China’s waste ban has turned Malaysia into the world’s dumping ground – and now Malaysia’s climate change minister wants exporting countries to take their trash back

Climate Change Minister Yeo Bee Yin told reporters that plastic waste was smuggled into Malaysia through shipping containers.

Malaysia’s climate change minister has put her foot down on the issue of illegal plastic waste dumping in the country.

In a press conference on Tuesday (April 23), The Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Minister Yeo Bee Yin told reporters that plastic waste was smuggled into Malaysia through shipping containers which were falsely declared as imports that did not require a permit, The Star Reported.

Now, Yeo wants exporting countries to take their trash back from Malaysia.

Yeo said that the import company which had smuggled the waste-filled containers into Malaysia had already been identified, The Star reported.

She was quoted by New Straits Times as saying: “We are also concerned as to how these containers could make its way so easily into our ports. If there is foul play involved, we will take action against all those involved.”

“Malaysia will not be the dumping ground of the world, we will send back (the waste) to the original countries,” The Star quoted Yeo as saying. She also added that waste would be shipped back to the exporting countries, but not at Malaysia’s expense.

Citing Yeo, New Straits Times reported that since January, 148 illegal plastic recycling plants had been shut down nationwide.

The ban that started it all

The issue first started when China imposed a ban on solid waste imports on January 1 last year. The ban covers imports of 24 kinds of solid waste, including unsorted paper and low-grade polyethylene terephthalate, which is used in plastic bottles, The New York Times reported.

Before the ban came into effect, China had been processing at least half of the world’s exports of waste, The New York Times said.

China’s decision left many countries around the world scrambling for an alternative dumping ground, including Hong Kong, who had been exporting over 90 per cent of its recyclables to China before the ban was imposed, Reuters reported.

Read also: Hong Kong drowning in waste as China rubbish ban takes toll

Malaysia becomes plastics dumping ground for the world

As a result of China’s ban, countries like Vietnam and Malaysia soon turned into an alternative dumping ground for many countries.

In October 2018, Reuters reported that Malaysia was importing nearly half a million tonnes of plastic waste in the first half of the year, and all from the top 10 source countries alone.

Many unlicensed factories used low-end technology and environmentally harmful methods of disposal to handle the waste, the article added.

Read also: Swamped with plastic waste: Malaysia struggles as global scrap piles up

Plastic waste are piled outside an illegal recycling factory in Jenjarom, Kuala Langat, Malaysia October 14, 2018. Picture taken October 14, 2018.

Citing management and pollution concerns, Yeo announced in the same month that the government would ban the import of all non-recyclable solid waste, particularly plastic, The Star Reported.

Yeo also added that the government would ensure that Malaysia would not be not a dumping ground for waste from developed countries, The Star said.

But the issue with illegal plastic dumping has persisted since.

Burnt plastic waste from open burning is pictured on the roadside in Pulau Indah, Malaysia October 14, 2018. Picture taken October 14, 2018.

On April 14, Australia’s 60 Minutes revealed that plastics meant to be sent for recycling by the Australian public were actually being dumped at illegal processing sites in Malaysia.

“It’s turned Malaysia into Australia’s dumping ground, with dire consequences including contamination of drinking water and air pollution,” 60 Minutes reported.

Australia had previously been relying on China to manage its 125,000 tonnes of plastic waste annually, the report said.

According to the current affairs programme, Australia alone has dumped more than 71,000 tonnes of plastic waste in Malaysia in just 12 months. This has helped to fuel a “criminal underworld in plastic recycling”, and is harming the environment and people of Malaysia, the report added.

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