China’s recent ban on imports of plastic waste has significantly impacted the recycling industry around the world, and Southeast Asia has been no exception. Several countries in the region such as Malaysia and Thailand have already seen increases in shipments of plastic scrap to be processed, with much more expected to arrive in 2018.
Large plastic exporters like the United States and Great Britain are left looking for an alternative plastic destination, since increased domestic recycling as a solution could take years and still fall short. That’s where the fledgling operations in Southeast Asia come into the process.
One potentially dangerous consequence of this shift is that the lack of regulation in these countries could have adverse environmental impacts, potentially leading to similar plastic bans in the future.
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The labour-intensive job of taking bales of plastic waste to be broken down, cleaned, separated into different plastic resins and finally made into pellets ready to be reshaped into new products is now expected to fall to Southeast Asian countries.
Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia and Thailand are among the Southeast Asian countries that have attracted Chinese investors in the plastics recycling sector over the past year, keen to fill the void left in China, industry officials said.
Most have yet to develop their own domestic recycling collection and public awareness about the issue, but their access to cheap labour and close proximity to China’s manufacturing industries work in their favour.