Recycling has been hailed as the solution to the world’s waste problem for centuries. It saves money – it costs $30 per ton to recycle and $50 to send waste to a landfill – and protects the environment from the lasting effects of waste pollution. Enthusiasm for recycling has gained momentum over the last 10 years, and Germany currently hold the highest recycling rate in Europe with 56 per cent. For many, recycling is a small contribution to creating a clean and healthy environment for future generations.
However, in countries like Australia and Thailand, recycling is gaining a very different reputation. In Australia, recycling is collected from houses only to be left in stockpiles or delivered to landfills. Prices skyrocketed, meaning it’s actually cheaper to import glass than recycle it. As a result, the country has declared itself in the midst of a recycling crisis.
How did it get so bad? Before the start of this year, the recycling chain ran smoothly. China imported around half of the world’s waste plastic and paper, paid considerable rates, and handled contaminated recyclables carefully. However, in 2013 the country introduced a new policy, Operation Green Fence, which rejected any waste which did not meet the desired contamination standards of 10 – 15 per cent. Last year, it enforced measures to scrutinise its waste even further, and imposed the National Sword policy. Under this policy China vowed not to accept imports of unsorted paper, or recycled plastics which had a contamination level above 0.5 per cent.
China also imported a huge 70 per cent of the world’s electrical waste. This waste, from the EU, US and Japan, has become the burden of south-east Asia. E-waste imports into Thailand have increased to an incredible 37,000 tonnes over the course of this year. As a result, Bangkok is swamped with electrical waste, its outskirts plagued with towers of old TVs, mangled printers and crushed computers.
Thailand is attempting to process the fantastic quantities of e-waste in its newly built waste recycling plants. However, overwhelmed with the quantity, these factories are producing toxic fumes and contaminating the environment in the process of removing valuable metals. With no environmental precautions in place, farms surrounding the waste recycling plants are at risk from poisoning.
Thailand’s Finance Ministry has recently proposed an environmental tax to cut the amount of electronic waste being brought into the country. It also hopes to carry out thorough checks of cargo containers which contain imported waste.
Wider plans to combat the world’s waste problem are yet to be formulated. As Thailand continues to turn cargo ships carrying waste away from its shores to no avail, a solution must be found before recycling causes more harm than good to the environment.
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