Return to sender – plastic waste must go home

10 containers weighing 450MT of illegally imported plastic waste were shipped out last May

by NG MIN SHEN & SHAHEERA AZNAM SHAH/ pic by MUHD AMIN NAHARUL

MALAYSIA is in the process of returning at least 60 shipping containers of contaminated plastic waste to their countries of origin, a process that has begun in May, as the government continues to ascertain the originating source of the other 240 containers, said Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Minister Yeo Bee Yin.

Yeo told The Malaysian Reserve in a recent interview that the government has discovered about 300 containers of plastic waste in the country so far. Negotiations are currently underway with the countries of origin to take back their waste, Yeo said, as Malaysia remains firm in its stance of refusing to bear the storage and shipping costs.

“60 (containers) are being sent back (to the respective countries). But do you know, we have (about) 300 plus? Our philosophy is, we’re not going to pay. I’m not going to pay for other people’s rubbish to be sent back. So we’re using diplomacy, looking for laws, making sure we don’t pay for it. It takes some time. But the good thing is, you learn how to do it.

“Institutions must learn how to do it, and do it efficiently. It’s a steep learning curve, but the next time when institutions know how to return it, it’s a process we can follow very quickly. It’s not an easy task,” Yeo said.

Yeo said in May that companies found guilty of illegally importing rubbish into Malaysia would have to pay for expenses incurred to store the rubbish here and to return it to its source.

She also said a total of 3,000 metric tonnes (MT) of plastic waste from some 50 containers are expected to be shipped back to their countries of origin by year-end, once inspections are completed.

Malaysia has already shipped out 10 containers weighing 450MT of illegally imported plastic waste last May, back to the countries of origin.

South-East Asia has become the dumping ground for plastic waste from nations such as Australia, the UK, the US and Japan, following China’s ban on plastic waste imports since January 2018.

Prior to that, China was the largest plastic waste importer globally, having imported more than seven million tonnes — or nearly half of the world’s plastic recyclables — in 2016.

In another development, Yeo said the Ministry of Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change (MESTECC) has closed 170 illegal plastic recycling factories mostly in Selangor and Kedah.

Yeo credited the closures to exco-members who, she believes, have taken greater ownership of their power and problems to resolve the issue.

“The plastic containers (issue), it is handled by people who are very passionate about it. We also have people who are very passionate about closing down illegal factories. A lot of our excos are new and were worried about doing these things, but now they’re more empowered to do so,” Yeo said.

When asked about Malaysia’s river pollution problem, the minister said the new legislation that is currently being drafted to replace the Environment Quality Act 1974 (EQA 1974) would take into account the loading capacity rather than measuring pollution by concentration, as the latter does not consider the number of factories involved.

She explained that even if every factory complies with the permitted concentration amount, a particular river would still become polluted if all factories nearby were to dump their waste in the same place.

“The new Act will take loading capacity into account to see how much one river can take. The complexity is within the legalities of the current law.

“We rejected the previous draft two months ago, so we’re drafting a new one. The lawmaking process takes a long time as you need to undertake regulatory impact assessments. I hope we’ll be able to get it done by next year,” Yeo said.

It was reported that MESTECC was in the process of drafting a new law to replace the EQA 1974, following the toxic waste dumping incident at Kim Kim River in Pasir Gudang, Johor, where 4,000 people had fallen sick and 111 schools had to be temporarily closed.