Malaysia has returned about 150 containers of plastic waste sent to them by other countries, mostly rich countries, since October 2019 with another 110 containers expected to be returned by the middle of this year. Malaysian Environment Minister Yeo Bee Yin warned on Monday that those who want to make the country a rubbish bin of the world can “dream on.”

This practice has likely been tolerated in small doses for several years, but in 2018 China banned the import of plastic waste that greatly increased its flow to Malaysia and other poor Asian countries.  Yeo, in May 2019, told the New Straits Times that the cargos of trash in the containers were illegally brought into Malaysia under false declaration and other offenses clearly violating the environmental law.

Yeo continued in the report that unscrupulous Malaysians who had a hand in bringing in the foreign garbage were traitors. She said, “Malaysians who import foreign garbage into Malaysia are traitors to the country’s sustainability. They must be stopped and brought to justice.”

France and the United Kingdom were the main originators of the unwanted material with 43 and 42 containers each. The United States and Canada ranked next with 17 and 11. The balance was from Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, Portugal, China, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Lithuania, Yeo’s ministry said.

Hi grade recyclable plastic waste can be made into other products and re-used but many examples of contaminated, non-homogeneous, low quality and non-recyclable plastic were found in the containers:

  • Minister Yeo displayed a plastic bread bag from Canada. She praised Canadians for being diligent in their efforts to recycle but was not happy that it ended up in Malaysia
  • Yeo also discovered milk bottles from Australia infested with dead maggots plus electronic waste, electrical cables, wires, as well as a supermarket plastic bag scrap.
  • One container from Bangladesh contained jumbo bags of CDs.
  • Another from China was found to have been filled with illegal waste but wrapped around clean packaging to mislead the authorities.

Malaysia is taking other steps to block the flow of waste to its ports. Yeo said putting a stop to over 200 illegal plastic recycling factories and strict enforcement at Malaysian ports were key to blocking the smuggling of waste.  

“If people want to see us as the rubbish dump of the world, you dream on,” Yeo told reporters during an inspection at a port in northern Penang state Monday. “Our position is very firm. We just want to send back (the waste) and we just want to give a message that Malaysia is not the dumping site of the world.”

Environment Minister Yeo Bee Yin said Malaysia had returned 150 shipping containers of plastic waste to places including France, Britain and the US Environment Minister Yeo Bee Yin said Malaysia had returned 150 shipping containers of plastic waste to places including France, Britain and the US Photo: AFP / Mohd RASFAN