Malaysia will send back some 3,000 metric tons (3,300 tons) of non-recyclable plastic waste to countries such as the U.S., U.K., Canada and Australia in a move to avoid becoming a dumping ground for rich nations, Environment Minister Yeo Bee Yin said Tuesday.
Yeo said Malaysia and many developing countries have become new targets after China banned the import of plastic waste last year. She said 60 containers stacked with contaminated waste were smuggled in en route to illegal processing facilities in the country and will be sent back to their countries of origin.
Ten of the containers are due to be shipped back within two weeks, she said, as she showed reporters contents of the waste at a port outside Kuala Lumpur.
The displayed items included cables from the U.K., contaminated milk cartons from Australia and compact discs from Bangladesh, as well as bales of electronic and household waste from the U.S., Canada, Japan, Saudi Arabia and China. Yeo said the waste from China appeared to be garbage from France and other countries that had been rerouted after a ban imposed by China.
In one case alone, Yeo said a U.K. recycling company exported more than 50,000 metric tons (55,000 tons) of plastic waste in about 1,000 containers to Malaysia over the past two years.
"This is probably just the tip of the iceberg (due) to the banning of plastic waste by China," Yeo told a news conference. "Malaysia will not be a dumping ground to the world ... we will fight back. Even though we are a small country, we can't be bullied by developed countries."
The government has clamped down on dozens of illegal plastic recycling facilities that had mushroomed across the country, shuttering more than 150 plants since last July. Earlier this month, the government also sent back five containers of waste to Spain.
Yeo said China's plastic waste ban had "opened up the eyes of the world to see that we have a huge garbage and recycling problem."
Citizens in rich nations diligently separate their waste for recycling but the garbage ended up being dumped in developing nations where they are recycled illegally, causing environmental and health hazards, she said.
"We urge the developed countries to review their management of plastic waste and stop shipping the garbage out to the developing countries," she said, calling such practices "unfair and uncivilized."
Yeo vowed to take action against Malaysian companies illegally importing used plastic, calling them "traitors to the country's sustainability."