Despite the Thai government’s ban on four more types of single-use plastics in 2022, up to 250,000 tonnes of imported plastic waste from other nations continues to flow into the country annually through the international plastic waste trade.

by Pratch Rujivanarom

Thailand is trying to stay the course with further efforts to mitigate plastic pollution, but there are still challenges in waste sorting and collection on the ground.

In 2019, the Thai Cabinet also approved the Roadmap on Plastic Waste Management for the period 2020 to 2030 as the policy framework for related agencies to work on in pursuit of the targets. This includes a ban on seven types of single-use plastics and to completely recycle domestic plastic waste within the designated time frames in the roadmap.

Easiest to accomplish, the goal to ban three types of single-use plastics – plastic bottle cap seals, oxo-degradable plastics, and plastic microbeads – by the end of 2019 have already been achieved.

The plastic industry has long said that recycling is the solution to reducing waste. But in Thailand, where much of the world’s plastic refuse currently ends up, it’s created a new set of intractable problems

Plastic waste imports has been a controversial issue in Thailand since 2017 when China, the main importer of plastic waste at that time, passed laws to ban the import of 24 types of plastic waste into their country. Because of this plastic waste import ban, the wave of plastic trash from wealthy countries instead came pouring into Southeastern Asian countries, including Thailand.

According to Customs Department statistics, the amount of imported plastic waste in 2018 jumped to more than 500,000 tonnes, 10 times higher than the average amount of plastic waste imported before 2015 at around 56,000 tonnes per year. Due to the significant jump on the amount of imported plastic waste, the subcommittee to oversee the integrated management of electronic and plastic waste ruled out the resolution to ban the plastic waste import by September 2020.

Yet, the imported plastic waste continued to flow into the country in the following years and beyond this deadline, as the Customs Department’s statistics showed that from 2017 to 2020, the total amount of imported plastic waste reached more than 1 million tonnes, while during the first five months of 2021, over 58,000 tonnes of plastic waste were shipped to Thailand.

This continuation of plastic waste trade into Thailand was a result of the policy revision by the subcommittee to extend the original deadline by slowly reducing the amount of plastic waste imports by 20% every year until completely banned in 2026, as it cited the reason that the country’s plastic recycling industry still requires up to 685,190 tonnes of imported plastic scraps annually. Due to this, environmental activists and local plastic waste collector businesses have once again staged a campaign to immediately put an end to plastic waste imports within this year.

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