Large trash exporters like the US, UK and Japan have increased their reliance on Thailand after China ended almost all plastic junk imports in January.
Thailand already has a chronic problem with single-use plastics and the subsequent detritus that covers beaches and chokes sea life.
A dead whale found on a Thai beach in June was recently found to have ingested more than 7.7kg of plastic bags.
Vietnam and Malaysia have already ended imports. Banjong Sukreeta, deputy director of the Thai department of industrial works, said the ban would take two years to enforce.
Vanden Recycling managing director David Wilson said more investment was needed in European recycling infrastructure.
Wilson said: “What’s got restricted is not the trade in materials, it’s the trade in scrap. It’s very difficult to ship scrap or post-industrial scrap to Asia.
“What’s really easy to ship to Asia is reprocessed pellets. The underlying material is still wanted by Asia, it just doesn’t want the scrap.
“It seems as though the reprocessing of scrap in Europe will happen much closer to home and we will export that high-quality material to Asia and, to some extent, that is already starting to happen.”
Greenpeace said the UK’s plastic waste exports had dropped from 198,557 tonnes in the first four months of last year to 165,104 tonnes over the same period in 2018.
But the environmental group said the UK was now focusing its rubbish imports in Thailand. It sent 123 tonnes of plastic junk to Thailand from January to April last year and 6,810 tonnes over the same period in 2018.
Thailand has seen a public outcry over importers flouting regulations and sending contaminated plastic for processing.
Adina Renee Adler of the US Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries told the media: “We support the Thai government’s efforts to enhance responsible recycling within Thailand and offer our help in that endeavour so that, in the long-term, Thailand can reap the environmental and economic benefits of recycling all materials, including plastics.”
Greenpeace’s oceans campaigner in the UK Elena Polisano explained: “More and more countries are having enough of being used as dumping grounds for our plastic waste. This is becoming a global game of pass-the-parcel where the last country gets all the plastic packaging and a nasty surprise.
“Britain should stop shipping off its plastic scrap thousands of miles away and instead tackle the problem at home by cutting the amount of throwaway plastic being produced.”
Thai vendors use numerous plastic bags per customer. Picture credit: Wikimedia