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Cambodia to Return 1,700 Tons of Plastic Waste to U.S., Canada

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A boy walks past a plastic-choked canal in in Phnom Penh, Cambodia on Jan. 17, 2019. TANG CHHIN SOTHY / AFP / Getty Images

Cambodia is the latest Asian country to reject the wealthy world's plastic waste.


Government officials said Wednesday that they would send 1,600 tonnes (approximately 1,764 tons) of waste back to the U.S. and Canada after the trash was discovered in 83 containers Tuesday in the country's port of Sihanoukville, CNN reported.

"Cambodia is not a dustbin where foreign countries can dispose of out-of-date e-waste, and the government also opposes any import of plastic waste and lubricants to be recycled in this country," said Neth Pheaktra, secretary of state and spokesman of the Ministry of Environment, as CNN reported.

In addition to returning the waste, Cambodia is also investigating how the containers, which were misleadingly labeled as "recyclable products," ended up there in the first place. The companies behind the shipment could face fines if found out.

Seventy of the containers came from the U.S. and 13 from Canada, Pheaktra said, as The Guardian reported.

Social media users also reacted to the delivery, The Guardian reported. Transparency International Cambodia's Executive Director Preap Kol called it a "serious insult" in a Facebook post.

The waste arrived a week after Prime Minister Hun Sen announced that Cambodia prohibits the import of plastic or other recyclable material.

Cambodia's decision follows similar moves by Asian countries in recent months, who have gotten fed up with the influx of foreign waste after China banned imports in 2018.

Malaysia vowed in May to return 3,300 tons of waste shipped from countries including the U.S., UK, Australia and Canada. The Philippines, meanwhile, recalled its ambassador to Ottawa after Canada missed a May 15 deadline to take back tons of rubbish. Canada later agreed to pay for its return by the end of June.

Also in May, more than 180 countries amended the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Waste and their Disposal to include plastic pollution. The legally binding agreement stipulated that any importing country can choose to accept or decline more plastic. The U.S. was one of the few countries that did not sign the agreement, but it is a major contributor to the problem. A report released in early July found that the U.S. produces more garbage and recycles less of it compared to other developed countries, The Guardian reported. With four percent of the population, it produces 12 percent of the world's municipal solid waste.

Worldwide, around 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic (approximately 9.1 tons) have been produced since the 1950s, and only around nine percent of that has been recycled, according to Greenpeace. As much as 12.7 million tonnes (approximately 14 million tons) ends up in the oceans each year.

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A volcano erupts on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island on Dec. 9, 2019. Michael Schade / Twitter

A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.

"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."

The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.

Michael Schade / Twitter

At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.

The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.

Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.

"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."

Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.

Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.

"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.

"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."

The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.

Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.