Swamped with plas­tic waste: Malaysia strug­gles as global scrap piles up

Stabroek News Sunday - - CLASSIFIEDS/NEWS -

Used plas­tic is re­cy­cled into pel­lets, which are then used to man­u­fac­ture other plas­tic prod­ucts, but the process comes with pol­lu­tion risks. Plas­tic un­suit­able for re­cy­cling is burnt, which re­leases toxic chem­i­cals into the at­mos­phere. Or it ends up in land­fill, po­ten­tially con­tam­i­nat­ing soil and wa­ter sources.

Yeo said she does not want Malaysia to be the “trash can” for de­vel­oped na­tions, but Hous­ing Min­is­ter Zu­raida Ka­marud­din, who over­sees the waste man­age­ment depart­ment, told Reuters that the govern­ment also does not want to miss out on a busi­ness that could be worth bil­lions.

Both min­is­ters are mem­bers of a govern­ment com­mit­tee study­ing its op­tions for deal­ing with the grow­ing pile of plas­tic waste.

In the Pulau In­dah in­dus­trial zone, Reuters re­porters saw nearly a dozen re­cy­cling plants, many of them with­out sign­boards or com­pany names, though govern­ment data shows only two fac­to­ries in that area have a li­cence to im­port plas­tic waste.

One of the big­ger ones, Jingye Man­u­fac­tur­ing Sdn Bhd, was shut down in Au­gust for not hav­ing a li­cence, ac­cord­ing to an of­fi­cial no­tice seen by Reuters.

But work­ers in the fac­tory and oth­ers nearby say it re­opened within weeks, and when Reuters re­porters vis­ited ear­lier this month, it was op­er­at­ing. Plas­tic waste was stacked up within the premises and all along the road.

The fac­tory su­per­vi­sor de­clined to com­ment.

Com­pany records show Jingye was set up in Malaysia in Oc­to­ber 2017, three months af­ter China said it would ban im­ports of for­eign waste from 2018. Reuters could not reach the own­ers of the fac­tory and no con­tact de­tails were listed in records.

One worker in the in­dus­trial zone, who did not want to be iden­ti­fied, said there were as many as eight il­le­gal fac­to­ries in the zone and many openly burned plas­tic that can­not be re­cy­cled.

“Ev­ery night they burn. I see black smoke at night, so I go over and ask him ‘why are you try­ing to kill me?’ They ig­nore me,” he said.

In the nearby district of Kuala Lan­gat, au­thor­i­ties found 41 fac­to­ries op­er­at­ing il­le­gally, many of them run by Chi­nese com­pa­nies, ac­cord­ing to Hous­ing Min­is­ter Zu­raida. Around 30 were shut down by au­thor­i­ties in the last three months af­ter res­i­dents com­plained of open burn­ing of plas­tic and health com­pli­ca­tions.

STRICTER RULES

It is un­clear how the il­le­gal fac­to­ries are sourc­ing plas­tic waste. Zu­raida said some of the 95 com­pa­nies that have a per­mit to im­port and re­cy­cle such waste are sub­con­tract­ing to il­le­gal fac­to­ries as they lack the ca­pac­ity to han­dle such vol­umes.

Malaysia’s im­ports of plas­tic waste from its 10 big­gest source-coun­tries jumped to 456,000 tonnes be­tween Jan­uary and July, ver­sus 316,600 tonnes pur­chased in all of 2017 and 168,500 tonnes in 2016.

The United States, the world’s top ex­porter of plas­tic waste, sent 178,238 tonnes of such waste to Malaysia be­tween Jan­uary and July, nearly twice as much as it sent to sec­ond top des­ti­na­tion, Thai­land, ac­cord­ing to the United Na­tions’ trade data­base and the In­sti­tute of Scrap Re­cy­cling In­dus­tries.

Bri­tain, an­other big plas­tic waste ex­porter, sends a quar­ter of its waste to Malaysia, also more than any other coun­try.

Environment Min­is­ter Yeo es­ti­mated that the plas­tic re­cy­cling in­dus­try would earn Malaysia 3.5 bil­lion ringgit ($841.95 mil­lion) this year.

Zu­raida said she planned to in­tro­duce new rules soon that will make it harder for fac­to­ries to qual­ify for an im­port li­cence.

“I un­der­stand plas­tic re­cy­cling is quite lu­cra­tive. So I am also think­ing should we miss this eco­nomic op­por­tu­nity? This is some­thing the com­mit­tee will study,” Zu­raida told Reuters.

If such an op­tion is pur­sued, Malaysia would do so on strict terms, re­quire high-end, green tech­nol­ogy and al­low fac­to­ries to op­er­ate only in heavy in­dus­trial ar­eas, she said.

The fac­to­ries are cur­rently lo­cated hap­haz­ardly, in­clud­ing near or within res­i­den­tial ar­eas. In Kuala Lan­gat, south­west of Kuala Lumpur, a mas­sive re­cy­cling fac­tory nestled be­tween palm plan­ta­tions was shut down months ago.

But 10-foot (3 me­tre) tall tow­ers of plas­tic waste - mostly con­sumer pack­ag­ing three ma­te­rial from the United States, Bri­tain, France, Nether­lands, Ger­many and Aus­tralia were still piled in the front yard. A large plot of land next to the fac­tory has been turned into a dump­ing site for scrap.

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