Customs refuses entry for 12,000 tons of plastic and e-waste

Thailand doesn’t want anyone’s garbage. The Customs Department is taking a pro-environment stand by refusing to permit the import of over 12,000 tons of plastic and electronic waste, while Dow Chemical and Thailand’s SCG announced a joint venture last week to recycle plastic waste into asphalt to build roads.

Customs Department Spokesman Chaiyut Khamkhun said that 600 containers holding the 12,000 tons of waste would be ‘redirected.’ While he did not clarify the statement, much of it will probably be shipped back to its countries of origin. Chaiyut said the companies that were trying to import that waste had failed to fill out the necessary paperwork in time. Some may have already been shut down in a government crackdown on firms mishandling waste.

Last month, Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon said the government was considering a total ban on the import of electronic and hazardous waste. The idea followed an outcry after police discovered dumping grounds filled with electronic and other garbage that had not been disposed of properly and posed a threat to the environment and public health.

Also last month, the death of a pilot whale that washed up on a southern Thai beach raised a similar outcry. Doctors examined the whale and found it died of starvation because it could no longer swallow food: its digestive system was clogged with 80 plastic bags and other plastic waste it had consumed in the oceans.

Thailand has become a destination for plastic and other waste after China banned their import earlier this year. Until recent events, however, neither government officials nor the general public appeared to be aware of the scale and seriousness of the problem.

The Customs Department said that Thailand imported 161,000 tons of plastic waste in 2017, but that shot up to 313,000 tons between January and May of this year.

Despite the redirection of the 600 containers, another 675 containers of plastic and electronic waste are still sitting in Thai ports, most of it at Laem Chabang on the Eastern Seaboard, and the importing companies still have time to clear Customs, so the fate of those containers remains uncertain.

Some in the private sector, however, are taking a pro-active approach to address the problems. Recently, SCG, the Thai conglomerate that is the leading building and construction materials firm in ASEAN (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations) announced a joint venture with Dow Chemical of the United States to recycle plastic and use it as an ingredient for a new type of asphalt to pave roads.

“This recycled plastic–based road innovation is environmentally friendly and will genuinely improve people’s quality of life,’’ said SCG CEO Roongrote Rangsiyopash.