Thailand cracks down on rising tide of illegal waste imports

Tighter checks to curb influx of plastic, e-waste after China's ban

BANGKOK • The authorities have tightened cargo inspection at Thailand's seaports in a bid to control illegal imports of plastic and electronic waste.

Sceptical environmentalists, however, say the special measures will only temporarily mitigate the problem. 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 that from now on, every container passing through Thailand's seaports would be inspected for smuggled plastic and electronic waste, while related agencies would work together on legal amendments to seal loopholes that allowed the import of hazardous waste.

The new, more stringent regulations were the latest effort by the Customs Department and the Industrial Works Department to suppress the illegal transboundary movement of hazardous waste in Thailand, Mr Kreecha said.

In the first five months of this year, 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 year 2018 were worth more than 1.344 billion baht (S$56 million), a three-fold increase when compared with the same period of fiscal year 2017.

About 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 drastic surge began last year as a result of the Chinese government's ban on the import of hazardous waste.

Mr Kreecha said the new cargo inspection measures would ensure that all containers were scanned with an X-ray scanner.

"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 that many shipments did not match the information on their Customs declaration forms.

But Ecological Alert and Recovery Thailand director Penchom Saetang said these regulations were only temporary measures and could not fully solve the problem, adding that "the global trend now is for hazardous wastes to move from richer countries to poorer countries".

Ms Penchom urged the National Council for Peace and Order to strengthen environmental laws and review and revise all signed free trade agreements.

THE NATION/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 15, 2018, with the headline 'Thailand cracks down on rising tide of illegal waste imports'. Print Edition | Subscribe