Plastic waste to be sent back

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on May 29, 2019.
Plastic waste to be sent back
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KUALA LUMPUR: Some 3,000 tonnes of illegally imported plastic waste will be sent back to their countries of origin, said Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Minister Yeo Bee Yin.

A special task force set up about a month ago had inspected about 123 containers and 60 of them containing 3,000 tonnes of plastic are expected to be sent back after closer inspection, Yeo said.

She vowed to ensure that Malaysia would not be a dumping ground of the world, Bernama reported.

“Malaysia, like any other developing country, has the right to clean air, water, sustainable resource and a clean environment to live in, just like citizens of developed countries,” Yeo said at a press conference in Port Klang.

“That is why we are here to urge developed countries to review their management of plastic waste and stop shipping garbage out ... if they ship to Malaysia we will return back without mercy,” she added.

She said 10 of the 60 containers would be returned immediately to their countries of origin within 14 days, noting that prior to this five containers had been sent back to Spain.

 Yeo said the costs of returning the containers would be borne by either importers or exporters depending on the laws the government would be using.

“The quicker one is by using local laws, such as the Environmental Quality Act 1974 to necessitate and make it mandatory for them (consignee or importer) to send back, failing which they will be brought to court.

“If that fails, let’s say we could not find the consignee ... then only we will use the Basel Convention in which exporters have to pay for it, because it is illegal traffic under Article 9 (sending waste) without consent ... but because the process is longer we would like to first seek using local laws because under the local law, within 14 days you have to send back the waste,” she said.

Citing an example, Yeo said, a UK firm had exported more than 50,000 tonnes of plastics for recycling, which were imported by a single company in Malaysia. The investigation was ongoing, she said.

She said the blame for the dumping of prohibited plastic waste in the country should not be placed solely on exporters because it took two to tango.

“Every container [imported] will have its local player here ... otherwise they cannot export it here; that was why I said they are traitors,” she said after inspecting shipping containers with contaminated plastic waste at Westports in Port Klang.

Yeo said the task force would proceed with inspections in other ports in the country by using the standard operating procedures used in their first phase at Port Klang.

 Dozens of recycling factories have cropped up in Malaysia, many without operating licences and communities have complained of environmental problems, Reuters reported.

Yeo said citizens of developed nations were largely unaware that their rubbish, which they think is being recycled, is instead mostly being dumped in Malaysia, where it is disposed of using environmentally harmful methods.

 This month, about 180 countries agreed to amend the Basel Convention to make global trade in plastic waste more transparent and better regulated.

The US, the world’s top exporter of plastic waste, has not ratified the 30-year-old pact.