25 November 2021
Fourteen year old Nina in Indonesia is begging Western countries to stop exporting their discarded plastic to her country. She is growing up in a heavily polluted environment where valueless plastic is incinerated in the open air and clogs up rivers. ‘Developed countries should ban plastic waste export to Indonesia (…). So please don’t add more burden to us. Indonesia is not a global dumpsite, she said in October at the Plastic Soup Foundation’s Plastic Health Summit 2021. She held up a mirror to the Western world.
Will Nina be satisfied with the European Commission’s proposal to strengthen legislation?
NEW EUROPEAN REGULATIONS ABOUT EXPORTING PLASTIC WASTE
Last week the European Commission announced a review of the Waste Shipment Regulation. The proposed new rules about the transport of waste, including plastic waste, should ensure that the European Union:
- no longer exports waste that is difficult or too expensive to recycle itself;
- tackles the illegal export of waste more effectively;
- only exports what is permitted if the recipient countries can guarantee that the waste will be processed responsibly.
ENVIRONMENTAL MOVEMENT: ‘A GOOD STEP, BUT IT NEEDS TO BE MUCH BETTER’
The biggest objection to the proposed new legislation, however, is the lack of a total ban. Without a total ban, illegal practices can easily continue and allows the EU to consume more plastic than it can process. The environmental movement immediately responded to the European Commission’s proposal.
In April environmental organisations had already drawn attention to this issue in The Plastic Waste Trade Manifesto. The Manifesto, in the meantime signed by 39 Members of the European Parliament and 89 NGOs, including Plastic Soup Foundation, calls for a total ban on the export of plastic waste to countries outside the European Union.
ILLEGAL EXPORT OF PLASTIC TO INDONESIA
Mixed plastic waste that is too expensive to be sorted out for recycling in European countries, is smuggled to various countries including Indonesia to be sorted out by hand there. This is done on a large scale and is smuggled in exported old paper. The plastic is hidden behind bales of paper in containers. Customs hardly checks or does not check at all and the paper factories secretly sell the plastic on to villages in the area. There, the plastic is washed and sorted. The plastic that cannot be recycled, about 20% to 30%, is used as fuel. The residents not only endure their rivers being polluted, but also inhale the toxic substances that are released during incineration. An episode (in Dutch) of the Dutch current affairs programme Pointer exposed the dramatic rise in this practice after China closed its borders to the import of old plastic in 2018.
A total ban on the import of waste would not only ensure that this smuggling route would no longer be used, but would also ensure that Indonesia would collect its old paper itself. Only a small part of all the waste in the country is currently collected and processed.
Photo: Ecaton, Nina with plastic waste.
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