BANGKOK (THE NATION/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The authorities have tightened cargo inspection at Thailand's seaports in a bid to control illegal imports of plastic and electronic waste.
Environmentalists, however, were sceptical and saw the special measures as only temporarily mitigating the problem while the issue of the smuggling of hazardous waste has caught the public interest. They believe once public scrutiny is relaxed, the influx of hazardous waste into the country will begin again.
Customs Department deputy spokesman Kreecha Kerdsriphan said on Wednesday (June 13) that from now on every container passing through Thailand's seaports would be inspected for smuggled plastic and electronic waste or any wrongdoing, while related agencies would work together on legal amendments to seal loopholes that allowed the import of hazardous waste into the country.
The new, more stringent regulations were the latest effort by the Customs Department and the Industrial Works Department to work together in suppressing the illegal transboundary movement of hazardous wastes in Thailand, Mr Kerdsriphan said.
Customs Department data revealed a sharp increase this year in the quantity of imported plastic and electronic parts. In the first five months of 2018, imported plastic waste was already double the total plastic waste imported last year, while the import of electronic parts this year also showed an increasing trend.
Total plastic waste imports in the first seven months of fiscal 2018 were worth more than 1.344 billion baht (S$56 million), a three-fold increase when compared to the same period of fiscal 2017; 43 per cent of the plastic waste came from Japan, while 14 per cent was from the United States, and 11 per cent from Hong Kong.
The Customs Department data also revealed an increasing trend in the amount of electronic waste imported since 2014, while the drastic surge of hazardous waste imports began in 2017 as a result of the Chinese government's ban on the import of hazardous wastes.
Mr Kerdsriphan said that the new cargo inspection measures would ensure that all containers were scanned with an X-ray scanner, while the officers of Customs Department and Industrial Works Department would together open and inspect suspicious containers.
"If the officers detect any illegal import of electronic waste or plastic waste, these hazardous wastes will be reverted to the port of dispatch at the expense of the importer," he said.
The shipments of used plastics and electronic parts, which can be legally imported to Thailand with an approval licence, are the main targets for inspection, as it was found in many previous cases that many of these cargos were wrongly declared to the Customs offices and many imported shipments did not match the information in their Customs declaration forms, Mr Kerdsriphan said.
He also stressed that companies found guilty in any case would have their licences revoked. "In order to perform joint inspection operation, the Industrial Works Department would dispatch their officers to permanently staff seaports that have a large amount of hazardous waste imports," he said.
Despite the stricter regulations being enforced to deal with the import of illegal hazardous wastes, Ecological Alert and Recovery Thailand director Penchom Saetang said these regulations were only temporary measures and could not fully solve the problem.
"There are many supportive factors at both the international and domestic levels that contribute to this problem, as the global trend now is for hazardous wastes to move from richer countries to poorer countries," Ms Saetang said.
She urged the National Council for Peace and Order to strengthen environmental laws and review and revise all signed free trade agreements that Thailand has joined to stop the flow of hazardous waste from trade agreements.