Technology & Science

Indonesia is latest Asian country planning to return North American waste

Indonesia has sent back a consignment of Canadian paper waste, imported via the United States, because it was contaminated with material including plastic, rubber and diapers, the environment ministry said.

Canada exports much of its plastic waste to U.S., at which point tracking stops

Recyclers rummage through a pile of garbage to look for reusable items at a landfill in Tangerang on the outskirts of Indonesia's largest city, Jakarta, in 2018. The government says it is returning waste from its second-largest city, Surabaya. (Tatan Syuflana/Associated Press)

Indonesia has sent back a consignment of Canadian paper waste, imported via the United States, because it was contaminated with material including plastic, rubber and diapers, the environment ministry said.

Indonesia is the latest Southeast Asian country to send back trash amid a spike in imports from Western countries after China banned imports, disrupting the global flow of millions of tonnes of waste each year.

Environment ministry official Sayid Muhadhar said by telephone that five containers, or about 100 tonnes, of waste had been sent back to Seattle from Indonesia's second-biggest city of Surabaya.

"This is very simple. Indonesia does not allow imports of trash," Muhadhar said.

"In Surabaya, what happened was we were supposed to get paper scrap, but instead it came with other materials such as plastic bags, rubber, plastic bottles, plastic pouches from cooking oil and soap," Muhadhar said

The ministry did not name the company that had exported the waste, but said it was the first time in around five years that scrap had been re-exported.

"It's been happening more because China has shut down its recycling facilities, so other countries have to look for new places," said Muhadhar.

Philippines, Malaysia also balked

Last month, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte ordered his government to hire a private shipping company to send 69 containers of garbage back to Canada and leave them within Canadian territorial waters if the country refused to accept them.

Malaysia also said recently it would send as much as 3,000 tonnes of plastic waste back to the countries it came from.

Ottawa has said no permits have been issued to Canadian companies to ship trash overseas since regulations changed three years ago, but waste is still ending up on the shores of Asian nations. Canada introduced new regulations in 2016 requiring exporters to get permits to ship waste other countries would consider hazardous, including trash.

Canadians produce 3.25 million tonnes of plastic waste each year. Less than 10 per cent of the plastics Canadian toss out are diverted from landfills, and not all of what is diverted is actually recycled.

Statistics Canada has reported that the country exported 44,800 tonnes of plastic waste in 2018, much of it to the United States. Once waste goes to the U.S. it is not tracked to determine what happens to it in the end.

With files from The Canadian Press

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