The global battle about who will deal with the world’s trash is raging on. After China banned the import of plastic waste in 2019, other Asian countries have expanded into the sector that carries the inherent risk of air, land and maritime pollution.
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While the recycling of foreign plastic waste can be lucrative, lack of regulations and oversight have caused a myriad of problems in receiving countries. After China backed out, Vietnam and Malaysia became some of the biggest plastic waste importers in Asia, while Turkey also appeared on the scene as a net importer of European plastic waste. Most of the plastics arriving in Asia are routed through Hong Kong.
Experts expect the streams of plastic waste exported from industrialized nations to continue shifting to countries where regulation are not (yet) in place. Most of the plastic waste comes from countries like Japan, the United States and Germany, which were the biggest net exporters of plastic scrap and waste in 2019. According to data retrieved from the UN Comtrade platform, Japan shipped more than 550,000 tons abroad in the previous year, while importing almost no foreign plastic waste, resulting in net exports of around 530,000 tonnes. Germany was responsible for net exports of 413,000 tons, while the U.S. clocked in more than 317,000 tons.
This chart shows selected countries by net export balance of plastic waste and plastic scrap in 2019 (in tonnes).
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