Do you ever wonder what happens to your recyclable waste? Are your efforts to safeguard the environment genuinely making a difference in the long-term survival of our planet?
The recycling business has long been linked to environmental protection and the transition to a greener future. Indeed, at Enviro Skip Hire, we are enthusiastic about recycling. We are continuously investing in novel strategies to divert as much waste from landfills as possible.
However, a dark side to the sector has emerged in recent years due to a significant shift in the worldwide recycling ecology. Thousands of tonnes of illegally imported rubbish from wealthier nations are dumped in the backyards of poorer countries—and it takes years for it to be returned.
In many cases, the rubbish has been mislabelled as “recyclable” before being delivered to nations that only find out how little they can truly recycle after it arrives. So far, there hasn’t been much in the way of a solution.
Here are five shocking places you did not know our recyclables ended up:
The U.K. Gets Gruesome Medical Waste Back From Sri Lanka
In 2020, Sri Lanka successfully returned the last of 263 containers of illegal rubbish to the United Kingdom, more than three years after they arrived. It was labelled as old mattresses, carpets, and rugs that they may recycle.
While the containers did contain the declared recyclable materials, they also stuffed them with medical waste, and they could uncover no documentation of the importer’s recycling capabilities.
The rubbish might be returned since it violated the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal.
After agreeing to recall the unlawful rubbish, the Environment Agency of the United Kingdom stated, “The United Kingdom is dedicated to combating illicit waste exports. Individuals caught exporting mislabeled waste face a two-year prison sentence and an unlimited fine.”
The key trigger for the spike in so many importers receiving the world’s waste with open arms appears to be simply that the previous prominent player pulled out of the game.
Tunisia’s Unwanted Gift from Italy
One such instance was an effort to unload 200 cargo containers of unauthorised rubbish from Italy into Tunisia.
Residents of Serre, a village in southern Italy, are enraged that the boatload of rubbish has arrived back on their shores after Tunisia finally returned it.
The fate of the 6,000 tonnes of rubbish held up at Tunisian customs for two years because it was mislabelled as recycling when it contained household and medical waste remains unknown. It is presently located in the Italian town of Persano, near a nature reserve.
The international transaction was arranged by the Italian waste treatment business Sviluppo Risorse Ambientali (S.R.A), which has resulted in a series of corruption charges against Tunisian customs officers and former environment minister Mustapha Aroui.
Serre Mayor Franco Mannella, who backs citizens’ nonviolent protests, stated, “We don’t want the garbage, and we’ll fight it.”
While the rubbish is causing issues for the innocent Italians forced to live with it, the tale is a triumph for Tunisia, which effectively barred its entry. Unfortunately, many “recyclable” waste cases go well beyond customs.
The Philippines Sends Back Trash To Canada
The Philippines sent tonnes of rubbish back to Canada in 2019 after a weeks-long diplomatic spat that saw President Rodrigo Duterte threaten to “sail to Canada and dump their garbage there”.
The Philippines says the rubbish was falsely labelled as plastic recycling when sent to Manila in 2014.
Canada has agreed to cover the total cost of its transfer and disposal. They sent some 69 containers of refuse back in a cargo vessel that set sail from Subic Bay, north of Manila, back to the Canadian city of Vancouver to be treated at a waste-to-energy facility there.
Malaysia’s Plastic Dumping Ground
Major dumpsites in Indonesia have also received illegally imported rubbish from Malaysia.
Corrupt firms in Malaysia have been importing rubbish and burning it in populated areas, causing extremely severe health and safety issues for people who have complained of headaches, tiredness, breathing difficulties, and skin irritations.
The country has swiftly become the world’s largest importer of plastic waste. Yet, it is so cluttered and polluted that only around 30% of it is usable.
According to Resource Recycling, the quantity of plastic shipped into Malaysia from the United States nearly quadrupled in 2018.
“America and other affluent nations are moving their rubbish to Malaysia and other countries,” Greenpeace Malaysia campaigner Heng Kiah Chun stated. “Southeast Asia should not be the world’s garbage dump.”
Malaysian officials have begun to act, closing down more than 130 illicit plastic “recycling” businesses, drafting new legislation, and calling for demonstrations.
China Bans Recycling Imports
China declared in January 2018 that it would no longer import 24 types of waste, leaving the market wide open for other nations that aren’t as equipped to process it.
Waste from the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Japan, and Australia has subsequently been routed to other South Asian countries, realising the magnitude of the problem.
China’s withdrawal was motivated by decreasing commodity prices, rising labour costs, and environmental concerns shared by Tunisia, Malaysia, and Sri Lanka.
Plastic China, a 2014 documentary film, is also claimed to have had a role in the country’s shifting views toward importing foreign recycling.
Empty shipping containers are another major contributor to high levels of waste exports. When they imported products into the West from Asia, it made economic sense to maximise the return voyage. With few exports heading that way, waste was the apparent answer.
However, it creates a significant blind area for customs authorities and regulators who are already trying to police such vast operations.
The habit of wealthy countries exporting rubbish to underdeveloped nations in search of other sources of money is out of control.
Primary sources of illegally dumped plastic waste are frequently easy to identify. Just glance at the brightly coloured brands that probably wish they weren’t so easily identifiable.
In a legal sense, the ones to blame are importers seeking quick cash but without the resources to recycle appropriately and exporters, ignorant or prepared to turn a blind eye to receive the rubbish cheaply.
Aside from the people who live in the impacted regions, this behaviour severely undermines individuals’ efforts to separate and clean their recyclable material. People expect their recyclable resources to be put to good use rather than being exploited as a ruse to build even more landfills elsewhere.
Exporting recyclables is merely a band-aid solution. Wealthy nations must work on recycling and reuse for waste so that underdeveloped countries do not foot the tab.
You should contact Enviro Skip Hire if you’re interested in hiring a skip in Macclesfield. All waste collected by Enviro Skip Hire Ltd is first taken to one of our two fully licensed recycling facilities to be sorted into recyclables and non-recyclables. In addition to this, we welcome customers to come and tip their waste with us at one of our two sites to ensure the safe and secure disposal of your rubbish.
We can assist you in transporting your rubbish to the closest scrap yard. We also provide a service to our commercial clients to encourage recycling in the workplace. If you require information on this, contact us using the contact form or call us at 01270 820 426.