FROM grubby packaging engulfing small Southeast Asian communities to waste piling up in plants from the US to Australia (澳洲), China’s ban on accepting the world’s used
plastic has plunged global recycling into turmoil.
For many years, China received the bulk of scrap plastic created by developed countries from around the world, processing much of it into a higher quality material that could be
used by manufacturers.
But at the start of 2018, it closed its doors to almost all foreign plastic waste, as well as many other recyclables, in a push to protect the local environment and air quality,
leaving developed nations struggling to find places to send their waste.
“It was like an earthquake,” said Arnaud Brunet, director general of Brussels-based industry group The Bureau of International Recycling. “China was the biggest market for
recyclables. It created a major shock in the global market.”
Instead, plastic is being redirected in huge quantities to Southeast Asia (東南亞), where Chinese recyclers have shifted en masse.
In mainland China, imports of plastic waste have dropped from 600,000 tonnes per month in 2016 to about 30,000 a month in 2018. As a result, former bustling centres of recycling
have been abandoned, as firms shift to Southeast Asia.
With a large Chinese-speaking minority, Malaysia (馬來西亞) was a top choice for Chinese recyclers looking to relocate, and official data showed plastic imports tripled
from 2016 levels to 870,000 tonnes last year.
In the small town of Jenjarom, not far from Kuala Lumpur (吉隆坡), plastic processing plants suddenly appeared in large numbers, pumping out noxious fumes day and night.
Huge mounds of plastic waste, dumped in the open, piled up as recyclers struggled to cope with the influx of packaging from everyday goods, such as foods and laundry
detergents, from as far afield as Germany (德國), the United States, and Brazil (巴西).
The authorities subsequently closed down 33 factories, but activists believe many have quietly moved elsewhere in the country.
Southeast Asian nations affected early by the China ban – Malaysia, Thailand (泰國) and Vietnam (越南) were hit hard – have taken steps to limit plastic imports, but the waste
has simply been redirected to other countries without restrictions, such as Indonesia (印尼) and Turkey (土耳其), according to a Greenpeace report.
In Australia, Europe and the US, many of those collecting plastic and other recyclables have been left scrambling to find new places to send it.
With only an estimated 9 percent of plastics ever produced getting recycled, campaigners say the only long-term solution to the plastic waste crisis is for companies to make
less and consumers to use less.
(This article is published on the Student Standard on 3 May 2019)