By Betsy Mayer
A major shock was felt in the global trash market in 2018 when China, the main recycler of plastic waste, closed its doors to accepting imported waste. This left the trash-exporting countries scrambling to redirect their waste elsewhere because it is cheaper for developed countries to outsource their recycling than recycling it at home.
Unwanted trash showed up in parts of Southeast Asia, where countries like Malaysia reported a fivefold increase in trash, and the Philippines a threefold increase. Much of the trash contained contaminants that had been illegally shipped and, under international law, cannot be incinerated or put into landfill. Stalled containers of trash have leaked toxins into local environments, rendering agricultural zones unfertile. Where contaminated waste was illegally burned, villages nearby have registered hazardous levels of zinc, iron, and lead in their soil and in close bodies of water.
For too long, wealthy nations have taken advantage of lax environmental regulation in developing countries, but now these countries are pushing back. The Philippines shipped 51 containers of trash back to South Korea in January 2019. Malaysia returned 5 containers back to Spain, with plans to return 3,000 more tons.
The issue is severe enough to trigger diplomatic rows between countries. When the Canadians stalled on promises to deal with their contaminated trash illegally shipped to the Philippines, President Duterte finally sent the trash back to Canada in 69 cargo ships and threatened to dump them in Canadian waters should they refuse it.
The only way to curb this global trash problem is to produce less trash, especially plastic. And forcing wealthy nations to confront their own trash problems will most likely be the only motivation to do so.
God is saddened when the strong take advantage of the weak or when the planet is trashed with hazardous materials. One day God will recreate the earth without the blight of sin, toxins, or toxic people. Revelation 21:5. Until then, we can seek the best alternatives available, being mindful that this earth is not our home. “For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.” Romans 8:22.