Climate & Environment

Malaysia sends back trash, says it won’t be the ‘rubbish dump of the world’

Malaysia plastic waste
Malaysia’s Environment Minister Yeo Bee Yin, third from left, inspects a container with plastic waste at a port in Butterworth, Malaysia, on Jan. 20, 2020. Malaysia has sent back 150 containers of plastic waste to 13 mainly rich countries.
(Vincent Thian / Associated Press)

Malaysia has sent back 150 containers of plastic waste to 13 mainly rich countries since the third quarter last year, with the environment minster warning on Monday that those who want to make the country a rubbish bin of the world can “dream on.”

Shipments of unwanted rubbish have been rerouted to Southeast Asia since China banned the import of plastic waste in 2018, but Malaysia and other developing countries are fighting back.

Environment Minister Yeo Bee Yin said an additional 110 containers are expected to be sent back by the middle of this year.

Yeo said the successful repatriation of a total 4,120 U.S. tons of waste followed strict enforcement at key Malaysian ports to block smuggling of waste and shuttering more than 200 illegal plastic recycling factories.


Of the 150 containers, 43 were returned to France, 42 to the United Kingdom, 17 to the United States, 11 to Canada, 10 to Spain and the rest to Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, Portugal, China, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Lithuania, her ministry said.

She said the Malaysian government didn’t pay a single cent, with the costs of sending back the waste fully borne by the shipping liners and companies responsible for importing and exporting the waste.

Yeo said talks were ongoing with U.S. authorities to take back 60 more containers this year. Canada also has 15 more containers; Japan, 14; the U.K., nine; and Belgium, eight, of the 110 containers that are still being held at Malaysian ports, she said.


“If people want to see us as the rubbish dump of the world, you dream on,” Yeo told reporters during inspection at a port in northern Penang state.

Yeo said the government will launch an action plan on illegal plastic importation next month that will help the different agencies coordinate enforcement and speed up the process of returning the waste.

“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,” she added.

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