Cambodia has announced it will send 1,600 tonnes of plastic waste found in shipping containers back to the US and Canada, as south-east Asian countries revolt against an onslaught of rubbish shipments.
China’s decision to ban foreign plastic waste imports last year threw global recycling into chaos, leaving developed nations struggling to find countries to send their trash.
Eighty-three shipping containers full of rubbish were found on Tuesday at Sihanoukville, Cambodia’s main port, according to a spokesman for the country’s environment minister.
“Cambodia is not a dustbin where foreign countries can dispose of out-of-date e-waste, and the government also opposes any import of plastic waste and lubricants to be recycled in this country,” he said.
Neth Pheaktra said 70 of the containers were shipped from the US and 13 came from Canada. Both countries are major exporters of such waste.
A government committee established to look into the matter will investigate how and why the containers ended up in Cambodia, he said. He added that any company found to be involved in bringing in the waste would be fined and brought to court.
Images of officials inspecting the containers, stuffed with bundled plastic, riled up Cambodian social media users.
The trash delivery was a “serious insult”, Transparency International Cambodia’s executive director, Preap Kol, said in a Facebook post.
Tuesday’s discovery followed a statement at a cabinet meeting last week by the prime minister, Hun Sen, that Cambodia is not the dumping ground for any kind of waste, and does not allow the import of any kinds of plastic waste or other recyclables.
Cambodia also has a severe problem with plastic waste it generates domestically, with little public awareness of the problem or infrastructure to deal with it.
Huge quantities of rubbish have wound up on south-east Asian shores as opposition to handling exported trash is growing in the region.
Indonesia announced this month it was sending back dozens of containers full of waste to France, Australia and other developed nations, while neighbouring Malaysia said in May it was shipping 450 tonnes of imported plastic waste back to its sources.
Around 300m tonnes of plastic are produced every year, according to the WorldWide Fund for Nature (WWF), with much of it ending up in landfills or polluting the seas in what has become a growing international crisis.
In May, 187 countries signed a treaty giving nations the power to block the import of contaminated or hard to recycle plastic trash. A few countries did not sign. One was the US.