Geneva (dpa). On the banks of the Ciliwung River near the Indonesian capital Jakarta, old yoghurt and soup pots, beverage containers, toothpaste tubes and empty plastic bags are piled high.
These are the consequences of the plastic waste business. The industry speaks of valuable raw materials, and countries actually export plastic for recycling. But a lot ends up on riverbanks and beaches in distant countries.
But there is movement: Since January 2021, the export of non-recyclable waste has been banned under the “Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Shipments of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal”. EU companies are only allowed to export clean and well sorted plastic waste for recycling. And the third largest container shipping company in the world, the French CMA CGM, has announced that it will no longer transport plastic waste from June 1st. According to the company, the promise has already been implemented.
Not a role model yet
Is this the beginning of the end of this business? It doesn’t look like it. The Hamburg shipping company Hapag-Lloyd, the world’s number 5 among the container giants, emphasizes that protecting resources and recycling management are important. But she worries about the plastic recycling industry. “We therefore do not intend to stop this type of transport for the time being,” says a spokesman for the German Press Agency. The industry leader, the Swiss shipping company MSC, also regards plastic waste as legitimate cargo. And the number 2, the Danish Maersk, would at best consider an industry-wide solution.
The plastic waste expert of the environmental organization Greenpeace, Manfred Santen, speaks of waste colonialism. «Do we want to send our dirt to developing countries and say: do something with it? We don’t think that’s right.” Take Indonesia as an example: plastic waste usually arrives there mixed with paper waste, says Yuyun Immawati from the environmental foundation Nexus3. Because the local recycling industry needs paper, they put up with the plastic that comes with it.
In the paper containers, 40 percent are mostly plastic and other waste, says Muhammad Kholid Basyaiban from the environmental group Ecoton. The importers dumped the plastic waste at the paper mills. “People look for and sell recyclables to plastic recyclers. They sometimes earn more than 30 euros a day,” he says.
Chicken eggs contaminated with dioxin
What could not be recycled was partially dried and used by factories for heating. This would release toxic substances, including dioxin. In 2019, Nexus3 and Ecoton reported that eggs from free-ranging chickens near factories had high dioxin levels. The last residue of the material pollutes rivers or beaches. The more than 180 contracting states of the Basel Convention will take stock in Geneva at the beginning of June as to whether the tightened export regulations will apply.
Plastic waste exports from Germany are declining. According to the Federal Association of German Waste Management, Water and Raw Materials Management (BDE), in 2021 it was 766,000 tons – more than estimated in January (697,000 tons), but still a low. This is probably partly due to the corona pandemic, says BDE spokesman Bernhard Schodrowski. However, the trend has been declining slightly for a few years. Indonesia hardly plays a role for German waste, most of it goes to the Netherlands and Turkey.
Plastic is a valuable raw material, says Schodrowski: “World trade thrives on the international exchange of goods. This also applies to waste, because as a raw material for recycling, it is a commodity.” The association is convinced that most exports are properly sorted and processed in the destination countries. “Illegal shipments of waste must of course be pursued rigorously,” says Schodrowski.
Environmentalist Jim Puckett, executive director of the Basel Action Network, says that plastic waste from households can hardly be sorted as flawlessly as it would be necessary for legal export. He also does not consider plastic to be a valuable raw material. On the one hand, the material consists of countless different polymers and environmentally harmful additives. On the other hand, plastic becomes so weak during recycling that it only survives one or two passes, and new products always need a large proportion of fresh plastic.
Only one thing helps: use less plastic. “It’s like a flood in the bathroom. You don’t get the rag to wipe it up first, you turn off the tap first,” says Puckett. Until then, you have to take care of the dirt in your own country, demands Greenpeace man Santen: “Germany prides itself on having everything under control technically, so it should also be able to recycle the waste , die here accrue.”
© dpa-infocom, dpa:220525-99-422762/2