Plastic scrap shipments diverted to the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) region have clogged container ports and caused concern among customs officials, according to a recycling trade association market report.
Steve Wong, who heads the China Scrap Plastic Association (CSPA) and serves on two committees for the Brussels-based Bureau of International Recycling (BIR), says “major import problems” have surfaced in May and June in ASEAN nations including Thailand and Vietnam.
Wong, who also is the CEO of the Hong Kong-based recycling firm Fukutomi Co. Ltd., says in Vietnam, container port capacity is a critical issue, while in Thailand customs officials have been spotting influxes of prohibited electronic scrap. Thailand also has overburdened ports, according to Wong.
“According to recent market information, there are more than 30,000 containers idle at the ports of Thailand due to port capacity or import permit problems,” Wong writes in a late June market report. “Similar issues were also seen in Vietnam, causing ports such as Cat Lai to suspend unloading services.”
He continues, “Thousands of containers have failed to be cleared by consignees for months. The likelihood of moving these containers from the port is getting very slim while demurrage charges are accumulating daily. Though Malaysia is still accepting plastic scrap shipments, market players are worried that problems similar to that of the other two countries will arise in the near future.”
Plastic scrap started pouring into the region after China prohibited most types of imported plastic scrap from entering its ports in the spring of 2017. “The massive flow of plastic scrap shipments to these countries after the market shift from China has far exceeded the permitted import volumes and the operation capacities of their main ports,” says Wong.
As occurred at the port of Hong Kong in 2017, “This has resulted in thousands of containers being stuck at the ports for months and causing many containers to be abandoned due to negative values,” adds Wong. “If the situation continues to spiral further in the current direction, more and more shipping lines will [refrain] from shipping plastic scrap to these countries.”
Wong notes that June 24, an order was issued by Thailand’s Department of Industrial Works (DIW) prohibiting imports of e-scrap and plastic scrap into Thailand, effective immediately.
That nation’s government also has indicated it will inspect some 2,240 plastic recycling facilities “to detect illegal imports of e-waste, violations of environmental control, illegal labor [and the] illegal use of import permits,” writes Wong. He says inspection teams will be staffed by the Thai armed forces, police personnel and agents from the Environmental Control, Customs and Labor Departments, plus the Tax Bureau and DIW. Such teams “arrested hundreds of people during the earlier inspection actions,” says Wong.
Wong summarizes the situation by writing, “The latest changes have had a devastating effect on recyclers, particularly those [who] moved their businesses from China. Some of them will have to withdraw their operations once again and may suffer enormous losses even before the start of factory operations. Generally, a dismal view in the trade has prevailed.”