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Indonesia accused of diverting rejected containers

Activists are claiming that officials in Indonesia have re-directed illegal waste consignments from the US to other Asian countries instead of sending them back as promised.

An Indonesian NGO, Nexus for Health, Environment and Development Foundation (Nexus3), says it has identified 70 containers using information from a trusted source, of which 58 came from the US. It alleges 25 of the containers were shipped by Cosco, 20 by Hyundai and 13 by Maersk.

They were apparently deemed illegal by the Indonesian authorities because they contained large amounts of plastic and hazardous wastes in what was supposed to be paper scrap. They were part of a wider haul of illegal containers which the Indonesian government said on 20 September would all be returned to the relevant exporting countries.

The watchdog group Basel Action Network (BAN) claims that of the 58 US containers identified by Nexus3, only 12 went back. It says it has traced the final destination of the others to India (38), South Korea (3) and Thailand, Vietnam, Mexico, the Netherlands and Canada (one each).

Watchdog outrage

‘It is an international norm that illegal waste exports are the responsibility of the state of export, in this case the United States, and the exporting state has the duty to reimport the wastes,’ says Jim Puckett, executive director of BAN. ‘In this way the exporters can be prosecuted for any illegality and the problem can actually be solved rather than simply passed on to other unsuspecting victim countries and communities.’

Yuyun Ismawati, from Nexus3, has accused the Indonesian government of engaging in a ‘global waste shell game victimising more countries with the unwanted, illegal and contaminated shipments’. Ismawati adds: ‘Meanwhile the US government and the original perpetrators of the illegal shipments are let off the hook. The public has been lied to, the environment is further harmed, and the criminals go free. It’s outrageous.’

Concern over consent

BAN says it is not clear if the authorities where the wastes actually ended up were notified and consented to their import. It is also unknown whether the receiving facilities were capable of environmentally sound management of the wastes.

‘Unwanted plastic scrap imported by paper companies in East Java have routinely contributed to the environmental pollution in poor communities,’ says Prigi Arisandi from the Indonesian thinktank Ecoton. ‘The same things will likely be repeated in other developing countries where the containers end up.’

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