Do ‘recycled’ plastics often end up being shipped as waste to South and Southeast Asia?

Monday, April 5, 2021
By Jacob Alabab-Moser

South and Southeast Asian countries became major destinations for plastic waste from developed and developing countries following a 2017 ban on most plastic imports by China, once the world's largest importer. In the first quarter of 2018, U.S. waste exports increased by 165% to India, 300% to Thailand and 330% to Malaysia. U.S. domestic capacity can’t handle all the waste Americans want to recycle, so recyclers seek offshore outlets. Interpol notes that a ”surplus” of waste around the world is leading to both more illegal trade and illegal treatment.

The U.S. was the second-largest exporter of scrap plastic and recovered fiber to India in the first half of 2019 before the country banned plastic imports, effective August 2019. India walked back the ban in January 2021.

Plastic waste exports to Pakistan and Bangladesh have also increased.

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