Southeast Asia still a magnet for illicit waste shipments - UN report

Malaysia ranked fourth as the main plastic waste importers globally with the total volume of more than 2.6 million tonnes between 2018 and 2022.

07 Apr 2024 07:06pm
Photo for illustration purpose only. - Photo by AFP
Photo for illustration purpose only. - Photo by AFP

KUALA LUMPUR - Southeast Asia remains a significant destination for illicit waste shipments, with Europe, North America, and Asia identified as the primary regions of origin, according to a new United Nations (UN) report.

The report titled "Turning the Tide: A Look Into the European Union-to-Southeast Asia Waste Trafficking Wave” highlights that illegal waste is being diverted to countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam, posing a significant challenge to the region.

In a statement, UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said key types of waste trafficked include plastic, e-waste, metal, and paper, with mixed materials, textiles, vehicle parts, industrial, and medical waste also frequently encountered.

"Upon arrival at destination, take-back or repatriation procedures are a major challenge as shipments often cannot be traced to their countries of origin. Abandoned or unclaimed containers at ports exacerbate the issue, further complicating enforcement and investigation efforts. As a result, most waste ends up in illegal landfills, the ocean, or burnt in the open.” it said.

UNODC Regional Representative for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, Masood Karimipour said waste management has become an increasingly pressing concern in which production, consumption habits, waste crime, waste trafficking, corruption, organised crime, money laundering, and the circular economy are intertwined.

"The crime of waste trafficking is taking away the value that legal, well-regulated waste trade brings to sustainable economies,” he said.

Produced by UNODC and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the first-ever mapping of waste trafficking trends from Europe to Southeast Asia has been published in Bangkok.

The report is a flagship within a series of publications that explore corruption, cybercrime, and legal loopholes as causes behind the problem. It is part of a comprehensive project (Unwaste) to address waste trafficking and its impact on the global circular economy.

The new research sheds light on how criminal actors exploit legal trade and regulatory and enforcement loopholes for financial gain. It also explores the negative impact this crime has on the global circular economy.

Meanwhile, the report said Malaysia ranked fourth as the main plastic waste importers globally with the total volume of more than 2.6 million tonnes between 2018 and 2022.

The highest volume of waste imported by Malaysia between 2017 and 2021 was ferrous waste (6.4 million tonnes), followed by paper and paperboard (4.02 million tonnes).

United States, Japan and Australia were the top exporters of waste to Malaysia between 2017 and 2021 while the European Union Member States (EU27) collectively exported 1.8 million tonnes of waste to Malaysia, making them the third-largest exporter of waste to the country.

"The primary types of waste exported from Europe were plastic (44 per cent), paper (34 per cent) and ferrous waste (12 per cent).

"The types of non-hazardous waste illegally imported into the country included plastic waste, metal scrap, wastepaper, steel scrap, aluminium scrap and e-waste.

"Authorities reported false declarations and no import permits (or general noncompliance with import regulations) as the primary tactics used to import illegal waste. Illegal imports occurred via sea routes,” the report said. - BERNAMA

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