E-waste import ban eyed

E-waste import ban eyed

Regime mulls Section 44 order for clean-up

The government is considering exercising an all-powerful Section 44 order to ban electronics waste imports amid growing concerns over an influx of illegal hazardous trash into the country.

“There will no longer be imports of electronic waste,” Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon said yesterday,adding the government may, if necessary,resort to Section 44, which grants it sweeping powers to solve problems deemed harmful to the country.

Thailand allows firms to import electronic waste, or e-waste, for recycling, but some is shipped into the country without permission or beyond quotas and large amounts have been found in illegal disposal factories in recent crackdowns. Gen Prawit unleashed his frustration during a meeting yesterday, asking how the trash has been easily let into the country so easily.

There must be people held responsible for “negligence” and other irregularities including false shipment claims, he said. In the meeting, deputy national police chief Wirachai Songmetta suggested the Department of Industrial Works revoke licences it granted to companies to import e-waste for recycling.

The department recently suspended the licences of five importers after they were found to have hired illegal factories to recycle the trash.

Pol Gen Wirachai earlier expressed suspicions over the import of electronic refuse, the amounts of which have increased “unusually” when he and customs officials compared figures over recent years. Last year the amount of industrial waste stood at 70,000 tonnes, but in the first half of this year, the figure had surged to more than 100,000 tonnes, he said.

Interior Minister Anupong Paojinda said the meeting decided to set up a multiagency panel to work out on a plan to better regulate garbage from abroad. “It’s not just e-waste but also other [dangerous] types of garbage,” he said. “If the trash does not benefit the country and causes negative impact and burdens, we won’t allow it to be imported.”

His ministry will also work with local administrative bodies to solve the problem as they oversee areas where recycling factories are located. Section 44 will be the last option, Gen Anupong said.

Officials will first look at regulations concerning the licensees and find ways to amend them to better deal with the current situation. “This should take about two weeks,” he said, adding customs and airport officials, in the meantime, must tighten inspections to prevent the illegal import of such garbage.

In his view, if companies that are allowed to bring in e-waste commit wrongdoing, their licences should be revoked.

Defence Ministry spokesman Kongcheep Tantravanich said yesterday’s meeting also agreed with a measure to ship e-waste back to the country of origin if false shipment claims are made.

Worries over increasing amounts of illegal e-waste destined for Thailand intensified after police and the Ministry of Industry received complaints from people living near electronic waste recycling factories, accusing the plants of leaking the waste which affected the environment and their health.

A recent survey found seven Chinese-owned factories offering garbage recycling and disposal services here. Five of them are illegal, Lt Gen Kongcheep said.

From a big-picture perspective, there are a total of 148 garbage separation plants nationwide, but “up to 90% of them don’t follow correct procedures to sort it for recycling”, he said.

Thailand is aware of the need for better waste management and ratified the Basel Convention in 1997.

The international agreement aims to impose strict controls on the transport of hazardous waste across borders. However, critics believe the convention has limitations as it fails to completely prohibit these exports being sent from more developed to less developed countries.

Thai authorities began treating the import of scrap electronics as an urgent issue after a raid, led by Pol Gen Wirachai, on five e-waste recycling factories in Chachoengsao’s Phanom Sarakham district on May 22 and 23 in an operation to cope with pollution caused by industrial waste.

The officers were stunned during their search at one company as piles of waste had been left scattered across the factory premises.

Six days later, police at Lam Chabang port in Chon Buri found seven shipping containers, each packed with about 22 tonnes of discarded electronics.

Subsequent crackdowns elsewhere added to concerns of officials who suspect many tonnes of electronic refuse were notshipped to Thailand legally or were recycled at unlicensed factories. The problem spurred Prime Minister Prayut Chano-cha into announcing tougher measures.

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