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Asia Minute: Plastic Trash Mountains in the Philippines Came from South Korea

Tech. Sgt. Brian Ferguson
U.S. Air Force

When you hear stories about trade these days, they’re often focused on tariffs — and the ongoing dispute between the United States and China. But there’s another trade story in Asia that also has lingering implications.

The Philippine Islands have a problem with plastics — and specifically with thousands of tons of plastic waste that has been shipped from South Korea.

A Philippine environmental group called The EcoWaste Coalition says the trash arrived on the island of Mindanao in two shipments — one in late July and the other in late October.

Some 6,500 tons of waste was labelled as “plastic synthetic flakes” — a form of recycled material. But the environmental group said it was made up of plastic trash, as well as used batteries, and even dirty diapers.

The case got wider coverage in regional media this week after Greenpeace released pictures of some of the garbage.

South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo reports demonstrations have been staged in recent weeks, including one in front of the South Korean embassy in Manila — calling for the return of the trash to South Korea by Christmas.

Credit A. LaValle / NPS Photo
NPS Photo

The Philippine Star quoted an activist who said “we…find it ironic that while South Korea is taking action to control its plastic waste…its unwanted plastics are being sent abroad.”

The Korea Times quotes an official of South Korea’s environment ministry as saying the shipment did not come from the government, but from a local waste exporter – adding “we are set to take legal action to get the company to address the issue.”

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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