THERE ARE no clear answers from officials about whether Thailand is changing its policy on the transboundary movement of hazardous waste under the Basel Convention, as the international agreement is seen by some officials and experts as ineffective in stopping the flow of electronic and plastic waste into the country.
Natural Resources and Environment Ministry permanent secretary Wijarn Simachaya yesterday said that many people have raised concerns about the convention’s effectiveness in restricting the import of hazardous wastes into the country. The national reform steering committee has called a meeting for next Wednesday to find a common resolution among the related agencies.
“The problem of electronic and plastic waste imports is a complex one and even though the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry is the main coordinator of the Basel Convention in Thailand, there are many other official agencies also involved in this issue,” Wijarn said. “Therefore, it will need many ministries and related agencies to work together on the solution.”
The meeting will be chaired by Deputy Prime Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan.
The Basel Convention, known in full as “The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal”, is an international agreement to reduce the transnational movements of hazardous waste, particularly from wealthier nations to poorer countries with weaker environmental protection laws. But the agreement does not forbid the movement of wastes between richer and poorer countries.
A total of 53 countries, including Thailand, have so far ratified the Basel Convention.
On Wednesday, deputy national police chief Pol General Wirachai Songmetta suggested that a committee be set up to control and reconsider the import of second-hand electronic parts into Thailand for recycling, which is permitted under the Basel Convention. He argued that it was clear Thailand did not gain any benefit from allowing overseas companies to set up electronic waste recycling plants here.
“In police investigation of 12 electronic waste segregation factories, we found that almost all the factories had violated laws in their entire operational process, from the illegal import of electronic waste until the disposal of discarded unrecyclable electronic waste, without proper pollution control systems, causing pollution and contamination of the environment,” Wirachai said.
“Moreover, these companies are also owned by foreigners, they avoid taxes, and employ migrant workers, so Thailand does not get benefit in any way – no tax revenue, no employment for the local people, and the factories leave only pollution and environmental problems for the country.”
The director of Ecological Alert and Recovery Thailand, Penchom Saetang, argued that the Basel Convention could no longer be an effective legal tool to prevent hazardous waste movements. There are many exemptions in its regulations that allow transnational transport of hazardous waste, he said.
“At first, the Basel Convention was set up with the intent to totally ban all movement of hazardous wastes within the member countries, but there was powerful pressure from the waste traders who lobbied to have exemptions within the regulations. So the flow of hazardous wastes is continuing,” Penchom said.
The Convention creates two categories of hazardous wastes for transportation: List A and List B. The 61 hazardous wastes in List A are strictly prohibited for transportation from the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries to non-OECD countries. However, hazardous wastes within List B, which include electronic waste, are exempted from the movement ban and may be shipped to other countries for reuse or recycling.
In the case of Thailand’s recent headline-grabbing e-waste problem, it was found that a Chinese company was involved in illegally importing the e-waste and also in illegal employment.
Chinese Embassy spokesperson Yang Yang said Beijing required Chinese investors and enterprises to abide by the laws and regulations of Thailand.
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