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Garbage returned from Philippines a headache for Korea

Some 1,200 tons of plastic waste shipped back to Korea from the Philippines last week are unrecyclable, environment authorities concluded after opening some of the containers carrying the garbage Thursday. 

(Ministry of Environment)
(Ministry of Environment)

Officials from the Ministry of Environment and Customs office opened some of the 51 trash-filled containers at Pyeongtaek Port to check on conditions of the waste as part of administrative procedures to process it.

The first batch of the plastic waste, which a Korean company had illegally exported to the Philippines as reusable plastic material in July last year, arrived at the port Sunday morning.

Seoul is consulting with Manila to decide when and how to take back the remaining 5,100 tons of waste, which are being held at the Mindanao International Container Terminal in Misamis Oriental province.

As the Korean firm has rejected the ministry’s order to take back the garbage, the government used the state budget to bring it to the Korean port. It plans to charge the company and investigate it for violation of the waste processing law.

However, it appears that the government will have a difficult time getting paid back, as the company has gone out of business. It is estimated to have cost the government more than 1 billion won ($887,890) to bring back the garbage and process it.

The company falsely declared the waste as recyclable “plastic synthetic flakes” to obtain approval for export to the Philippines on two occasions -- in July and in October. But the waste turned out to include plastic straws, used diapers, and electronic and medical waste.

The Philippine customs office identified the containers filled with garbage in Mindanao in November, and demanded the Korean government take back the waste. Seoul agreed to repatriate it in late December.

“We are carrying out an all-out inspection on exporters of plastic waste. Based on the investigation result, we will devise measures to root out practices of illegally exporting waste, and announce them in February,” an official from the ministry said.

Much of the world’s unrecyclable plastics are flocking to Southeast Asia after China banned the import of plastic waste. Dumping plastic waste in Southeast Asia, where regulations are relatively lax, is cheaper than processing it here.