For a long-time, south-east Asia and other parts of West Africa have accepted waste from the world’s rich nations and recycled, reused or dumped it in their own environment. Even today, there are containers full of unwanted waste sitting in. However, these countries are increasing against the dumping of rich nations’ waste in emerging economies (i.e. their own. Even the UN has called for a control on global plastic dumping in poorer countries (

“Collectors’ Work” by Ikhlasul Amal is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0 

In May 2019 the Philippines president threatened to cut-off diplomatic links with Canada if they failed to take back 1,500 tonnes of waste that were delivered to the Philippines between 2013 and 2014. He claimed that he would take the rubbish back to Canada and deposit it there. In 2018 Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam passed legislation banning the import of contaminated waste from other countries. Nevertheless, in April 2019 waste from Australia, Germany, UK and the USA was still entering into Malaysia, albeit illegally.

Less than 10% of the world’s plastic is recycled. Much of the waste is transported to south-east Asia (out-sourcing of waste management – hardly a benefit of globalisation for Malaysia – although for the poorest it may represent a job or a raw material). Much of the plastic waste is dumped in landfills or is incinerated, producing toxic fumes. Much of the illegal waste is low grade or contaminated, thereby preventing it from being recycled.

These latest changes in policy follow China’s 2018  decision to refuse imports of waste plastic. Until then, China had been the destination for about half of the world’s waste plastic, metals and paper.

Greenpeace suggests that imports of plastic into Malaysia increased from 168,500 tonnes in 2016 to over 450,000 tonnes in the first half of 2018. The source of most of the plastic was believed to be Australia, France, Germany, Spain, the UK and the USA. According to the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) the import of toxic waste leads to contamination of water, respiratory illnesses and the death of crops.

The export of waste – whether electric or plastic  – or indeed any other, is one of the less beneficial features of globalisation. It leads to pollution in the receiving countries, and may have a negative impact on those that live there.

More information: Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA)