Credit: EARTH/ Karnt Thassanaphak

Plastic waste imports plan lingers as the pollution control joint meeting fails to settle the “actual needs”

Pro-sustainable waste management advocates, however, demand the government to ban imports of plastic waste and put in place a new law to help regulate the whole plastic waste management cycle with the extended producer responsibility principle at the heart as well as ractifying the international Basel Convention Band Amendment to help improve the refulation in the country

The Pollution Control Department (PCD) has held a meeting with the Industrial Works Department as well as stakeholders today to discuss proposals by plastic waste importers, who have asked to import further 650, 000 tons of plastic waste.

The source close to the issue said the meeting had discussed the actual needs of plastic waste for raw materials as well as of the amount of imported plastic waste, but could not settle on these. The inputs today would be tabled for consideration in the meeting of the sub-committee on plastic and electronic waste management (chaired by the Environment Minister), the source said.

“There is no conclusion about these and what discussed would be forwarded to the meeting,” said the source.

Imports of plastic waste have become controversial in the context of the country’s overall plastic waste management as pro-sustainable waste management advocates view that this rather hampers efforts in managing plastic waste in the country in a sustainable way, especially in recycling efforts.

The business operators, on the other hand, claim that plastic waste in the country is still pretty much contaminated, thus being low in quality but costly for uses as their raw materials. So, they demand to import plastic waste elsewhere to save production costs despite the permitted quotas issued a few years ago have finished.

According to the sub-committee on plastic and electronic waste management’s resolution in 2018, the committee resolved to fade out imports of plastic waste within two years.

In the first year, it would allow the import quota at 70,000 tons, 50,000 tons of this amount would be PET, and plastic producers were required to use up to 30% of recycled waste in the country in their productions.

The second-year should see the drop of plastic waste imports to 40,000 tons with an increasing proportion of the recycled waste in the productions to 60%. The last year, which is this year should see a net zero import of plastic waste.

The quotas issued would finish at the end of this month.

The Industrial Works Department had expressed support of the extension of plastic waste imports as it had presented the producers’ needs in the meeting early this month. The sub-committee then assigned the department to study the actual demands for recycled plastic waste in the productions as well as the actual needs for imports.

Calls for a ban on plastic waste imports

The EARTH Foundation and Greenpeace Thailand along with over 60 alliances have expressed strong opposition against the renewed attempt to extend the quotas.

They submitted their petition yesterday, demanding the sub-committee to ban imports of plastic waste and stick to its resolution in 2018.

The group said since China banned imports of plastic waste a few years ago following hazardous waste contamination in the environment, plastic waste has since surged elsewhere through unregulated and illegal imports.

In Thailand, it was found that nearly 553,000 tons was imported in 2018, compared to 69,500 tons imported in 2016, or equivalent to eight times of the 2016 amount, according to the EARTH’s monitoring.

During the fade-out period in late 2018 to 2020, the foundation has also found that there were imports of plastic waste that far exceeded the ceiling, from over 323,000 tons in 2019 and 96,724 during the first half of this year already.

”This reflects the weakness in the state quota’s control and regulation,” the group remarked.

The group demanded the sub-committtee to stop surveying plastic waste demands of the business operators. It said the government has given them time to prepare themselves for the fade-out already, and the limits should be followed as planned. Otherwise, it will affect the government’s roadmap towards the full course circular economy with 100% recycling in the country in the next twenty years, 2070.

According to the trash collectors association, upto 1.6 million tons of plastics is collected each year for recycling, far exceeding the needs expressed by the business operators.

Credit: The Trash Collectors Association

The government, it said, should help tackle the issue of low quality and contamination in plastic waste collected in the country, and this could be improved through the regulation based on the Extended Producer Responsibility principle in order to level up plastic waste collection standard in the country through business producers’ responsibilities.

Thailand at present has no specific law to regulate plastic waste. It’s estimated that upto 2 million tons of plastic waste is produced each year, while only 500,000 tons is recycled.

In addition, Thailand should ractify the international Basel Convention Band Amendment, which has classified plastic waste as a hazardous waste since last year, to improve its regulation and standards in plastic waste management in the country, the group called.

The source at the PCD, meanwhile, said the sub-committee’s meeting has not yet been scheduled.