Cambodia fines waste importer, sets deadline for its return

Kun Nhim, general director of Cambodia's General Department of Customs and Excise of the Ministry of Economy and Finance, gives a press conference, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Tuesday, July 30, 2019. Cambodia's government has ordered the local company that imported almost seven dozen containers of plastic waste from the US and Canada that were discovered sitting at a seaport to be fined, and warned that if the waste is not sent back to its countries of origin before Aug. 24. the company will face criminal charges. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)
Kun Nhim, general director of Cambodia's General Department of Customs and Excise of the Ministry of Economy and Finance, left, gives a press conference as Neth Pheaktra, center, Secretary of State of the Ministry of Environment, listens, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Tuesday, July 30, 2019. Cambodia's government has ordered the local company that imported almost seven dozen containers of plastic waste from the US and Canada that were discovered sitting at a seaport to be fined, and warned that if the waste is not sent back to its countries of origin before Aug. 24. the company will face criminal charges.(AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — A top customs official in Cambodia said Tuesday that a local company that illegally imported almost seven dozen shipping containers of plastic waste from the United States and Canada has been ordered to pay a fine of nearly $260,000, and will face criminal charges if the waste is not sent back to its countries of origin before Aug. 24.

Kun Nhim, director general of Cambodia's General Department of Customs and Excise, said at a news conference that the waste was imported by the local company Chungyuen Plastic Manufacture Co. in 27 shipments running from September 2018 to this month.

He said the company has promised to ship the waste back out of the port of Sihanoukville on the Gulf of Thailand by the deadline.

The July 16 discovery of the waste came a few days after Prime Minister Hun Sen declared at a Cabinet meeting that Cambodia is not a dumping ground for any kind of waste and does not allow the import of any kind of plastic waste or other recyclables.

The cross-border disposal of waste became a major regional issue after China, previously its main destination, barred imports of almost all foreign plastic waste early last year. Waste shipments shifted to other countries such as Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia, which in turn also started rejecting shipments.

Neth Pheaktra, an Environment Ministry spokesman, said at the news conference that laboratory tests found that the waste did not contain any toxic materials or radioactive substances that could affect human health or the environment, but he pointed out that it was nonetheless prohibited by Cambodian law.

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