SINGAPORE (June 10): Southeast Asian nations no longer want your trash. Last week, Malaysia announced it was sending 3,300 tonnes of scrap plastics including CDs, insulated electric cables and milk jugs back to countries ranging from Australia to Bangladesh, Canada, China, Japan and Saudi Arabia. Days later, the Philippines shipped back 69 containers of dirty Canadian diapers and other refuse brought into the country between 2013 and 2014.
It is easy to see why: Smaller countries do not want to become dumping grounds for trash that looks like it belongs in a hazardous-waste bin rather than a recycling facility. What is ironic is that some of the countries forced to take back their scrap plastics do not necessarily mind. In China, Japan and especially Europe, there is growing momentum behind the idea that economies should strive to be more “circular” — in other words, that any waste they generate should be processed, recycled and reused at or close to home. Europe has set ambitious targets to achieve a continent-wide circular economy over the next three decades.
It is an attractive idea. Unfortunately, it will not work. A true circular economy cannot be national or even regional. It has to be global.