China has been the biggest waste importer in the world for several decades. But that now the world needs to find another country suitable for that title because China has decided to stop importing waste since January 2019.
With that decision, not only we need to find the new ‘king of trash’, but we all literally need to find better waste management method. The reason is because there is hardly another country that would want to take that title.
Many said that ASEAN countries are among the first in line to claim that ‘throne’. However, none of them are actually competing for it. Somewhat, most of them are actually planning to take the system down and start a ‘revolution’.
Well, why did the ‘title’ ever exist in the first place? Why did China ever want to import waste from other countries? And why are ASEAN countries put first in line for the title after China’s decision to ban waste import from other countries?
There are so many things to talk about in this case, and here in this article we are going to talk about it.
Thrown Away Resources
So, why did china ever want to be trash collector? The reason why China wanted to import waste was because a country’s waste is another country’s resources. In this case, China is the country who sees the waste as thrown away resources.
China had plenty of cheap labor, or people who want to have a job. However, collecting resources by themselves would still cost a lot of money. That’s why, they needed alternative source for resources, and many developed countries can provide it.
But selling natural resources is not preferable for those developed countries. They would rather use it on their own to create profitable products. If the demand is high and they want to sell it, they would put expensive price tags for the resources.
On the other hand, those developed countries also produced so much waste from unused or used resources. Some countries even produced too much waste and scraps more than what they could handle by themselves.
It was the opportunity that China waited for: waste and scraps contain the resources they needed, but its owners want to get rid of it. China offered those countries waste management solution, by letting those countries to export the waste (or resources for China) to the country. It was a win-win solution for both sides.
Reuse, Recycle, Refashion
The beginning of China’s waste trade era started in 1980s, when the wave of reform lifted several of the government’s control over the economy of the people. The reformation allowed private sectors to thrive and grow in the country.
The waste and scraps imported in cargo ships were first bought by brokers to be sold to small industries. Those small industries needed the scraps and waste for resources, which was then to be processed and manufactured.
Small industries could save more money for their own development because of the cheap price tag put on their resources (waste) and their ‘naturally’ cheap labor. The growth of economy started at the lower level and sparked a chain reaction to bigger ones.
The waste trade showed its result, China’s economy was skyrocketing since that time. Products created from processing and manufacturing the waste were exported to other countries as cheaper version of your daily products.
But it all happened before China started to realize that importing that much waste, almost half of the planet’s plastic and other things, has been affecting their environment a lot. Looking on the consequences, government now sees waste-recycling industry not as beneficial as it used to be.
July 2017, China shocked global industry stakeholders by announcing the plan to ban certain kinds of trash imports. Not only because it showed their independence in collecting resources, but it meant that those waste exporters should find new place to trade.
Effective since January 2018, China started the ban for importing of 24 different types of waste to the country. A lot of variant of plastic waste belong in the ban list, and it means that many countries have to deal with double the amount of plastic waste by themselves.
This is because as mentioned before, China absorbed about 50% of global plastic waste before the ban. However, because of the country’s environmental issue, they have to stop importing plastic and other kinds of environmentally hazardous waste.
The environmental issue related to imported waste in China is a serious problem. In example, an investigation done in Guiyu in Guangdong province showed that 80% of kids living around the area had excess levels of lead in their blood.
Children are the future of a country. Realizing that fact, China decided to take this action to protect their own future. Starting with 24 different types of waste, the country is planning to make the list longer. Up until now, there are 32 kinds of waste to be banned up at the end of this year. You can see the full list here.
Throw It To ASEAN?
Gotten used to export their trashes to China, many developed countries are confused today because of the ban. Starting from last January, they have been forced to handle their own trashes by themselves, most of those trashes are plastic.
So, what have they done to handle it? Some chose to try to find another importer, some just try to handle it by themselves. ASEAN countries like Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia were the chosen countries to do the importing job.
But ASEAN countries are not as welcoming as China, and they have pretty high standard for the waste and scraps. Some of the criteria are that the waste has to be fully recyclable and not contaminated by anything hazardous.
We can see how high the standard for it from how Malaysia is planning to send back up to 100 tons of Australian plastic waste because it was too contaminated to recycle. Not only that, about 2,000 other tons of waste, would be returned to responsible countries all around the world because it was either contaminated, had been falsely labelled and smuggled in or rotting.
“Malaysia will not be the dumping ground of the world. We will fight back. Even though we are a small country, we can’t be bullied by developed countries,” Yeo said as quoted from The Guardian. Philippines president, Rodrigo Duterte, also announced that it would return 69 containers of 1,500 tons of waste to Canada for similar reason.
So, how will the future of waste trade affect the world? Will ASEAN countries be able to follow China’s step to grow by using imported waste, or would they be denied because of their high standard? We can just wait and see.
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