Australia to stop exporting recyclable waste to Malaysia

The pledge was made by Australia’s PM last month as part of Canberra’s initiatives to safeguard the environment

by AZREEN HANI/ pic by AFP

AUSTRALIA is expected to ban the export of recyclable waste such as plastic, paper, glass and tyres to other countries including Malaysia in the near future.

Australian High Commissioner to Malaysia Andrew Goledzinowski said the pledge was made by Prime Minister (PM) Scott Morrison last month as part of Canberra’s initiatives to safeguard the environment.

“Our PM recently made a statement on committing to putting a ban on all exports of plastic recyclables, paper, electronics and such. He wants all the recycling process to be done in Australia. He hasn’t given a date yet but he is working on it. So we could safely say there will be no recyclable exports from Australia to Malaysia and other countries in some stages in the future.

“I think it is basically an active leadership, he just said that this is the right thing to do. Let us all work out now on how we are going to do it,” Goledzinowski told The Malaysian Reserve in a recent interview.

Last month, AFP reported that Morrison reached an agreement with Australian state and territory leaders to prepare a timeline to phase out the exports of recyclables like plastic, paper and glass.

“It’s our waste and it’s our responsibility. We’re laying it out very clearly that there will be no export of plastics, paper and glass to other countries where it runs the risk of ending up floating around in our oceans, whether off the Great Barrier Reef, which we know there’s strong evidence of that, or anywhere else,” Morrison said in the report.

It was also reported that local leaders had been tasked with reducing landfill and boosting the recycling sector in Australia, where just 12% of plastics are currently recycled.

In 2018, Australia exported 4.3 million tonnes of waste, with Malaysia being one of the top destinations apart from China, Vietnam, India and Indonesia.

Last May, Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Minister Yeo Bee Yin said 3,000 tonnes of waste, sent from around the world, would be returned to the originators because they were either rotting, contaminated, or had been mislabelled and smuggled in.

According to Yeo, some recyclable items that were from Australia including plastic bottles were “full of maggots”.

Goledzinowski said the multibillion recycling industry is mainly handled by private enterprises.

“The way it works is not government to government. If an exporter sends something to Malaysia or Australia, it can be sent back. The governments do not even have to become involved,” he said.

While acknowledging the fact that Malaysia has been importing tonnes of plastic waste for recycling, he said the issue arises when the firms involved did not complete the recycling process.

“Secondly, a much lower problem is some of the waste has been mislabelled. In that case, Malaysia has said to send it back and that’s perfectly fine. Malaysia is allowed to do that, not only for mislabelled items,” he said.

Touching on another environmental issue involving an Australian entity, Lynas Corp Ltd,

Goledzinowski said Putrajaya’s decision has managed to alleviate not only the Australian investors’ concerns, but also foreign investors in general.

He said a country which makes a decision based on evidence would give a positive signal to investors as everybody is confident and comfortable with the situation.

“That is what the Malaysian government has done. They are treating Lynas the same as everybody else,” he said.

He added that potentially the issue with Lynas could have affected investors’ sentiment as they were paying attention to how it was handled.

“Globally, everyone is watching this because as you know the only significant producer of rare earths outside China is Lynas Malaysia Sdn Bhd. It’s incredibly strategic (investment) and everyone has been paying attention,” he said.