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Garbage Imports To Taiwan, Southeast Asia Soar After China Bans Foreign Waste

On July 27, 2017, China’s State Council announced that “foreign garbage”, including "plastic waste from living sources, paper, textile waste, and vanadium slag," would be banned from entering the country.  On July 18 Beijing had already notified the World Trade Organization (WTO) that by the end of the year it would no longer accept shipments of those types of waste.

According to state-run Xinhua News Agency, China began to import solid waste as raw materials in the 1980s to meet its domestic demand for resources. However, some companies allegedly engaged in smuggling foreign garbage into the country for profit, "damaging the environment and public health."

The Chinese authorities believe that imported solid waste poses "a serious threat to the environment" and has caused "widespread public concern." By the end of 2019 China will gradually phase out the import of "solid waste for which substitute resources are available in China," Xinhua said.
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For more than 20 years, China has been the world’s "dumping ground for solid waste." In 2016 alone about half of the world’s exports of waste plastic, paper and metals went to China. That year the country imported from the United States 16 million tons of waste worth $5.2 billion dollars. Among the countries that relied on China for their waste disposal were the United Kingdom, Japan and Germany.


The UK exported almost two-thirds of its waste to mainland China and Hong Kong. Between 2012 and 2017 UK businesses shipped there more than 2.7 million tons of plastic waste. In 2016 Germany sent to China 560.000 tons of plastic waste, one-third of Europe's 1.6 million tons of waste exports to the country.

In March of this year the United States raised concerns over China's ban on foreign waste at the WTO’s Council for Trade in Goods. “China’s import restrictions on recycled commodities have caused a fundamental disruption in global supply chains for scrap materials, directing them away from productive reuse and towards disposal,” a US representative told the Council.

After China announced its ban on foreign trash, waste exporters began to look for alternatives. The United Kingdom eyed Taiwan and Southeast Asia as new markets for its plastic waste. In the four months since the ban came into effect, UK exports of plastic waste to Malaysia more than trebled, while those to Vietnam and to Thailand doubled. Taiwan's imports of plastic waste from the UK increased by more than 1,200%. Other countries that experienced a surge in waste imports from the UK are Poland (+31%), Turkey (+166%), Pakistan (+78%), India (+37%) and Indonesia (+19%). 

According to Amy Brooks, a doctoral student in engineering at the University of Georgia, countries such as Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia are already considering policies to limit the import of foreign waste

The government of Thailand has begun a crackdown on illegal waste imports and has vowed to send back shipments of plastic garbage. After a series of fires at waste dumps, the Polish government introduced new rules to restrict the import of waste into the country.


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