Report: Bulk of US plastic waste shipments end up in Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam

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KUALA LUMPUR (Oct 6): About half of plastic waste coming out of the US for recycling recorded for the first six months of this year was taken to Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam, said Unearthed, Greenpeace’s investigative arm, reported British newspaper The Guardian yesterday.

“This year’s ban on foreign waste imports by China, previously the world’s biggest importer of plastic waste for recycling, has left western countries scrambling to offload its extra plastic waste.

“The US, along with Britain, Germany, Japan and Mexico, is among the biggest exporters of scrap plastic to China,” said the publication in its report.

“Instead of taking responsibility for their own waste, US companies are exploiting developing countries that lack the regulation to protect themselves,” John Hocevar, Oceans campaign director for Greenpeace USA told The Guardian.

Hocevar also revealed that the plastics could contain toxic materials.

“It’s a problem for the US and other developed countries to produce, often, toxic material which they can’t or won’t take care of themselves,” he said.

The Guardian said that “reports suggest countries in Southeast Asia are struggling to process and manage the tide of plastic waste waiting to be processed following the China ban”.

“As the imports increased, we are seeing these countries starting to react,” said Hocevar.

“Ultimately, we need to reduce this waste at source.”

“It does come across as opportunistic. My guess is over time, those countries will crack down on imports and processing waste,” Daniel Hoornweg, associate professor in the faculty of energy systems and nuclear science at the University of Ontario technology institute, told The Guardian.

In July, Energy, Technology, Science, Climate Change and Environment Minister Yeo Bee Yin said the government has introduced new sets of Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) and regulations for the application of solid waste import licenses and revoked the 114 existing licenses with immediate effect.

She said the licenses were issued by the National Solid Waste Management Department under the Ministry of Housing and Local Government.

"The licence holders need to re-apply the licence and meet the new SOP and criteria to ensure that there will be no violation of standards and regulations."

Last month, Water, Land and Natural Resources Minister Dr A. Xavier Jayakumar called on the relevant authorities to suspend, without fear or favour, all unlicensed plastic waste recycling factories in Kuala Langat, Selangor.

The Kuala Langat MP said the unabated recycling activities continued to pollute the environment and pose health risks to nearby residents in his constituency.

"Given the operators' brazen acts in continuing their operations, this gives me the impression that the authorities and enforcement agencies are either in cahoots with these operators or have not clearly done their duties to ensure that such plants are not allowed to operate again," he said in a statement.

Later in September, plastic recycling industry players welcomed the decision of the government to introduce new conditions in the application of import permit (AP) for plastic waste from Oct 23, said Housing and Local Government Minister Zuraida Kamaruddin.

"The ministry had held discussions with plastic waste recycling industry players on introducing the new conditions.

“Plastic waste AP applicants will be required to fill forms and meet the new conditions,” she said.