Malaysia has become the latest Southeast Asian country to crack down on imports of plastic waste, ordering 450 metric tonnes of contaminated waste to be returned to their country of origin. The Malaysian government has ordered the inspection of dozens of containers of imported trash and says that it expects to return 3,000 tonnes in total.
The waste comes from Australia, the USA, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Japan, China and Bangladesh. Malaysia has become a major importer of plastic waste for recycling since China banned imports in 2018. In the year following the ban, imports of plastic waste to Malaysia tripled to nearly 900,000 tonnes, while Indonesia’s exports grew 140 per cent.
Although the waste is supposed to be recyclable, investigations by Malaysia’s Ministry of Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate have found that some of the waste is contaminated and cannot be recycled, while local environmental groups have warned that some importers are simply dumping the waste once it enters the country.
“Garbage is traded under the pretext of recycling,” the minister of energy, science, technology, environment and climate Yeo Bee Yin said. “Malaysians are forced to suffer poor air quality due to the open burning of plastics which leads to health hazard[s], polluted rivers, illegal landfills and a host of other related problems.”
Last month, the Philippines withdrew its ambassador from Canada during a spat between the two countries over a shipment of contaminated plastic waste. Canada eventually agreed to pay to have the trash repatriated.
In May, 180 nations agreed to amend the Basel Convention, a treaty that regulates how toxic waste moves across borders and is disposed of, to include plastic waste.
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