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Tidal Wave of Foreign Trash Hits Thailand

 Searching the housands of containers at Thai ports for illegal waste shipments is a monumental task. While there has been shipping along the Chao Phraya River for centuries, construction of Bangkok Port was started in 1938. Construction of Laem Chabang Port on Thailand's Eastern Seaboard, now much larger than Bangkok Port, was begun in 1987. (Photo by Guido Vanhaleweyk) Posted for media use.

Searching the housands of containers at Thai ports for illegal waste shipments is a monumental task. While there has been shipping along the Chao Phraya River for centuries, construction of Bangkok Port was started in 1938. Construction of Laem Chabang Port on Thailand’s Eastern Seaboard, now much larger than Bangkok Port, was begun in 1987. (Photo by Guido Vanhaleweyk) Posted for media use.

By Sunny Lewis

BANGKOK, Thailand, August 9, 2018 (Maximpact.com News) – Government officials in Thailand are struggling to limit a waste scandal after discovering a massive amount of plastic and electronic waste was imported to the Southeast Asian country this year, often illegally, by factories involved in recycling.

Thais have been shocked to learn that hundreds of thousands of tons of electronic waste has been shipped into the country since China decided to stop taking waste from wealthy countries at the end of 2017.

The waste scandal became public in late May after Thai police raided a waste management plant in Chachoengsao, east of Bangkok, after claims that hazardous waste smuggled from abroad was being burned at the facility.

Media reports show that untrained and unregistered migrant workers paid just 9,000 baht a month (US$272) were handling toxic items and burning electronic circuit boards, exposing themselves and the environment to heavy-metal contamination.

The Chinese owner of the plant was accused of importing potentially dangerous waste under false Customs declarations, the U.S. publication “The Nation” reported in a June 11 article. Foreigners were smuggling trash and declaring it as second-hand goods, police said.

The revelation led to other illegal waste sites being raided. Officials admitted they often had “no idea what kind of waste is toxic” or how to deal with it.

More than 210,000 metric tons of waste was found to have been imported from 35 countries in the first five months of this year, Thai police said.

Fears that Thailand – or “Trashland” as some cynics have labeled it – could become the new dumping ground for the world’s electronic waste. That spurred concern about the long-term toxic hazards from waste piled up at e-waste dumps.

The world is generating more e-waste than ever. Frost & Sullivan’s recent analysis, “Global Waste Recycling Market Outlook, 2018,” reveals that close to 48.2 million tonnes of eWaste was generated in 2017, of which only 20 to 25 percent was documented to be collected and recycled. The remaining waste was either landfilled or disposed of unsafely or illegally in countries like Thailand.

This scenario is likely to persist in the absence of stringent regulations, closed-loop supply chains, and greater producer responsibility. China made a market-altering decision when it announced a ban on the import of 24 categories of recyclables and solid waste by the end of 2017.

This decision will force the world’s biggest waste importers, which include the UK, the US, Europe, and Japan, to build new recycling infrastructure in their own facilities or look to other Southeast Asian countries for waste management.

On June 1, four containers packed with plastic waste were found in eastern Bangkok. By the third week of June, nearly 20 illegal waste sites had been raided and there was speculation that legal changes brought in by the military government had opened the door to the “surge in foreign trash,” because such facilities could now be set up anywhere regardless of an area’s zoning.

A representative from Greenpeace said, “Electronic waste (e-waste) can be used as fuel in waste incinerators, as well as unrecyclable plastic. This order has eased restrictions for incinerators and waste factories.”

The NGO ReReef Thailand, which wants to build a business case for sustainability based on the vulnerabilities of the country’s coral reefs, said, “The substance never disappears … Since the beginning of plastic production, about 60 years ago, 6.3 billion tons of plastic never really gone. Less than 10 percent of recycled materials mean that more than five billion tons of plastic has become waste in the environment. It has become one of the most important environmental crises of this era.”

Concerned about the scale of the problem, and media reports that perhaps that national politicians had been involved in the illegal trade in waste, Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan said there may no longer be imports of foreign waste to Thailand.

The licenses of five importers were suspended after they were found to have hired illegal factories to recycle waste.

Interior Minister Anupong Paochinda said the government will establish a multi-agency panel to work out how to regulate garbage from other countries. “It’s not just e-waste but also other types of garbage,” he said. “If the trash does not benefit the country and causes negative impact and burdens, we won’t allow it to be imported.”

Meanwhile, about 400 containers thought to contain electronic waste, plastic and discarded metal are now sitting abandoned at ports in Bangkok and Laem Chabang. Customs officials have warned that if they are not claimed within 15 days, they will dispose of these containers and their contents or send them back to where they came from – countries such as the United States, Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong and China.

All of this disruption has triggered a warning from a U.S. environmental group that the experience Thailand has gone through could happen to many countries in South and Southeast Asia.

Basel Ban Amendment Close to Becoming Law

The Seattle-based NGO Basel Action Network said Monday that developing countries could be “hit by a tidal wave of electronic and plastic waste” if they don’t move to ban the import of such waste by ratifying an international agreement called the Basel Ban Amendment.

This change to the Basel Convention, an existing treaty agreed by 194 countries, would make it illegal to export hazardous and electronic waste from developed countries such as those in the European Union to poorer states.

The Basel Action Network says most e-waste from North America and Europe is exported to Asia – to Hong Kong, and increasingly to Thailand and Pakistan.

“Brunei, China, Indonesia, Malaysia and Sri Lanka have ratified the agreement, but Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Laos, Myanmar, Pakistan, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam have not,” said the Basel Action Network in a statement.

“It is especially ironic that while the Thai government is rightly very concerned about the dumping on their territory, they have not made a move as yet to ratify the Ban Amendment. The Ban Amendment is but three ratifications short of going into the force of international law.”

New Technology Could Relieve Waste Burden

“The waste recycling market, like its end-user industries, is experiencing disruptive changes due to the advent of advanced digital technologies,” said Deepthi Kumar Sugumar, Frost & Sullivan research analyst. For example, smart waste bins with Internet of Things (IoT) capabilities will play a significant role in changing the way waste is collected and sorted.”

Using an ultrasonic sensor, an Internet of Things system gives a real time indicator of the garbage level in any trash can at any given moment. Using that data garbage companies can then optimize waste collection routes to reduce fuel consumption.

“Similarly, the rise of 3D printing technologies has made it much easier to recycle plastic waste. Many industries are turning plastics into high-quality filaments to replace spares, lowering the need for re-manufacturing,” said Sugumar.

Although technology has improved waste management considerably, market participants using these technologies will be challenged to convince industries employing conventional methods to switch to modern systems. They need to be made aware of the role novel recycling systems can play in enabling a circular economy, said Sugumar.

Meanwhile, the use of cutting-edge technologies is giving rise to innovative business models such as commercial waste collection zones. These models allow haulers to invest in infrastructure improvement and introduce inventive methods for minicipal solid waste collection.

By optimizing waste collection routes, combining real-time data, and employing data-related technologies such as predictive analytics, it will be possible to eliminate the unplanned dispatch of vehicles to collect waste.

“Another important technology that could have far-reaching consequences for the waste management market is augmented reality (AR),” observed Sugumar. “AR can help any manufacturer make informed decisions to prevent waste in the first place. Though AR is still evolving, it will change the way waste reduction and management is conducted in the future.”

Featured Images: Trash at the Nonthaburi landfill, Bangkok, Thailand, February 4, 2014 (Photo by Thibaud Saintin) Creative Commons license via Flickr


Shipbreaking Moves Off the Beach

ShipbreakingWorkers

SEATTLE, Washington, October 14, 2015 (Maximpact News) – A protest by the environmental justice organization Basel Action Network (BAN) over an obsolete ship owned by Matson, Inc. being sent to a shipbreaker in India, prompted the shipping company to stop scrapping its vessels on the beaches of India, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

“Because of concerns with recycling practices in South Asia, Matson has decided to expressly prohibit recycling of its vessels in this region going forward,” the company said in a statement last month.

Founded in 1882, Matson provides ships goods Pacific-wide, mainly between the Hawaiian islands and the West Coast of North America. The company’s decision affects 23 vessels that will be scrapped over the next few years.

Shipbreaking companies in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh operate under dangerous and polluting conditions. Workers labor on tidal sands to cut ships by hand. They breathe in toxic fumes and asbestos, and fall victim to explosions and accidental crushing. And these crude practices pollute the beaches where the shipbreaking takes place.

According to the International Federation for Human Rights, children under the age of 15 make up nearly 20 percent of the shipbreaking workforce in Bangladesh. (see report here)

In September there was an accident on the notorious shipbreaking beach at Chittagong that killed four workers. Five other workers were killed in July, and over 200 deaths have been documented over the past five years.

“Ship owners today can no longer claim ignorance,” said Colby Self, the Green Ship Recycling director at BAN, which is based in Seattle. “They know very well the environmental and human health impacts of their ship recycling decisions, which for too long have been ignored to maximize profits.”

“Matson’s off-the-beach commitment reflects a level of corporate leadership which we hope will be echoed by other U.S. shipping companies,” said Self.

In fact, Matson’s decision is part of a growing awareness among shipping companies of the dangers of on-the-beach shipbreaking and a shift in values toward safer, less toxic ship recycling practices.

The Norwegian Shipowners’ Association and its 160 members recently voted not to permit Norwegian-owned ships to be scrapped on South Asian beaches.

Other large ship owners that have also adopted more responsible ship recycling policies include German Hapag-Lloyd, Danish Maersk Line, Royal Dutch Boskalis, Canadian CSL Group, and the Singaporean China Navigation Company.

dismantling on a beach in Bangladesh_

Globally, 1,026 ships were dismantled in 2014.

A total of 641 ships, or 74 percent of the total gross tonnage of dismantled ships, were scrapped in the beach shipbreaking yards of India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, according to the NGO Shipbreaking Platform, based in Brussels.

Ships contain both valuable and toxic materials. Old ships are a source of valuable scrap steel for construction industries. In addition, obsolete ships contain aluminum, copper, silver and brass.

But there are toxics in the old ships too: lead; mercury; asbestos; oil sludge; polychlorinated biphenyls; biocidal anti-fouling paint such as tributyltin; bilge water containing oil, urine, detergents and solvents; and ballast water that can contain tiny animals, plants, viruses, and bacteria.

There are greener ways to dismantle ships that keep these toxics out of the environment while recycling the valuable components.

For example, the Scrap Metal Services subsidiary All Star Metals ship recycling facility in Brownsville, Texas has been operating as a licensed ship recycling, metal processing, and environmental remediation contractor since 2003. The company handles such old vessels as the USS Forrestal, the U.S. Navy’s first supercarrier, commissioned in 1955 but now ready for scrapping.

Jacob Sterling, global head of Environment and Corporate Social Responsibility at Maersk Line, the world’s largest container shipping company, is part of the growing consensus that is moving the shipping industry toward greener recycling.

Writing in the publication “gCaptain” last month, Sterling said, “The vast majority of ships are taken to India, Pakistan or Bangladesh to be scrapped on the beach. There is something quite wrong with that. People in flip flops on beaches are OK. But people on beaches wearing flip flops and no safety gear while taking apart massive cargo ships with hand tools is simply wrong.”

Sterling wrote, “NGOs argue that beaching must end now. We agree. In Maersk Line we have a policy on responsible ship recycling. Since 2006, we have recycled 23 ships responsibly, and we have sent none to the beach.”

But he says private corporations need government support to make this shift. “We really don’t think that the issue of unsafe and unsustainable beaching is well addressed by private companies alone,” Sterling wrote.

He says the real answer is global regulation that raises the legally acceptable minimum standard for ship recycling.

In 2009, the Hong Kong Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships was adopted. Yet in 2013, only two countries have ratified it, Sterling points out.

“The Hong Kong Convention is not perfect, actually it doesn’t ban beaching, it just makes it a lot harder to scrap ships this way,” wrote Sterling. “But it is the best we have, and if it entered into force, it could be improved over time. So we need more countries to ratify the convention.”

Even before the convention enters into force, it is influencing some South Asian shipbreaking operations to dismantle ships more responsibly.

The Japan-based ship classification company Nippon Kaiji Kyokai, known as ClassNK, has just issued Statements of Compliance (SoC) to two ship recycling facilities in Gujarat, India – the R.L. Kalthia Ship Breaking Pvt. Ltd. and Priya Blue Industries Pvt. Ltd.

The SoCs verify that these two facilities are in line with the Hong Kong Convention.

Although the convention has yet to enter into force, ClassNK said in a statement September 29 that “Kalthia and Priya Blue have both carried out substantial improvements to their facilities in a bid toward safer and greener ship recycling as well as developed the Ship Recycling Facility Plans required for a competent authority’s certification” under the convention.

ScrapMetalCrane


Award-winning journalist Sunny Lewis is founding editor in chief of the Environment News Service (ENS), the original daily wire service of the environment, publishing since 1990.


 

Featured image: Jafrabad Chittagong shipbreaking via Wikimedia Commons
Image 01: Shipbreaking workers on a beach in Bangladesh, 2011 (Photo courtesy International Maritime Organization via Flickr)
Image 02: Ships lined up for dismantling on a beach in Bangladesh, 2011 (Photo courtesy International Maritime Organization via Flickr)
Image 03: Crane dismantles an obsolete ship at the Scrap Metal Services subsidiary All Star Metals ship recycling facility in Brownsville, Texas (Photo courtesy Scrap Metal Services)