TOKYO -- Malaysia has ordered local port authorities to immediately send back hundreds of tons of plastic waste to their point of origin, in a signal that the country is stepping up in a global initiative against the unscrupulous export of waste products.
Malaysia's Environment Minister Yeo Bee Yin said that Malaysia would be starting with the shipping out of 450 metric tons of contaminated plastic waste that had been smuggled into the country, originally coming from developed countries including Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, United States and China, as well as other nations like Bangladesh.
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday at Westport, Malaysia's largest port, Yeo said the plastic waste contained in 11 shipping containers would be sent back to their country of origin immediately and described the Malaysians responsible for bringing the plastic waste into the country as traitors.
"Malaysia won't continue to be a dumping ground for developed nations and those responsible for destroying our ecosystem with these illegal activities are traitors," she said.
"We view the perpetrators of this act as traitors to the country's sustainability and therefore they should be stopped and brought to justice."
The problem of dumping contaminated plastic waste came to the fore early last year when China banned such imports. Ships that were carrying plastic waste to China had to be diverted, with many of them sailing instead to Southeast Asian destinations. Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand were particularly affected by the influx of plastic waste to their ports.
Yeo also criticized developed countries for claiming to be "environmentally-conscious" while ignoring where non-homogeneous, low-quality, non-recyclable plastic waste ends up after their consumers throw it away.
"Developed countries like the U.K. always prioritize recycling and its people follow suit, but they do not realize this waste is dumped in our country," she said.
"This practice is unfair and uncivilized, which is why we urge developed countries to reevaluate their waste disposal methods and stop shipping garbage to other countries. If they continue to ship garbage here, we will not hesitate to return it," the minister added.
Malaysia's environment ministry imposed a freeze on the import of plastics categorized under "HS Code 3915," which covers plastic waste, scrap and parings, in July last year.
During the recent 14th Conference of Parties to the Basel Convention (COP14) in Geneva, Malaysia supported Norway's proposal for unrestricted plastic waste under the convention's Annex IX to be classified under Annex II, therefore categorizing such waste as needing special consideration in the form of "prior informed consent."
This consent would be granted by an importing country before any transboundary movement of plastic waste was initiated.
About 187 countries are currently parties to the Basel Convention.