Police chiefs are warning that Thailand is becoming the new dumping ground for the world’s illegal electronic waste.
Officers claim shipments have been flowing into the country since January, when China banned so-called e-waste imports, and dozens of factories have been raided by officers as part of a crackdown on smugglers.
At one site on the outskirts of Bangkok, Sky News filmed huge towers of broken phones, computers and televisions.
Much of the waste has been brought in without a licence and is burned or mined for precious metals before being left to corrode.
Thailand’s deputy national police commissioner, police general Wirachai Songmetta, said so far imports had been detected from 35 countries – including the UK.
He told Sky News: “We have seen every country, all over the world, trying to dump their hazardous waste on Thailand. Thai people do not want this.”
Figures from The Global E-waste Monitor 2017 show the world generates at least 44.7 million metric tons of electronic waste annually.
The fate of 76% of that is unknown, but it is likely to be dumped or traded illegally.
Customs officials in Thailand say at least 52,200 tons of electronic waste had already been imported in the first five months of 2018, compared to 64,400 tons during the whole of 2017.
Smugglers have been mislabelling shipments to try to sneak the products in.
Environmental campaigners believe waste once destined from China is now being rerouted to Thailand and say tougher laws are needed to stop the illegal imports.
They warn electronics containing toxic chemicals including mercury, lead and cadmium are polluting the environment.
“Lead and mercury are dangerous heavy metals that can destroy the central nervous system,” explained Penchom Saetang, director of Ecological Alert and Recovery Thailand.
“They’re also very dangerous for pregnant women and can harm the foetus.”
Prasit Choothip and Somnuak Jeenklab run a shrimp farm next to the illegal Bangkok factory and claim the site has poisoned the water.
“When it rains, the water and chemicals flow into the shrimp pond. It causes the shrimp to die,” Mr Choothip said.
“It causes a bad smell. People have become ill and can’t sleep. The smell spreads all over the area.”
Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has vowed to step up inspections in an effort to combat illegal the issue.