Australia to ban waste exports to other nations

Australia has taken a huge step in the fight against ocean plastics, with the nation making a commitment to ban the export of plastic, paper, glass and tyres to other countries.

The decision was made at a Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting, and commits both the fedral government and the Australian states to ban the export of these types of waste to third countries. The decision was made by Australia's environment ministers in Cairns.

"There will be no export of plastics and paper and glass to other countries where it runs the risk of floating around in our oceans… This stuff won't change unless you say 'There's going to be a point in time where you're not going to be able to put this stuff in a ship and send it off to someone else,'" Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said when announcing the decision.

"We've got to start thinking about what we do when that happens. I would like that date to be as soon as is practicable."

Australia's decision comes mid a growing crisis in Southeast Asian nations, who have been saddled with unsustainable amounts of exported waste from developed countries, after China banned waste imports in 2018. Australian states have historically had a difficult time recycling waste products, with the nation only recylcing about 12% of materials within the country.

Recently, in the state of Victoria, many local councils have been unable to export recyclable materials or recycle it within their jurisdictions, leading to an increase in landfill and wasted materials.

Australian waste imported into Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines has also recently been sent back, after these countries started to crack down on illegal waste imports coming from developed nations, including Canada, the US, Hong Kong and Europe.

While Australia has made this commitment, there is still no timetable on when the measure will be introduced. Environment ministers at all levels of government will need to determine a timeline, and also put in place measures which improve the nations own recycling capacity.

In 2018, Australia exported 4.5 million tonnes of waste overseas, almost exclusively to Asian nations. Australia's decision comes just after New Zealand implemented a nationwide-ban on single-use plastics, and a month after Indonesia sent illegally imported waste back to Australia, among other nations.

Photo: Unsplash/Leio McLaren

China's plastic waste ban has unearthed a massive problem with the global recycling system, and it needs to be fixed. Single-use plastics in particular are proving to be a huge problem for ecosystems around the world, especially our oceans. 

Developed nations in particular have to improve their capacity to recycle waste within their own nations, and curb companies exporting waste illegally, especially to developing nations.


Climate change, increasing plastic waste and greenhouse gas emissions affects everyone, and Southeast Asia is one of the regions most affected. Keeping our environment safe and secure is integral to the future. MoveAsia focuses on the impact of climate change, what the region can do to tackle the climate crisis, and through the Ursus Project, we take a look at how we can tackle the burgeoning problem of plastic waste around the region, and its impact on our oceans and waterways.