Cambodia says no to trash from the US and Canada

In what is becoming a pattern across Southeast Asia, Cambodia has become the latest nation to send illegally imported waste back to developed nations. 83 containers of plastic trash recently found their way to the resort town and port of Sihanoukville, and after inspection by Cambodia customs officials, are all being sent back to the US and Canada, according to Neth Pheaktra, a spokesperson for the nation's Ministry of Environment.

"Cambodia is not a dustbin where foreign countries can dispose of out-of-date e-waste, and the government also opposes any import of plastic waste and lubricants to be recycled in this country."

The containers were labelled as recyclable products, and did not disclose that plastic waste was included.

By now, it's clear that the global waste management system is unable to handle the level of garbage produced across the world. Southeast Asian nations have long been a destination for such waste, but after China banned waste imports in 2018, many nations have been overwhelmed by a surge in waste imports, often contaminated with un-recyclable material, e-waste and toxic substances.

Cambodia follows the Philippines, Malaysia and Thailand in sending waste back to where it originated. The Philippines recently sent 69 containers of garbage back to Canada, and the EcoWaste Coalition - a local Philippine environmental organisation - is urging the Filipino government to do the same with Australian and South Korean e-waste that has found its way to the Mindanao region illegally. They are hoping for President Duterte to make a statement in the nations upcoming State of the Nation address to Congress.

When sending the trash back to Canada, the outspoken Duterte said "Celebrate, because your trash is coming home… Prepare a grand reception. Eat it if you want."

Malaysia recently undertook similar measures, with the nations Environment Minister sending trash back to the UK, Canada, the US, Japan and the Netherlands. Earlier in the year, a local Malaysian company resorted to illegally burning imported waste products, which led to toxic fumes endangering health in an entire town.

The international community agreed to control the movement of plastic waste between national borders in May by adding plastic waste to the Basel Convention - an international treaty controlling the movement of waste around the world. 187 nations agreed, but notably America has yet to sign this particular statement.

Photo: Sea Seakleng/AP

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.