After China closed its doors to plastic waste imports in 2018, developed countries sharply increased exports of non-recyclable plastic waste to Indonesia and other Southeast Asian countries. As a result, Indonesia’s plastic waste imports doubled to 320,000 tonnes in 2018 compared to 2017. Based on observations by Ecoton and Nexus3, between 25% to 50% of the plastic wastes imported by Indonesian plastic and paper recycling companies were mismanaged.
An analysis of free-range chicken eggs sampled at Tropodo and Bangun, two sites in Indonesia where imported plastic wastes are dumped and used for fuel or burned to reduce volume, revealed:
➤ Significant levels of very hazardous chemicals including dioxins, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), short-chain chlorinated paraffins (SCCPs) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), which are all regulated globally under the Stockholm Convention.
➤ The second-highest level of dioxins in eggs from Asia ever measured was found in samples collected near a tofu factory in Tropodo that burns plastic wastes for fuel.
➤ The dioxin level in the Tropodo eggs (200 pg TEQ g-1 fat) is similar to the highest recorded level of dioxins in eggs from Asia (248 pg TEQ g-1 fat) which occurred at the Bien Hoa site in Vietnam, a former US Army airbase where the soil was contaminated by historic Agent Orange use.
➤ An adult eating just one egg from a free-range chicken foraging in the vicinity of the tofu factory in Tropodo would exceed the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) tolerable daily intake (TDI) for chlorinated dioxins by 70-fold.
➤ Eggs collected near a rural plastic waste dump site in Bangun were contaminated by PFOS at levels comparable to highly industrialized areas in Europe. An adult eating just one egg per week from a free-range chicken foraging in the vicinity of the Bangun dump site would exceed the proposed EFSA tolerable weekly intake of PFOS by approximately 1.3-fold.
➤ Eggs from Tropodo and Bangun contained SCCPs and PBDEs, which are flame retardant chemicals used in plastics.
To our knowledge, this is the first study to demonstrate food chain contamination in Southeast Asia, with high levels of hazardous chemicals as a consequence of waste mismanagement and poor controls on plastic waste trade.