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‘Recycling’ brings to mind an intensive process where used plastic, metal and paper is cleaned and re-purposed. But a great deal of apparently recyclable rubbish often ends up being dumped in countries across Southeast Asia.
The region became a market of choice for waste exporters in 2017 after China announced strict restrictions on imports of certain types of solid waste, as well as shipments of material contaminated with items that cannot be reprocessed. Waste and scrap exports from countries including the US, UK, France, Canada and Australia are now directed to Southeast Asian countries. Incoming material is seldom salvaged or recycled – it usually goes straight into unmanaged landfill or is incinerated, polluting the air and waterways and imperiling the health of both people and wildlife.
Now there are signs that countries in the region have had enough. Earlier this month Indonesia declared it will send 210 tons of unsorted hazardous material back to Australia. In May Malaysia rejected 3,000 tons of imported rubbish. And the Philippine government sent 69 containers of mixed household and electrical waste from Canada that had festered in port for five years.
We’ll look at the impact that an avalanche of waste is having on communities across Southeast Asia and ask what’s needed worldwide to deal more ethically and responsibly with the rubbish we leave behind.
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