SINGAPORE — Toxic wastes from Australia and other industrialised countries are flooding into Asia, according to a new Greenpeace report released on February 1. The wastes, shipped to Asian countries ostensibly for "recycling", are taking a devastating toll on people and the environment in Asia.
The organisation's ship MV Greenpeace is currently in Singapore, and will visit Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines over the next six weeks to highlight the growing use of Asia as a toxic waste dump for developed countries.
Between 1990 and 1993, Australia, Canada, Germany, the UK and the US shipped more than 5.4 million tonnes of toxic wastes to Bangladesh, China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Taiwan and Thailand, according to Greenpeace toxic trade campaigner Nick Morgan.
He said Asia has become the final frontier for wastes from the world's most industrialised countries, the 24 states of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). According to the United Nations Environment Program, 98% of the world's hazardous wastes are generated by the 24 OECD countries.
"Waste trade is nothing more than a cheap disposal option for OECD countries", said Morgan. "But for a growing number of Asian countries it means a contaminated environment and untold damage to human health."
The Greenpeace report states that the term "recycling" has been used to send millions of tonnes of hazardous wastes such as scrap lead and other contaminated metal waste, contaminated plastic waste and a growing amount of computer waste to Asia in the past three years.
Wastes shipped to Asia since 1990 include aluminium, cadmium, copper, nickel, tin, zinc, incinerator ash and residues, medical wastes and some radioactive wastes. The US, Europe and Japan are currently awaiting approval to send lead battery wastes, household garbage, scrap plastic and hospital wastes to Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, the Philippines and Vietnam.
The international waste traders now couch their projects in such terms as "state of the art recycling operations", "humanitarian aid" and "resource recovery". More than 75 actual and proposed schemes to ship toxic wastes to Asia over the last three years are documented in the Greenpeace report.
Parliamentarians from the six countries of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) have issued a joint communique which urges their governments to prohibit the import of all hazardous wastes.