UK ‘not among Malaysia plastic waste culprits’

EXCLUSIVE: None of the illegally exported plastic waste so-far uncovered in containers in Malaysian ports has been traced back to the UK, the Malaysian government has confirmed.

A container is opened in Port Klang as part of ongoing enforcement action

And, no formal request has been received from the Malaysian authorities to repatriate waste to England, the Environment Agency told letsrecycle.com today (29 May), despite media reports suggesting that the UK was among the countries of origin of the material.

Malaysia’s government has confirmed that 450 tonnes of ‘contaminated and low quality’ mixed plastic waste is being returned to countries including Australia, the US, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Japan, China and Bangladesh following inspections of 10 containers at ports carried out this week.

A further five containers of material were repatriated to Spain following similar action last month.

Further inspections

Malaysian officials are inspecting a further 50 containers containing an estimated 3,000 tonnes of material for further evidence of illegal export. The origins of these containers has not been given.

To date, the Malaysian government said it has inspected material in a total of 123 containers, including material from the UK, Netherlands, Norway and France, as it seeks to crack down on illegal imports of contaminated plastic waste from overseas.

“We will continue to weed out the imports of contaminated plastic waste.”


YB Yeo Bee Yin
Malaysian Government

The move follows the country’s bid to tighten controls on the import of plastic scrap last summer due to concerns over increasing shipments of the material (see letsrecycle.com story).

Commenting on the latest enforcement action, the country’s environment minister YB Yeo Bee Yin, said: “We will continue to weed out the imports of contaminated plastic waste. These containers were illegally brought into the country under false declaration and other offences which clearly violates our environmental law.

“Garbage is being traded under the pretext of recycling. Malaysians are forced to suffer poor air quality due to open burning of plastics which leads to health hazard, polluted rivers, illegal landfills and a host of other related problems.

“We view the perpetrators of this act as traitors to the country’s sustainability and therefore they should be stopped and brought to justice.”

Environment Agency

In the UK, the Agency has also issued a strong warning to any individuals and businesses potentially involved in the illegal export of contaminated waste over sanctions that could be imposed should they be found to be breaching international waste shipment laws.

Offenders could face criminal or financial sanctions, the Agency said, whilst highlighting that officers are carrying out pro-active and intelligence led inspections to stop waste shipments that breach international regulations.

In a statement issued this morning, an Environment Agency spokesperson said: “The UK is committed to tackling illegal waste exports, which is why individuals found to be exporting incorrectly described waste can face a two-year jail term or an unlimited fine.

“We are yet to receive a formal request from the Malaysian Authorities to repatriate any English waste, but discussions are ongoing to find ways to strengthen UK waste export management.”

Duty of Care

Responding to the story, Sam Corp, head of regulation at the Environmental Services Association, which represents the UK’s waste management sector, said: “While the facts are still unfolding in relation reported waste repatriated from Malaysia, it is worth noting that waste producing companies, local authorities and waste managers all have a legal ‘Duty of Care’ to ensure that waste is managed appropriately and legally.

“Failings in Duty of Care can provide opportunities for waste criminals and so exacerbate a problem which is still costing the UK up to £1billion each year. Waste crime not only causes harm to the environment and communities but it also deters investment into much needed waste management capacity in the UK.”

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