Assumptablog

Malaysia returns 42 containers of ‘illegal’ plastic waste to UK

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Malaysia's environment minister Yeo Bee Yin (second left) inspects a container of plastic waste
Image captionMalaysia’s environment minister Yeo Bee Yin (second left) inspects a container of plastic waste

Malaysia is returning 42 shipping containers of illegally imported plastic waste to the UK, its environment minister has announced.

Yeo Bee Yin said Malaysia would take “steps to ensure” the country “does not become the garbage dump of the world”.

She added Malaysia had sent back 150 containers to their country of origin.

The UK government said it received a request from Malaysian authorities last year to repatriate the waste and some containers had already arrived back.

An Environment Agency spokesman said: “We continue to work with the shipping lines and Malaysian authorities to ensure all waste is brought back as soon as possible.”

He added the government was also “working hard to stop illegal waste exports from leaving our shores in the first place”.

The South East Asian country has seen a sharp rise in foreign plastic waste since China – once the world’s largest importer – announced a ban in 2017.

Malaysia said a total of a total of 3,737 metric tonnes of unwanted waste had been sent back to 13 countries, including 43 containers to France, 42 to the UK, 17 to the United States, and 11 to Canada.

The authorities hope to send back another 110 containers by the middle of 2020 – with 60 of those going to the US.

Waste at an illegal plastic recycling factory in Malaysia
Image captionWaste at an illegal plastic recycling factory in Malaysia

Many wealthy countries send their recyclable waste overseas because it is cheap, helps meet recycling targets and reduces domestic landfill.

The European Union is the largest exporter of plastic waste, with the US leading as the top exporter for a single country.

A growing number of countries across South East Asia, such as Indonesia and the Philippines, have returned unwanted waste over the last 12 months.

Malaysia's environment minister Yeo Bee Yin speaking at a press conference
Image captionMalaysia’s environment minister Yeo Bee Yin has previously singled out the UK for its plastic waste

Last year the UK was singled out by Malaysia’s environment minister, who said: “What the citizens of the UK believe they send for recycling is actually dumped in our country.”

The UK Environment Agency said the returned waste was the responsibility of the private companies that exported it and it must be handled according to UK regulations.

A spokesman added that anyone found guilty of exporting waste illegally could face a two-year jail term and an unlimited fine.

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