Global waste flows to Asia increasing but region is taking steps to remedy situation

An auxiliary police officer inspects plastic waste inside cargo containers before it is sent back to the country of origin in Port Klang, Selangor, Malaysia, 28 May 2019. Malaysia will ship 450 metric tons of contaminated plastic waste back to the countries of origin said Yeo Bee Yin today on 28 May. The waste came from Australia, US, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Japan, China, Spain and Bangladesh.
SEPTEMBER 23, 2019 - 3:50 PM

Global flows are shifting toward Asia on seven of eight dimensions namely trade, capital, people, knowledge, transport, culture and resources according to the latest study by McKinsey Global Institute. The only flow that has declined is waste (environment). 

From 2007 to 2017, Asia's share of global goods trade rose from 27 to 33 per cent, of global capital flows from 13 to 23 per cent, of worldwide patents from 52 to 65 per cent (although its share of IP charges has remained constant at around 25 per cent), and of global container-shipping traffic from 59 to 62 per cent, according to the report.  


Looking specifically at global waste flows, Asia is taking steps to reduce inflows of global waste. In 2017, Asia accounted for 70 per cent of global inflows of waste, similar to 71 per cent in 2007. Over 68 per cent of global exports of waste to Asia come from North America and the European Union. 

In 2017, China accounted for 76 per cent of Asia's waste imports. 

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As part of efforts to reduce inflows of global waste - to better cope with the waste generated within the region - China unveiled a "national sword" policy at the start of 2018 that 2018 that banned the import of most plastics and other materials for recycling processors that have handled nearly half of the world’s recyclable waste over the past 25 years.

Since this ban, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam have taken over as chief waste importers although these roles may shift in the next several years noted MGI. 

In 2018, waste imports to Malaysia increased from 20,000 tonnes in 2016 to 110,000. Thailand and Vietnam imported a combined 140,000 tonnes of waste in 2018. Vietnam has since placed restrictions on the amount of toxic waste being shipped into the country.

Thailand meanwhile intends to ban waste imports by 2021; Vietnam is also considering similar definitive action.