The government-appointed panel working on plastic and e-waste has added the latest option seen as a compromise for the anti-plastic waste group, which demands an immediate ban on plastic waste import. It will ban the import in the next two years, but it is not yet confirmed whether there will be stepped cuts in between
Athapol Charoenshunsa, the Pollution Control Department’s Director-General told Bangkok Tribune that the panel has not yet decided whether it will impose stepped cuts on plastic waste import over the next two years, which has been added as the latest option for the country to tackle the issue. The state views that this imported waste is “usable scrap”.
“No, we’ve not addressed this yet,” said Mr. Athapol, when asked whether the stepped cuts would be imposed in the latest option similar to the earlier option, which will see the stepped cuts imposed on plastic waste import over the next five years.
The panel held the second meeting this year last week to consider the issue, and three options were tabled before it for consideration. The first option was a total ban on plastic waste import. The second option was the stepped cuts of plastic waste import over the next five years, and the latest option was the ban on plastic waste import over the next two years.
The panel assigned the department to study the pros and cons of those three options during the next two months before bringing the issue to the National Environment Board for making a decision. If the two latter options are selected, a proper proportion between imported plastic waste and recycled plastic in the country will be designed to strike a balance, according to the panel.
According to its last proposal, the second option was solely proposed and it would see the 50 : 50% use of imported plastic waste and recycled plastic allowed during the first year of implementation or 250,000 tons each. The proportion of imported plastic waste would then be cut down by 50,000 tons a year until it is completely banned in the fifth year of the implementation, which is 2026.
However, the idea has strongly been opposed by the anti-plastic waste led by EARTH and the Saleng and Recycle Trader Association.
The plastic waste saga
The plastic waste issue came to light following the flood of waste in the country around three or four years ago when China had decided to close the doors for plastic waste and recycled items sent to its mainland. Since, those materials have been seen flooding elsewhere, including Thailand, prompting the anti-waste campaigners to become alert about the shifting trend in the region. They have been trying to work with the government to turn against the tide.
According to the group’s monitoring, plastic waste had been imported to the country as cheap raw materials for recycled plastics around 76,000 tons during 2010-2016. But as China shut its doors in 2017, the amount of plastic waste then increased over 100,000 tons a year from 2017 to 2020, and in those years, nearly 553,000 tons of plastic waste was once recorded to have been imported to the country.
In order to address the issue, the government appointed a new sub-panel on integrated management of imported plastic waste and e-waste, which in late 2018 decided to scrap the import of the materials by 2020.
But in September last year, there was a move made by some manufacturers and industry officials to pressure for the extension of the import. They reasoned that they needed over 680,000 tons of plastic waste a year. The panel in January this year decided to extend the period of time for the plastic waste import to another five years as such.
Under the panel’s new resolution, the import would gradually decline until it is banned in the fifth year. In early August, the Environment Minister Varawut Silpa-Archa called for a meeting with concerned officials to discuss in detail measures and law enactment to regulate the plastic waste import before the panel met in early September and came up with the three options as such.
According to the anti-plastic waste group, backed by over 108 CSOs, Thailand should not be the world’s “trash bin”. During the years that plastic waste flooded into the country, EARTH found that over 80 countries had exported the waste to Thailand. Alongside, recycling plants run by foreign firms have been mushrooming in response to the imported waste. Their waste management standards are often found to have caused a problem to the environment and the health of community residents nearby, according to the organization.
The group is also concerned that the activity would jeopardise the country’s recycling business seen as a crucial mechanism in helping tackle plastic waste in the country.
In addition, it has also learned that there is more plastic waste imported to the so-called free tax zone. Over 100,000 tons of plastic waste is imported into this zone a year and this is a big legal loophole that needs to be fixed, according to EARTH.
The latest demand
Penchom Saetang, EARTH’s director said after representing the group’s views in the panel’s meeting that there are contradicting authority among concerned agencies as they all claimed that they have no longer had a role in plastic waste import.
For instance, the Industrial Works Department claimed that it had no role in this business since this was scrapped last year. The authority, it claimed, was with the Commerce Ministry. However, according to the examination by the organization, EARTH found that the Commerce Ministry has transferred its authority back to the department. This ambiguous role, the organization cited, must be made clear to the public.
Ms. Penchom said the organization found that a number of factories have imported plastic waste despite the fact that they have no permits. Among those are segregation plants and that could mean not all “plastic scrap” imported to the country is all clean as claimed by the state.
Ms. Penchom said the group insists on its demand for an immediate ban on imported plastic waste both inside and outside the free tax zone.
“The more delayed the ban on this plastic is, the more time is extended for our environmental degradation. To resolve our fluctuating amount of plastic waste, we need to cut it down at the very beginning,” said Ms. Penchom.
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