The worldwide consumption of plastic is still rising
Research by Plastic Soup Foundation has shown that The Netherlands despite it small size plays a major role in the shadowy trade in plastic waste. For example, in 2021 our country was EU’s largest exporter of plastic waste to non-OECD countries.
We are also a major player globally; only Japan and the US exported even more plastic waste to countries in the global south in 2021. On a per capita basis, the Netherlands is even the world leader; our country ships the most plastic waste from the rich part of the world to countries that cannot process that waste correctly.
China turned the world upside down on January 1, 2018 with a ban on the import of plastic waste. Suddenly wealthy Western countries had to take their waste somewhere else. Since then, the trade has shifted to vulnerable countries that do not have the right infrastructure to properly process that waste. Where the bulk of plastic waste used to go to China, it now goes mainly to countries in Southeast Asia such as Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia.
In these countries, over half of that waste is mismanaged, and in Indonesia, as much as 83% of it is. It is dumped in the open and burned in the open. This releases harmful substances, residual plastic and microplastics that pollute fields and surface waters, affecting not only the environment but also the health of local people.
On top of the legal exports come the illegal export flows. We can only guess at the extent of these. What is clear, however, is that these have increased enormously since 2018 and are accompanied by criminal activities, something Interpol already warned about two years ago.
DESPITE REGULATIONS, THE NETHERLANDS IS ONLY EXPORTING MORE
Despite existing laws and regulations, such as the EU Waste Shipment Directive and the Basel Convention, which was further tightened as of January 1, 2021, exports from The Netherlands to vulnerable countries are remarkably increasing. In fact, in 2021 they more than doubled compared to 2020.
The Netherlands was the world’s largest exporter of plastic waste to Indonesia in 2021. Of the total plastic waste export of over 200 million kilograms, almost 70 million kilograms went to Indonesia and almost 64 million kilograms to Vietnam.
For this report, Plastic Soup Foundation relied on the UN COMTRADE database, which contains detailed information on imports and exports as provided by nearly 200 states and/or regions. The report looks specifically at the role The Netherlands plays in the international plastic waste trade.
Unfortunately, from the UN COMTRADE data it is not possible to determine the reason for the increased exports from the Netherlands to countries such as Indonesia.
CALL FOR TOTAL BAN
Plastic Soup Foundation believes that the export of plastic waste to countries outside the EU should be completely restricted. Especially the Netherlands – as the largest transit port of plastic waste – should take its responsibility.
Former State Secretary Van Veldhoven (D66) already argued at the G20 in June 2019 to stop these exports. She said then: ‘Western countries should not export plastic waste anymore. Not to Malaysia, not to Indonesia, nowhere. We should be able to process our own plastic waste ourselves, instead of sending it by boat to other parts of the world. We have to make agreements about this in an international context.’
Three years have passed since and it is high time that The Netherlands follows up on this promise by making a case for it within the European Union. As long as the export of plastic waste to countries such as Indonesia continues, we saddle other countries with our waste problem and look away from the consequences, and that is a form of exploitation that looks a lot like neo-colonialism.
SPECIAL WORLD CLEANUP DAY
To make the consequences of exporting all our disposable plastic to countries like Indonesia visible and to give the local population a helping hand, the motto of World Cleanup Day this September 17th is Not In Our Backyard. This year, sponsored cleanup actions by the Dutch participants will support the work of young activist Aeshnina Azzahra Aqilani (Nina) of the environmental organization Ecoton in East Java and the work of Plastic Soup Foundation in the Netherlands.