Tracking Plastic Waste Crime

by Maggie Gainer

Recognizing the worldwide problems caused by the ever-increasing generation of plastic waste, the Basel Action Network’s (BAN) Plastic Waste Transparency Project has begun to track plastic waste crime. 

Europe and North America are believed to export most of their plastic waste to Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, Vietnam and Thailand. Whereas Australia and New Zealand have increased their waste exports to other Asian countries such as Malaysia, Japan has increased its waste exports largely to Thailand.

US plastic waste exports by state to non-OECD destination (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.) Graph source: Basel Action Network,

Since March 2021, governments have begun to react to BAN-issued warnings of likely illegal exports of plastic waste from the US. BAN reports that amendments adopted by the 188 Parties to the Basel Convention, as of January 1, 2021, mandate that these countries will be unable to import US plastic wastes unless they are very pure and unmixed. In its announcement, BAN highlighted recent data showing the US exports have not diminished despite the new rules and flagged three active shipments moving to Indonesia, Malaysia, and India. Already, there have been strong reactions against these pending shipments.

When plastics are shipped overseas, it does not necessarily mean that they will become  recycled products. It is common for children to sort piles of plastics where human rights and environmental regulations are less stringent. Unrecyclable materials in these countries are often disposed of in their dumps and waterways.

What can you do?

For plastics, be careful to not contaminate materials collected for recycling. Check with your recycling collector to follow their instructions for which plastics they accept in the recycling container and which plastics they don’t want. No matter what is printed on a plastic bag about recyclability or compostability, DO NOT put plastic bags in your recycling curbside container. Different plastics can look very similar and you cannot rely on the manufacturers’ recycling labels. The best action you can take regarding plastics is to avoid them at the point-of-purchase and adopt new shopping habits with reusable, refillable, returnable food and beverage packaging. An upcoming public education campaign will provide Humboldt shoppers with a checklist for easy alternatives to single use plastic bags and containers. For assistance in reducing your plastic consumption and waste, email  

Zero Waste Humboldt joins our fellow Zero Waste organizations for a national kick-off campaign, “ReOpen with Reuse” to help businesses, schools, organizations and individuals adopt better alternatives to single-use plastics.  Plastic Free July is an annual campaign – we encourage EcoNews readers to join with us for a step-by-step approach to new habits.