The US, Japan and the UK are the three biggest plastic waste exporters to Malaysia, accounting for 53 per cent of the 754,000 tonnes of junk imported from January to July.
Malaysia’s National Solid Waste Management Department said the US was the highest importer, followed by Japan, Britain, Germany, Hong Kong, Australia, Belgium, Spain, Estonia and France.
Greenpeace Malaysia’s Recycling Myth report on violations in plastic waste disposal comes as more recycling factories are opening in Jenjarom in Selangor, Johor and Penang.
“Malaysia has become the world’s rubbish bin,” Greenpeace’s Heng Kiah Chun told the media.
The NGO said plastic recycling factories in Kuala Langat in Selangor received waste from over 19 countries with the equivalent in weight to around 100,000 large elephants arriving in the first seven months of the year.
But only 9 per cent of the recycling was deemed clean enough for recycling, Greenpeace said.
It said the remaining 12 per cent of plastic waste was incinerated and 79 per cent dumped.
In July, the government revoked the approved permit on plastic waste imports, affecting 114 legal plastic recycling factories across Malaysia until October 23.
But housing minister Zuraida Kamaruddin said plastic processing generated around RM30 billion that could not be outlawed.
During a surprise visit to Kuala Langat, she told reporters: “We will give these factories and sites reasonable time to dispose of the waste at a proper designated place, once and for all.
“They must clear up, failing which we will take action against the factory owner or the landowner such as blacklisting them,” Kamaruddin said.
But Kuala Langat residents say more than 50 illegal firms are now operating in their area and it is damaging their health.
“We are the ones bearing the environmental risk of these plastic waste,” Pua Lay Ting of the environmental group Peka told the media.
“Even if we avoid the dumping grounds and install water filters, we cannot avoid the acrid smell in the air.”
KLEPA president Tan Ching Hin said the illegal recycling plants produced solid waste and water pollution that had forced fish and prawn farms to close.
Tan blamed chronic respiratory diseases on the open burning of unrecyclable waste and said the illegal factories were mostly owned by Chinese companies, which hired foreign workers.
“It is shameful that we have become the dumping ground of the word,” Tan said.
Greenpeace recommended that instead of fixing the plastic waste imports regulations, Malaysia should encourage recycling and a circular economy.
It called for an end to single-use plastics across the globe.
The Perhentian Islands, Malaysia. Single-use plastic is choking the planet. Picture credit: Wikimedia