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Indonesia rejects eight ‘dirty’ containers from Australia

Indonesia is returning 210 tonnes of waste to Australia. Local authorities in Jakarta and Surabaya say the material is ‘too contaminated’ to be recycled.  

Eight containers full of used electronics, plastics, engine oil, and aluminium and steel cans are en route to Australia. The material quality is ‘too low’ to be accepted, according to the imports inspection crew in Indonesia’s capital and the nation’s second largest city.

One of the rejected containers originated from major recycler Visy Recycling. It was supposed to contain only recovered paper and cardboard, but also held a large portion of mixed plastic waste. The materials were further contaminated by household garbage that was leaking in infested with maggots. Company owner Anthony Pratt – one of the richest people in Australia – has not yet commented on the matter.

Indonesia, Australia, waste, imports, exports, trade ban, recycling, containers

This isn’t the first time shipments have been sent back to Australia; the Philippenes and Malaysia have taken similar actions recently. The nations say they are stepping up their game to avoid becoming the ‘dumping ground’ of foreign waste following China’s import ban. Ever since, Australian entrepreneurs have called for more investments in the domestic recycling industry.

What do the stats say?

These ongoing developments will have a notable impact on the economy in Australia considering its overall waste exports increased by 5% last financial year.

Figures by consulting company Blue Environment state that waste exports from Australia to China have taken a nose dive in some categories. In 2017-18, exports of waste metals fell by 23%; plastics by 77%; and paper and cardboard by 39%. Overall, waste exports to China decreased 41%. See graph for more details.

Australia generates around 67 million tonnes of waste per year. A total of 37 million tonnes (55%) goes to recycling, while 3% serves energy recovery, and the rest is either landfilled or incinerated.

Around 4.3 million tonnes of waste (about 12% of national recycling and 6% of national waste generation) was exported in 2017-2018. This includes 75 000 tonnes going to China (17% of all exports and 2% of national recycling).

Market analysts conclude: ‘If Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand enacted waste import bans similar to China’s, Australia would need to find substitute domestic or export markets for approximately 1.29 million tonnes – worth AU$ 530 million – of waste a year.’

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