Santiago: Why make Malaysia a dump for plastic waste?

PETALING JAYA: Klang MP Charles Santiago has accused the government of making an unwise decision regarding the import of plastic waste, saying he fears that it may result in turning Malaysia into a dumping ground for dangerous materials.

Commenting on the government’s reply to a question he posed in the Dewan Rakyat, he said Putrajaya should be more concerned with the health and safety of the public than the money to be made from waste processing.

The reply was given by Housing and Local Government Minister Zuraida Kamaruddin. She said her ministry had tightened rules for the import of plastic waste from industrialised countries and indicated that there were no plans to ban such imports.

She said the processing of such waste could result in RM30 billion worth of business and the government could not treat the potential lightly.

Santiago said he was not satisfied with the reply. “Why is Malaysia becoming a dumping ground?” he asked.

He noted Zuraida’s statement that import permits would be given only to factories adhering to new and stricter regulations, but he asked: “What does that really mean? Are they doing environmental impact assessments every six months?

“How many permits have been given out and what are the safeguards? Where do all the waste by-products go?”

Referring to illegal factories, he said they would typically drain dangerous by-products into rivers or bury them.

He noted that Zuraida did not make clear as to the exact nature of plastic wastes allowed for import and whether they included medical wastes.

“Plastic itself is very toxic, but medical waste is far more toxic,” he said.

He also said he had been informed that the investors who would benefit from the RM30 billion industry were not Malaysians.

“I hope that in the long run, the industry will not be allowed in the country any more,” he said. “There should be a point where the government should start phasing it out.”

He said he would raise the matter again in the Dewan Rakyat.

Randolph Jeremiah, vice-president of the Environmental Protection Society, told FMT he agreed on the need to gradually close all factories processing plastic waste.

“The way forward is to crack down on illegal factories and illegal imports and allow for legal factories to operate and to gradually phase them out,” he said.

He referred to a statement Santiago once made about the proliferation of illegal factories in Klang and said this would present a challenge to enforcement authorities.

He said the authorities could weed out illegal factories by making sure that the volume of imports tally with the volume processed by legal factories.