China used to be one of the world’s premier dumping grounds for electronic waste, but that ended last year when the government banned such imports—yes, there are valuable materials that can be recovered from old computers and phones, but there’s a lot of poisonous stuff in there too, and people involved in the recycling industry were suffering chronic health problems.
So now it’s Thailand’s turn. As detailed in a new Reuters report, the authorities there are now battling illegal imports of discarded electronics, by companies that have no license to bring them in.
“Electronic waste from every corner of the world is flowing into Thailand,” said Thailand’s deputy police chief, Wirachai Songmetta, as he showed reporters seven seized shipping containers on Tuesday.
That seizure was accompanies by charges against three recycling and waste processing companies that, Wirachai said, “don’t have a quota to import even a single ton of electronic waste.” The containers were filled with around 22 tons of waste.
China’s ban on the importation of dozens of types of foreign waste led some to fear that the waste would just end up elsewhere in the region. “Especially after China’s ban, Thailand could become one of the biggest dumping grounds for e-waste,” Penchom Saetang of Ecological Alert and Recovery Thailand told Reuters, warning that the country needed better enforcement of its laws to combat the problem.
Last week, Thai police raided at least four factories near Bangkok, finding almost 100 tons of electronic waste.
The authorities said they suspected a Taiwanese company had imported the waste using a loophole that permits the importation of second-hand appliances. Workers at the factories were dismantling the waste while wearing only basic face masks and cloth gloves for protection.
Electronic waste processing can harm people’s health by bringing them into direct contact with materials such as lead and cadmium, and by exposing them to toxic fumes.