Empty U.S. milk jugs in Malaysia. Dirty Canadian diapers in the Philippines. Why is garbage being shipped around the world? Part of the answer could lie close to home—in big blue recycling bins. One thing’s certain: The world’s poor countries are tired of being treated like trash.
Most of us throw trash away without giving every plastic bag, yogurt cup, and soda bottle another thought. But where do those cast-offs go? In theory, recycling helps deal with the debris. But too often usable items get mixed with unusable ones: plastic wrap with paper, Styrofoam with cardboard—and food waste making the whole lot a greasy mess.
Since 1995, China has bought much of the world’s trash—some estimates say up to 70% of it. Chinese laborers sorted it and reprocessed the usable stuff.
But China has wearied of sorting other people’s trash, much of which is too contaminated to use. (See “Recycling Changes.”) Last year, it banned imports of “recyclables.” That left exporting nations scrambling for new places to offload their junk.
Now trash-shipping problems have boiled over in the Philippines and Malaysia. Sometime in 2013-2014, a group in Canada shipped a literal boatload of trash to the Philippines using fake records. A corrupt official there accepted the containers, which were probably headed to an illegal recycler.
Sixty-nine containers of electrical and household waste, including used diapers (pee-yew!), stood rotting in Philippine ports for five or six years while the two countries haggled about who should take out the trash.
After a lot of finger-pointing and blame-shifting, the Philippines shipped the containers of rotting rubbish back to Canada. The whole stinky lot will probably get burned.
Another South Asian country is also experiencing an influx of garbage after China’s ban. In May, Malaysia returned some 3,300 tons of non-recyclable waste—egg cartons, compact discs, cables, and electronics—to countries such as the United States, Great Britain, and Australia.
Malaysia’s Environment Minister Yeo Bee Yin says her country and many developing countries have become targets for rich people’s rubbish. “Malaysia will not be a dumping ground to the world,” Yeo says. “We can’t be bullied by developed countries.”
Luke 6:31 says: “As you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” In the trash wars, that could mean not shipping garbage in the first place. It could mean shutting down illegal plastic recycling facilities, enforcing laws, and respecting others’ property. For most of us, it probably means using our God-given resources more wisely.