Malaysia’s problem with plastic

Malaysia has become a popular destination for the problem material that is plastic.

Since China banned the import of “foreign garbage” in 2018, Malaysia began buying discarded plastic from China’s former exporters, including the US, UK, and Australia. It is a booming industry but it has also given rise to illegal recycling factories, many of which have buried or burned scraps to get rid of the waste, causing environmental hazards.

More than 114 of these factories were shut down last year, but piles of plastic have transformed Malaysian towns like Jenjarom – located about 15 miles southeast of Malaysia’s main port, Port Klang – into a giant landfill.

Last year, Greenpeace Malaysia reported that recycling from developed countries was being dumped in Malaysia and left to rot.

In a report, entitled The Recycling Myth, Greenpeace uncovered blatant regulation violations in the disposal of this waste, including dumping and open-air burning, and illegal practises contributing to environmental pollution and harmful health impacts for Malaysians.

Vietnam and Thailand have also accepted an increased amount of plastic waste following China’s ban on the import of foreign garbage. Between January and July 2018 alone, Malaysia imported 754,000 metric tonnes of plastic – the weight of approximately 100,000 large elephants. The waste came from countries like the United States, Japan, UK, Australia, New Zealand, Finland, France, Belgium, Germany, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.

Heng Kiah Chun, Public Engagement Campaigner at Greenpeace Malaysia, said: “The problem is not only a Malaysian problem. The international waste trade system itself is broken and based on false assumptions about what really happens with waste. All countries should put in place policies to reduce the use of single-use plastics to a point where waste export, landfill or incineration is unnecessary. Malaysia and other developing countries should not be the dumping ground for plastic waste that other countries should be dealing with themselves.”

Image Credit: REUTERS/Lai Seng Sin

Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. She writes about sustainable lifestyle and green living for publications, and offers content services to planet-friendly businesses. Find out more at

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