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Environment

Malaysia Just Sent Tons of Plastic Waste Back to Rich Countries

Why Global Citizens Should Care
Developed countries sometimes force the costs of their consumption habits onto lower-income countries. Plastic waste can degrade environments and cause pollution that leads to negative health impacts. Global Goal 13 calls for climate action — you can join us in taking action on related issues here.

Malaysia has sent back 3,737 metric tonnes of plastic waste to wealthy countries, such as France and the United States, according to the Associated Press.

“Malaysian government is serious about combating the import of illegal wastes as we do not want to be the garbage bin of the world,” Yeo Bee Yin, the country’s minister of Energy, Science, Technology, Environment, and Climate Change, wrote in a Facebook post on Monday.

Shipping waste overseas is a cheap way for wealthier countries to meet their recycling targets and avoid putting waste in a domestic landfill, according to the BBC.

Malaysia sent 150 containers of waste back, with the majority going to France and the UK, with 17 containers sent to the US, according to the AP. Eleven containers were sent to Canada, and 10 to Spain, with the remainder sent to Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, Portugal, China, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Lithuania.

Malaysia has been inundated with plastic waste since China banned the import of plastic materials in 2018.

Before China’s ban, the US sent 70% of the plastics it collected for recycling to China, and the European Union sent 95% of its plastics collected for recycling, according to Yale Environment 360.

Since the ban, plastic waste has been directed towards countries like Malaysia, which took in 870,000 metric tons of plastic imports in 2018, three times the level it received in 2016, according to the South China Morning Post.

This excess waste has led to the opening of illegal factories that burn plastic and produce toxic fumes.

During a press conference earlier this year, Yeo showed reporters at a port outside Kuala Lampur some of the containers of waste that had entered Malaysia, according to NBC News.

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These items included contaminated milk cartons, cables, and compact discs — waste that cannot be recycled.

Malaysia is not the only country taking action when it comes to excess waste being sent its way.

Last May, the Philippines sent nearly 70 containers of plastic waste back to Canada. The waste had been shipped to the Philippines years earlier by a company called Chronic Plastic Inc., which claimed the waste was recyclable plastic.