As soon as China broke the news that it would no longer accept the world’s plastics waste for recycling, analysts suggested that countries in southeast Asia, such as Indonesia and Thailand, might ramp up imports as the price of plastics waste began to fall with falling demand. Perhaps, many thought, not much would need to change with the current recycling system.
Recent news out of Thailand does not support this conclusion. On June 24, the government of Thailand announced that a China-style ban on imported plastics and electronics waste would soon come into effect.
This is bad news for Chinese recycling companies – although 60% went out of business soon after the Chinese ban was announced, about 20% are thought to have established operations in neighbouring countries, including Thailand, according to Steve Wong, the president of the China Scrap Plastics Association (as reported in Plastics News). Now, with more than 30,000 containers of plastic and electronics waste sitting in Thai ports and unable to get through customs, the future of these recyclers is bleak. Many will lose the money invested in opening new facilities in Thailand in the wake of China’s ban.
Recyclers might look elsewhere in Southeast Asia for business opportunities, but the import ban trend seems likely to continue. Recent reporting has suggested that Vietnam might be the next to enact a ban (they have already enacted a temporary ban), as increased shipping of plastics has been causing bottlenecks at Vietnamese ports unaccustomed to the increased demand for shipping. There has also been talk of Malaysia acting soon to curb waste imports.
It is not only in southeast Asia that governments have considered banning plastics imports. In Europe, Poland has been struggling with fires at overfilled waste dumps filled with waste, mostly from countries to the West. In the first third of 2018, exports of plastics waste from the UK to Poland increased by 31%, likely in response to China’s waste import ban.
The news isn’t bad for everyone. According to SupChina, a news source focusing on China, plastics recycling experts have suggested that China’s ban will lead to a rise in domestic recycled plastics prices, which may spur the development of a more domestically-focused industry. If this prediction comes to fruition, it may provide a glimpse of what may happen across the world as it becomes increasingly difficult to export recyclable waste abroad. We’ll be sure to keep you updated on the latest plastics recycling news here on the blog.