Southeast Asia countries adopting stricter plastic scrap limits

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Strict new limits on plastics scrap imports in Southeast Asia, including recent announcements by authorities Thailand, could have a "devastating" impact on Chinese recyclers, according to the head of one of the country's recycling associations.

In the latest move suggesting Southeast Asian nations are following the Chinese government's lead on limiting waste imports, Thai authorities announced a crackdown 24 June on electronic waste and plastic scrap, including waste plastics bound for recycling plants.

In a 26 June statement, the president of the China Scrap Plastics Association, Steve Wong, noted that the tightening of the import rules comes as some Chinese companies had moved operations there, or made plans to do so, as a response to Beijing's earlier ban.

The Beijing-based CSPA said Thailand plans to inspect 2,240 plastics recycling factories to search for illegal imports of e-waste and other violations of environmental and labour laws, and import permits.

"Major import problems came to [the] surface over the past few weeks at the principal markets in Southeast Asia, including Thailand, Vietnam, and Malaysia," Wong said. "The environmental concern regarding the smuggling of highly contaminated e-waste triggered the tightening of regulatory controls on plastic scrap imports by Thailand and has now virtually paralysed the normal trade flow to this country."

CSPA said more than 30,000 containers are sitting idle in Thai ports, following similar problems at ports in Vietnam.

"Thousands of containers have failed to be cleared by consignees for months," CSPA said. "The likelihood of moving these containers from the port is getting very slim while demurrage charges are accumulating daily."

Wong said Malaysia is still accepting scrap plastics, but the industry is worried authorities there will enact similar restrictions: "A dismal view in the trade has prevailed."

"The latest changes have had a devastating effect on the recyclers, particularly those [that] moved their businesses from China due to the plastic ban," CSPA said. "Some of them will have to withdraw their operations once again and may suffer enormous losses even before the start of factory operations."

Wong had previously estimated that about 20% China's plastics recycling companies that relied on imported feedstocks had moved to other countries in the wake of Beijing's crackdown on plastic imports, mostly to Southeast Asia, he said. About 60% of industry companies had shut down, he said.

In a speech at a May conference on the sidelines of NPE2018 in Orlando, Fla., Wong warned that Southeast Asian nations could follow China's lead and crack down on waste imports.

Some reports in May said that Vietnam was making plans to restrict scrap plastics and paper imports, partly because the increasing volumes were straining capacity in ports.

In a related development, local media in Vietnam reported 27 June that the country's environment minister vowed to crack down on single-use plastic products, in a meeting with the head of the UN Environment agency during a UN forum in the country.

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