Return to sender: KL gets tough on illegal plastic waste imports

Malaysia's Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Minister Yeo Bee Yin showing a sample of plastic waste in Port Klang, on May 28, 2019.
Malaysia's Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Minister Yeo Bee Yin showing a sample of plastic waste in Port Klang, on May 28, 2019.PHOTO: AFP
Malaysia's Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Minister Yeo Bee Yin showing containers filled with illegally imported plastic trash.
Malaysia's Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Minister Yeo Bee Yin showing containers filled with illegally imported plastic trash. ST PHOTO: HAZLIN HASSAN
Plastic milk cartons from Australia are that have been sent to Malaysia illegally.
Plastic milk cartons from Australia are that have been sent to Malaysia illegally.ST PHOTO: HAZLIN HASSAN
Plastic milk cartons from Australia are that have been sent to Malaysia illegally.
Plastic milk cartons from Australia are that have been sent to Malaysia illegally.ST PHOTO: HAZLIN HASSAN

Malaysia cannot be bullied, minister says, urging developed countries to review policies

Malaysia will send back plastic scrap imported illegally from several countries, including Singapore and Bangladesh, Minister of Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Yeo Bee Yin said yesterday.

"We will work very hard to make sure that whoever sends their waste to Malaysia, we will send it back and we will fight back. Even though we are a small country, we cannot be bullied by developed countries," she told a news conference after inspecting nine containers of waste from Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, China, Japan, Saudi Arabia and the US at Westport, Klang.

Containers full of contaminated, non-homogeneous, low-quality, non-recyclable plastic waste are entering the country, contravening local and international laws, said Ms Yeo. She showed reporters plastic milk cartons riddled with maggots from Australia, while a container from China had packaging from France among its contents.

Other containers held mixed plastic and electronic waste, brought into the country under false declarations and other pretences.

She said that one recycling company in Britain exported more than 50,000 tonnes of plastic waste in about 1,000 containers to Malaysia during the past two years.

"Garbage like what you see just now is traded under the pretext of recycling," said Ms Yeo.

"What the citizens of the UK believe they are sending for recycling is actually being dumped in our country," she said.

FALSE PRETENCES

Garbage like what you see just now is traded under the pretext of recycling.

MS YEO BEE YIN, Minister of Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change.

"We urge the developed countries to review their management of plastic waste and stop shipping garbage out to developing countries. If they ship to Malaysia, we will return it without mercy."

Local importers will be forced to foot the bill and return the shipments within 14 days, failing which the government will resort to using the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal, which will involve a lengthier procedure, she said.

The minister said five containers were returned to Spain on April 29, and she expected 450 tonnes of contaminated plastic waste from 10 containers to be shipped back soon.

To date, the ministry has inspected 123 containers from various countries including Singapore, Bangladesh, Britain, the United States, Japan, China, Spain, Canada, Australia, Netherlands, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Norway and France, she said.

 
 
 

A total of 3,000 tonnes of plastic waste found in 60 of the containers will also be sent back.

Since July last year, the Malaysian government has cracked down on illegal imports of plastic waste, and shut down unlicensed plastic recycling factories.

Last year, illegal recycling factories, said to be operated by Chinese nationals, began mushrooming in Malaysia after Beijing banned plastic waste imports in January.

Malaysia took in 754,000 tonnes of plastic between January and July last year, up from 450,000 tonnes in 2017.

But after struggling with the increased shipments of trash and complaints of health and environmental problems from people living near the factories, the government decided it would not be the "trash can" for developed nations. It shut down more than 150 illegal plastic recycling factories, suspended imports of plastic waste and tightened the criteria for licences to import plastic waste for recycling.

Malaysia's actions to return the scrap came after Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte ordered his government to send 69 containers of garbage back to Canada and leave them within its territorial waters if Ottawa refuses to accept it.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 29, 2019, with the headline 'Return to sender: KL gets tough on illegal plastic waste imports'. Print Edition | Subscribe