Customs officials on the small Indonesian island of Batam opened a shipping container from Australia recently, the contents of which had been labelled as "non-B3" mixed plastic scrap. B3, short for Bahan Berbahaya dan Beracun, effectively refers to hazardous and toxic materials—medical waste, for example, or any waste that might pollute the environment or endanger human health—and is completely barred from entry to Indonesia. Non-B3, in turn, denotes materials that are safe to import and handle.
Yet when officials opened this particular container, they found it stinking, leaking black sludge, and crawling with maggots, according to a report by Fairfax. The 13.7 tonnes of waste was inspected in Melbourne on May 21, and intended for Indonesian recycling firm Royal Citra Bersama. And the company that exported it, Visy—one of the world’s largest paper, packaging, and recycling companies—is owned by Australia’s richest man, Anthony Pratt. Visy did not reply to Fairfax’s multiple requests for comment.
This is not the only recent case of Australia being caught clandestinely sending toxic waste to Indonesia. Customs officials from Surabaya, Indonesia’s second largest city, are reportedly planning on sending eight other containers of mixed and allegedly toxic waste back to Australia. While these containers were only supposed to have contained paper, a Customs spokesperson claimed that officials found the contents mixed with plastic and B3 waste.
“It was decided that the eight containers will be re-exported" because their contents were "contaminated with B3", the spokesman said.
The Batam Customs Office further told The Jakarta Post they’re planning on sending 38 containers that were found to be carrying hazardous and toxic waste back to their countries of origin, including Australia, the United States, and several European nations.
“We have received the recommendation letter from [the Environment and Forestry Ministry] regarding the containers. Our next step is to send notice letters to importers to re-export [the containers] back to the countries from where the containers departed, as they had been proven to violate the rules,” said Susila Brata, head of the Batam customs office.
These are not isolated incidents. Ever since China announced at the beginning of last year that they would no longer be accepting shipments of plastic waste from other countries, nations around the world have been struggling to find appropriate places to dump their trash. Some international garbage disputes, meanwhile, have been unfolding for years. Just this week Canada received a cargo ship loaded up with 69 containers of waste that they’d contentiously dumped in the Philippines between 2013 and 2014. A number of other southeast Asian countries are similarly pledging to send waste back to the West. And in the coming weeks, Malaysia plans to ship large amounts of plastic refuse back to Australia as well.
Trevor Evans, Australia's Assistant Minister for Waste Reduction and Environmental Management, said that under Australian law a permit is required for the export of controlled wastes. Trevor further suggested that a violation of those rules ought to be met with some form of punishment, including the return of the waste materials to their country of origin.
"If a company has exported such material from Australia without a permit, it would be in breach of Australian law, and we would work cooperatively with the receiving country to ensure this issue is addressed. This may include accepting the return of the material to Australia," he said. "If companies are breaching the rules .. then they are letting their industry and all Australians down, and there needs to be appropriate compliance and enforcement.”
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