Higher penalties needed on plastic waste, says activist

PETALING JAYA: An environmental activist has called for higher penalties to be enforced on those involved in the import of plastic waste and contaminated waste.

Faizal Parish of Global Environment Centre said a proposed government inspection charge of RM1,500 per shipping container might not be enough of a deterrent.

“Anyone found to have imported contaminated waste should be fined much more, for instance RM10,000 to RM50,000 per container depending on the nature of contamination. The shipper of the waste should also be made liable so they will check more carefully at the port of origin,” he said.

Last week, environment minister Yeo Bee Yin said the federal government would take action against illegal importers of plastic waste by imposing a charge of RM1,500 per shipping container to open and check each container.

Faizal said Yeo was right to give priority to tackling imports of plastic waste. Millions of tonnes were being sent to Malaysia and other countries since China banned waste imports for ‘recycling’, with a lot of it being dumped locally. The volume being imported is potentially more than that generated locally, he said.

Yeo had ordered that containers of illegally imported plastic waste be repatriated, and importers be placed on a black list.

Another environmentalist, Andrew Sebastian of the Eco-tourism and Conservation Society Malaysia, also agreed that the actions being taken on plastic waste were timely. “This could be just the tip of the iceberg. We do not know how long and far-reaching this issue is. The plastic waste could have been a stockpile for many years,” he said.

Faizal said more controls should be imposed on single-use plastic items, such as requiring mandatory deposits of 5 or 10 sen per plastic bottle, along with requirements that distributers take back empty bottles from retailers.

Sebastian said single-use plastic was a local problem. “It is a consumer issue… a conservation issue in many landscapes. We need to come up with a more integrated approach to curtail the use of plastic bags in the country, for instance,” he added.

On Tuesday, Yeo announced that 450 metric tonnes of contaminated plastic waste in 10 containers that were imported illegally into Malaysia would be returned to the countries from where they were shipped.