Thailand is planning to enact a ban on the import of electronic waste and various plastics to keep the country from turning into the world’s dumpster, according to Deutsche Welle (DW).
While recycling e-waste can be a profitable industry, it also has environmental consequences if handled improperly, leaking harmful chemicals into rivers, soils, and the atmosphere.
Recycling soiled and stubborn types of plastic, on the other hand, has little upside — it requires significant investments in energy and infrastructure and has environmental consequences.
"We need to prioritize good environment and the health of our citizens over industrial development," Surasak Kanchanarat, Thailand’s Environment Minister, told the Daily Nation, DW reports.
Thai entrepreneurs are able to buy foreign e-waste at a cheaper price than domestic e-waste, and then turn a quick profit by pulping the materials for precious metals like gold.
Kanchanarat said that, going forward, domestic e-waste will be given priority in the market.
"We need to ensure that domestic and plastic wastes will be used as material by the recycling industry first, before we import these materials from outside the country," he said.
Hazardous and hard-to-recycle forms of waste are generally treated to a game of global hot potato, with wealthy countries relying on poorer countries to buy thousands of tons of the stuff at steeply discounted prices.
In the process, however, these poorer countries are assuming vast environmental and health costs.
With countries like China and Thailand saying no more, bottlenecks are building up in landfills in places like the US and the UK.
The UK, for example, shipped two-thirds of its plastic waste to China in 2017. Now with no market demand, waste is building up and the country is finding out that it only has the technological capacity to recycle 9% of its plastic.
There are still other countries, such as India, Vietnam, and Malaysia, that are importing foreign waste in large volumes.
But the ban by China exposed the unsustainability of this system as landfills unaccustomed to build-ups heave with mountains of waste and showed the urgent need for global reform. Rather than passing waste around on massive freighter ships, contaminating the planet and harming people’s health, countries need to focus on reducing waste production in the first place, according to the United Nations.
Global waste is on pace to triple by 2100 unless countries begin to take action and implement more sustainable waste management models.
Bans on importing and exporting waste is the first part of this equation, the next is making sure undesirable garbage isn’t made to begin with.