags into the area.
MASSIVE DUMPSTERS: Police seized containers of this smuggled waste.