Malaysia to return 3,000 tonnes of contaminated waste imports

Malaysia will reportedly send back 3,000 tonnes of contaminated waste to countries including the UK, America, Australia and Canada, after sixty shipping containers had been smuggled into illegal processing facilities in the country.

The sixty shipping containers were filled with contaminated waste, said environment minister Yeo Bee Yin.

According to reports by Sky News, the waste included cables from the UK, CDs from Bangladesh, contaminated milk cartons from Australia and electronic and household waste from North America, Japan, Saudi Arabia and China.

Ten containers will be sent back within two weeks, said the environment minister, signalling Malaysia’s effort to reduce unscrupulous export of scrap.

Malaysia successfully negotiated the Basel Convention to amend certain annexes, which saw government permission being required for the import of plastic waste from other countries.

Since July last year, the country has also imposed a “freeze” on the import of plastics categorised under “HS Code 3915”, which involves plastic waste, scrap and parings.

UK Plastic Exports

The UK exports around twice as much plastic packaging for recycling as it processes domestically – almost all of it to Asia, according to a recent report by Greenpeace

For years, most of this went to China, but since China banned these imports at the start of 2018, Malaysia has become the world’s top destination for plastic for recycling.

Between January and August 2018, the UK exported over 88,000 tonnes of plastic scrap to Malaysia – more than a quarter of the UK’s total plastic scrap exports. At the same time, the country has been inundated with plastic scrap from around the world, overloading its waste management system.

Last December, as China was preparing to ban plastic imports, environment secretary Michael Gove told the BBC that, in the long term, the UK would have to “stop offshoring our dirt.”

There are concerns the system of exporting waste could be inflating the UK’s recycling rates and failing to channel investment into recycling facilities in the UK.

Under EU recycling rules, materials can only be exported for recycling if they will be treated in broadly equivalent environmental conditions to how they would be handled in Europe.

A recent RECOUP report found 52% of local authorities have reported experiencing issues with plastic markets, with nearly half of these stating market values were being affected.

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