‘Not a dustbin’: Cambodia to send plastic waste back to the US and Canada

Cambodia has announced it will send 1,600 tonnes of plastic waste found in shipping containers back to the US and Canada, as south-east Asian countries revolt against an onslaught of rubbish shipments.

China’s decision to ban foreign plastic waste imports last year threw global recycling into chaos, leaving developed nations struggling to find countries to send their trash.

Eighty-three shipping containers full of rubbish were found on Tuesday at Sihanoukville, Cambodia’s main port, according to a spokesman for the country’s environment minister.

“Cambodia is not a dustbin where foreign countries can dispose of out-of-date e-waste, and the government also opposes any import of plastic waste and lubricants to be recycled in this country,” he said.

Neth Pheaktra said 70 of the containers were shipped from the US and 13 came from Canada. Both countries are major exporters of such waste.

A government committee established to look into the matter will investigate how and why the containers ended up in Cambodia, he said. He added that any company found to be involved in bringing in the waste would be fined and brought to court.

Images of officials inspecting the containers, stuffed with bundled plastic, riled up Cambodian social media users.

The trash delivery was a “serious insult”, Transparency International Cambodia’s executive director, Preap Kol, said in a Facebook post.

Tuesday’s discovery followed a statement at a cabinet meeting last week by the prime minister, Hun Sen, that Cambodia is not the dumping ground for any kind of waste, and does not allow the import of any kinds of plastic waste or other recyclables.

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Be part of the plastics recycling revolution

It seems that nowadays plastic waste is all around us. Sure, it can be easy to focus on all that is going wrong. But that would be a disservice to recyclers and tech providers around the world. That’s why Recycling International is dedicating the next issue to plastics recycling.

A new landscape?

Cutting-edge recycling systems are being developed to tackle the growing volume of plastics. This includes anything from rigorious washing, baling and shredding to hi-tech sorting, and more. Also gaining momentum are recycled content products.

The fact is; plastics production is one of the main industries that will drive global oil demand to 2050, so reveals the International Energy Agency (IEA). Less than 10% of the world’s oil is used to create plastic products annually. And yet, growth in this industry is strong enough to offset slower consumption of fuel in the transport sector.

Global demand for petrochemical feedstock accounted for 12 million barrels per day. IEA believes that this figure will grow to almost 18 million barrels per day in 2050.

‘Although substantial increases in recycling and efforts to curb single-use plastics take place – especially led by Europe, Japan and Korea – these efforts will be far outweighed by the sharp increase in developing economies of plastic consumption,’ IEA argues. Based on recent calculations, it reports recycling could hit around 5% of high-value chemical demand.

It is also interesting to note that fossil fuels still represent 99% of the plastics raw material base, although there is a growing interest in the use of biomass as a feedstock. In fact, the global production of bio-plastics reached 2.1 million tonnes last year.

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Where does your plastic go? Global investigation reveals America’s dirty secret

This is not the experience of Nguyễn Thị Hồng Thắm, a 60-year-old Vietnamese mother of seven, living amid piles of grimy American plastic on the outskirts of Hanoi. Outside her home, the sun beats down on a Cheetos bag; aisle markers from a Walmart store; and a plastic bag from ShopRite, a chain of supermarkets in New Jersey, bearing a message urging people to recycle it.

Tham is paid the equivalent of $6.50 a day to strip off the non-recyclable elements and sort what remains: translucent plastic in one pile, opaque in another.

A Guardian investigation has found that hundreds of thousands of tons of US plastic are being shipped every year to poorly regulated developing countries around the globe for the dirty, labor-intensive process of recycling. The consequences for public health and the environment are grim.

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