India follows China’s direct, bans plastic waste imports

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Another door has shut for Western nations hoping to dump their garbage overseas. Maybe it’s time for another version?

It was around a year since China prohibited imports of foreign plastic waste, and today India has followed in its footsteps. Effective March 1, all imports of foreign solid plastic waste and garbage have been prohibited. The transfer is intended to “close the gap between waste generation and recycling capacity,” and also to keep the nation on track for its aim to phase out all single-use plastics by 2020. India generates almost 26,000 heaps of plastic waste daily and an estimated 40 percentage of that remains uncollected, as a result of inadequate recycling facilities, therefore it seems sensible that the country barely requires more inputs.

There were some prohibitions in place, limiting plastic imports to companies in Special Economic Zones (SEZs), while allowing certain businesses to secure resources from overseas. But as the Economic Times reported, “The provision of partial ban was misused by many companies on the pretext of being in an SEZ.”

India had started taking in higher quantities of plastic following China’s ban, however that will shift into other, less regulated countries in southeast Asia, including Thailand, Vietnam, and Malaysia. All of these have experienced a drastic increase in plastics imports in the previous calendar year. The Independent said that Malaysia is currently receiving three times the garbage it used to, Vietnam’s imports have increased 50 percentage, and the quantity of Thailand has become fifty-fold.

“After China’s announcement that it would no longer accept ‘foreign garbage’, environment secretary Michael Gove said the UK had to ‘stop offshoring our dirt’ and deal with its plastic waste at home. But at the time, India was mentioned as one destination for plastic rubbish as a ‘short term’ alternative destination to China.”

Clearly that short-term solution has come to a conclusion — also the Western nations that are used to shipping their waste to distant corners of the Earth seem no nearer to managing the detritus of their lives. For the time being Malaysia, Vietnam, and Thailand seem content to continue receiving it (though that posture is chiefly official, and being contested by enraged citizens whose health and wellbeing are being influenced by the increased pollution), however that is not going to continue.

I maintain that the United States, Canada, and Europe will not rethink their packaging and consumption fashions until “there is no away,” nowhere to ship crap to be out of sight and out of mind. Once we have been made to live with our garbage and find innovative ways to recycle and reuse it, this unsustainable cycle of using and dumping on more loosely-regulated nations will come to a conclusion.

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