Why poor countries import record amounts of plastic trash from the Netherlands, every year
A new report by the Plastic Soup Foundation released this week revealed that The Netherlands ships a record amount of plastic trash to other countries, mostly outside of the OESO economic zone. These poor countries receive money for taking this trash. According to the Plastic Soup Foundation this is a version of Neocolonialism. But why do these countries accept the trash?
Contrary to what many people think, most countries do not process their own plastic trash. Less than 10% of the seven billion tonnes of plastic waste that we have produced globally has ever been recycled. Millions of tonnes of plastic garbage is dumped or burned in landfills every year, or are transported thousands of kilometers. The United States and Japan are the only bigger exporters of plastic trash to countries like Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia than The Netherlands.
The international trade in plastic waste is a very complex web of regulations and companies. A plastic trash bale might be bought and sold multiple times before it ends up in its destination country. ‘The export of this trash gives rich countries an easy way to get rid of their excess plastic.’ (Usually a group of very hard to recycle plastics. Red. ) Says Jurjen de Waal, Campaign Manager at the Plastic Soup Foundation. Until 2018 China was the main destination for almost all of our plastic trash in bulk. But the People’s Republic of China put an end to this import of plastic waste. This left other countries with a problem. Where to go with our trash?
‘A big issue is the fact that these plastics on paper are meant for recycling, something countries like Indonesia and Vietnam often can’t do. We can’t control whether it actually happens’. But why do countries take the trash if they are not equipped enough to process it? ‘International agreements state that countries actually can only refuse waste if it is of low quality. Sadly the UN COMTRADEdoes not contain any information on whether a country has denied or still accepts waste despite it being unrecyclable.’ Reason for doing so is the money impulse. The Netherlands doesn’t just export its own waste. Its ports form an important player in the waste management of multiple European countries.
The plastic soup Foundation report calls the shipment of plastic trash to OESO countries a Neo-colonial scandal. ‘It’s not a direct version of influence in countries like Vietnam, but rather the fact that these wealthy countries pass on the negative effects of their welfare onto vulnerable communities in these countries’ The fact that Indonesia is one of these countries in the Dutch export is extra painful because of its colonial ties to it. Jurjen stresses that these countries in South East Asia do not, and wil not, have a big enough processing capacity to ever process the amount of plastic they currently import. ‘The export of plastic waste to these countries should therefore be illegal. Its on us ourselfs to figure out a way to handle our own trash.’