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Containers loaded with plastic waste are placed at country beach city, Sihanoukville Port, southwest of Phnom Penh, Cambodia on July 16, 2019.
Sea Seakleng/AP
Environment

Cambodia Is the Latest Country to Send Containers of Garbage Back to the US and Canada


Why Global Citizens Should Care
Waste management systems are currently incapable of handling the level of garbage produced around the world, leading wealthy nations to ship their trash to poorer countries. The United Nations’ urges countries to develop more environmentally sustainable waste management systems. You can join us in taking action on related issues here

Eighty-three shipping containers full of plastic and other types of waste recently arrived at a port in Cambodia to be processed from the United States and Canada — but the hulking vessels of trash won’t be staying for long.

After inspecting the containers, customs officials have decided to send them all back, forcing the US and Canada to find solutions to recycle and dispose of their own waste, according to CNN.

In doing so, Cambodia becomes the latest Asian country to reject shipments of garbage and send them back to their points of origin, a trend that has thrown global waste management systems into crisis mode. Cambodian officials expressed outrage that their country was being treated like a dumping ground, according to Time

"Cambodia is not a dustbin where foreign countries can dispose of out-of-date e-waste, and the government also opposes any import of plastic waste and lubricants to be recycled in this country," said Neth Pheaktra, a spokesperson for the country’s environment minister.

For years, Western countries have sent most of their excess trash — garbage they don’t have the capacity to process — to China, but that arrangement ended in 2018 when China announced it would no longer be accepting trash from other countries. 

Read More: The US Is Rapidly Running Out of Landfill Space

A rush to find other countries willing to take on the excess waste ensued, but these efforts have failed as countries throughout Asia have, one by one, refused to take on hazardous, hard-to-recycle, and other types of waste. 

Countries are refusing to accept the garbage because of the extensive environmental and health problems it can cause. The garbage that gets dumped on other countries is usually the most intractable variety — unable to be recycled, it’s typically incinerated or sent to a landfill. 

Earlier this month, the Philippines sent 69 shipping containers of garbage back to Canada.  

“Celebrate, because your trash is coming home ... Prepare a grand reception. Eat it if you want to,” Rodrigo Duterte, the Philippines president, said at the time. 

In Malaysia, a government contractor resorted to illegally burning shipments of foreign plastic waste, filling one town with toxic fumes. The country also recently sent back 450 tons of plastic waste to their Western countries of origin. 

Read More: A Mountain of Plastic Has Been Burning for 3 Straight Months in South Korea

E-waste is another big problem facing countries. Electronic items — such as cell phones, fridges, and air conditions — are often difficult to recycle and contain hazardous substances. When e-waste gets shipped to other countries, it’s often disposed of improperly, threatening human health.

Cambodia’s decision to send back the shipping containers reflects the growing global waste management crisis. Currently, humanity generates more waste than it’s able to process. As a result, landfill capacity is being reached in countries around the world, and pollution from expedient waste management systems is increasing. 

Read More: Americans Produce 3 Times as Much Garbage as the Global Average

The United Nations urges countries to phase out the production of materials that are hard to recycle, limit the use of hazardous materials like mercury, and develop robust e-waste management protocols. 

The recently UN teamed up with Nigerian officials to modernize the country’s e-waste system and is also working with Cambodia to overhaul how it handles domestic waste. 

As the global waste crisis grows, more countries will likely seek to partner with the UN in similar ways.