Malaysia Gives Back 150 Containers of Plastic Waste to 13 Countries, Refuses To Become 'The Garbage Dump Of The World'

Malaysian authorities are taking a strong stance against attempts to import plastic waste to the country illegally by sending 150 containers of it back to 13 countries.

The country recently returned waste to the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Canada and Spain, as well as China, Japan, Singapore and Sri Lanka. Of those countries, France received the most at 43, followed by the U.S. at 42. The U.K. saw 17 containers returned, while 11 were sent back to Canada and 10 to Spain. The amount returned to China, Japan, Singapore and the four other countries is unknown.

In addition, 110 other containers will be headed back to various countries by the summer, according to Minister Yeo Bee Yin, head of Malaysia's Energy, Technology, Science, Climate Change and Environment Ministry. Malaysia is negotiating with the United States to take back 60, with 15 waiting for Canada, 14 for Japan, nine for the U.K., and eight for Belgium.

"Our position is very firm. We just want to send back [the waste] and we just want to give a message that Malaysia is not the dumping site of the world," Yeo said to members of the press during an inspection held at a port in northern Penang state.

After China banned the importation of plastic waste in 2018, Malaysia became the favored port of choice for the importation of excess plastic, taking in 870,000 tons of plastic in early 2018, according to the South China Morning Post.

According to CNBC, Malaysia subsequently banned the importation of such refuse into the country in 2018 and sent back 3,300 tons of plastic waste to its countries of origin in 2019.

The crackdown occurred after dozens of plastic recycling factories, some unlicensed, sprung up to handle the surplus of material, the South China Morning Post reported. The unrecyclable plastics cannot be recycled but may be burned, which can damage the atmosphere and cause health problems for those who live nearby. When buried in landfills, they may cause soil or water contamination.

Much of the scrap allegedly comes from recycling companies, which tend to export their plastic to developing countries because doing so decreases domestic landfill totals, costs little money to do, and helps countries reach their recycling targets for the year, according to the BBC.

Since the government's declaration to refuse plastic waste in July 2018, a total of 4,120 tons of waste was returned, and 200 illegal plastic recycling factories were shut down in Malaysia.

Shipping companies that attempted to bring the plastic to Malaysia's shores bear the cost of removal and reimportation of the plastic to their home countries, Yeo said, according to the BBC.

"If people want to see us as the rubbish dump of the world, you dream on," she added.

Illegal Waste Importation, Malaysia
Environment Minister Yeo Bee Yin displays a plastic bag in 2019 for photographers as Malaysia prepared to return illegally imported trash. Yeo announced Monday that 4,120 tons of illegally imported plastic waste has already been returned to their countries of origin in 2020. Mohd RASFAN / AFP/Getty

Malaysia is planning on launching an action plan in February to deal with illegal plastic importation after launching a task force to take care of the illegal importations in May 2019. They join China, the Philippines and Indonesia in returning imported waste to other countries in recent years.

With many southeast Asian countries rejecting the scrap plastic, companies have turned to countries such as Turkey to take on the excessive waste.