Complete ban on plastic waste imports from 2021

Thailand will ban all imports of plastic scrap and waste from 2021, the government said last week, noting that although it had announced a halt to those imports in June it will take two years before existing import licenses expire and the policy can be implemented without any exceptions.

Developed countries made Thailand and other countries in Southeast Asia prime destinations to ship their plastic and electronic waste when China banned those imports at the beginning of this year. Thailand and its neighbors, however, lack the capacity to dispose of that amount of waste in an environmentally friendly manner. As a result, much of it has been dumped into landfills and the oceans.

Policymakers and the public seemed to be unaware of the extent of the problem until early June when a pilot whale washed up and died on a southern Thai beach. Veterinarians concluded that the whale had starved to death after swallowing more than 80 plastic bags in the oceans. The bags clogged its digestive tract making it unable to consume actual food.

While Thailand has now firmly rejected accepting plastic and electronic waste from abroad, the country has also been struggling to cope with its own mounting plastic and electronic waste.

“We don’t have an efficient collection system for domestic waste,” said Rintawat Sombutsiri, director of industrial waste management in the Department of Industrial Works, said. “We need two years for our Pollution Control Department to set up a system for collecting plastic waste.”

As a result of increased awareness, both government and the private sector have been taking action, sometimes in collaboration. In the northeastern province of Khon Kaen, 22 fresh markets and department stores are taking part in a pilot project to reduce plastic bags and Styrofoam containers.

The venues have been giving out free cloth bags to customers who are then expected to use them whenever they patronize those establishments. The project has been successful enough that the provincial government plans to expand it to all 22 districts in the province in the near future.

Also, the Khon Kaen municipal government has committed to transition away from landfills and build a waste-to-energy power plant. The planned facility will be able to process as much as 600 tons of waste every day and produce six megawatts of power.