Bangkok, 14-16 June 2023 – Waste trafficking is a growing global threat, as trafficked waste often ends up in illegal landfills and illegal storage sites, or is subject to open burning, causing harm not only to the environment but also to human health. Since 2018, Southeast Asian countries have become top destinations for the inflow of waste, both legal and illegal.
From 14-16 June, Unwaste held its first regional meeting to present the current findings and obtain inputs for the ongoing research on waste trafficking trends and related regulatory frameworks in the ASEAN region. Joining the meeting were experts and stakeholders involved in the fight against illegal waste trafficking, including policy makers, environmental police, prosecutors, customs, cybercrime and legal experts as well as researchers and specialists on this topic.
Mr. Pinsak Suraswadi, Director General of Thailand’s Pollution Control Department, noted that addressing waste trafficking is critical to ensure sustainable development, and shared the actions that Thailand has been taking to address the issue. “In Thailand, there have been instances where illegal shipments of waste found at port areas and in recycling factors in Thailand, and a recent case involved criminal groups trafficking hundreds of tons of plastic scrap. In 2022, over 130 tons of municipal waste was returned to originating countries.”
Further recognizing the impact of waste trafficking, Julien Garsany, UNODC Deputy Regional Representative for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, highlighted that “this crime imposes significant burdens on states in terms of resources, including costs for storage, treatment, re-export, or disposal of illegal waste.” Further, he reiterated that “criminal groups are profiting greatly from this highly lucrative business. Waste trafficking remains a highly profitable and low-risk crime in many countries worldwide, primarily due to weak penalties and a lack of enforcement capacity.”
Mrs. Georgina Lloyd, Regional Coordinator for UNEP’s Environmental Law and Governance for Asia and the Pacific, reinforced that the “environmental impacts of waste trafficking are contributing to the pollution crisis and needs to be addressed. To do this we must pursue good environmental governance and robust environmental rule of law.” The research being undertaken under the Unwaste banner includes a comparative analysis into the legislative and regulatory frameworks that govern this space, resulting in a policy paper on the obstacles that waste trafficking poses to the development of circular economies.
“This is a key priority for the European Union, as we recognize our role and responsibility in combating waste trafficking, particularly the waste that is shipped from Europe to Southeast Asia,” noted Mr. Matej Dornik of the EU Delegation (Foreign Policy Instruments Asia/Pacific), who also reflected on the EU’s Green Deal and the importance of a circular economy as a way to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
This joint regional meeting is a key milestone for Unwaste with over 70 participants from across Southeast Asia and joining from international organizations. The interactive deliberations during the 3-day meeting have provided additional insights and recommendations which will facilitate policy dialogues between the EU and countries in Southeast Asia on effectively tackling waste trafficking to enable a smooth transition into circular economy.
Through research and consultation with countries in Southeast Asia, the Unwaste project aims to better understand waste flows, including the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on medical and hazardous waste movement, to support robust legislative framework and to promote dialogue and enhanced partnerships, including between the EU and ASEAN Member States. The Unwaste project is working closely with government agencies in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Viet Nam. Later this year, Unwaste will be releasing a comprehensive study on waste trade, detailing waste flows from Europe to Southeast Asia, as well as policy and legislation gaps.
The Unwaste project is implemented by the UNODC Regional Office for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, in cooperation with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and with the support of the United Nations Institute for Training and research (UNITAR), and benefits from the financial support of the European Union.