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Malaysia orders Australia take back piles of ‘illegal’ rubbish in crackdown on plastics

Updated: Jun 10, 2021

Malaysia has warned of showing “no mercy” in its war on waste as it prepares to send containers of stinking rubbish back to Australia.

As much as 3000 tonnes of contaminated plastic waste, which the Malaysian government says was “illegally” brought to its country, will be returned to at least 14 nations including Australia, the USA, Japan, France, Canada and Britain.

It follows China’s move last year to ban recycled plastic imports – a flow of about 7 million tonnes of trash a year – turning Malaysia into the world’s main destination for this kind of trash.

Dozens of recycling factories have cropped up in Malaysia, many without operating licences, and communities have complained of environmental problems.

The junk is often processed informally in villages where local people pick through piles of the Western world’s unwanted waste.

Malaysia’s environment minister Yeo Bee Yin said 60 containers of rubbish that had been imported illegally would be sent back.

She said her country’s people had a right to clean air, water and environment.

“These containers were illegally brought into the country under false declaration and other offences which clearly violates our environmental law,” Ms Yeo told reporters, after inspecting the shipments at Port Klang, on the outskirts of the capital.

Ms Yeo said citizens of developed nations were largely unaware that their rubbish, which they thought was being recycled, was instead mostly being dumped in Malaysia, where it was disposed of using environmentally harmful methods.

“We are urging developed nations to review their management of plastic waste and stop shipping garbage to developing countries,” she said.

“If you ship to Malaysia, we will return it back without mercy.”

Malaysia’s angry rebuke comes as Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte warned he was willing to “declare war” on Canada over 69 containers of garbage.

Mr Duterte ordered his government to hire a private shipping company to send the reeking shipment back to Canada and leave them within its territorial waters if it refused to accept them.

Canada agreed to take back the mess but said the waste, exported to the Philippines between 2013 and 2014, was a commercial transaction done without government consent.

Earlier in May, news reports also exposed the situation in Indonesia where villagers were faced with mountains of Australian waste, with telltale Coles and Woolworths-brand plastics blowing in the wind.

Australia’s new environment minister Sussan Ley has already indicated a desire to address the issue of the country’s contaminated recyclable  waste products.

The Morrison government promised $200 million before the election to increase recycling and reduce waste and has appointed Australia’s first assistant minister for waste reduction, Trevor Evans.

A report published by Yale’s School of Environment Studies said since China’s ban just over a year ago, more plastics globally were ending up in landfill, incinerators, or likely littering the environment.

The review said Australia’s recycling industry was facing a “crisis” as the country struggled to handle the 1.3 million-ton stockpile of recyclable waste it had previously shipped to China.


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