Do the moral thing, take back your waste, Penang official tells Canada

Penang Environment Committee chairman Phee Boon Poh showing the Canadian waste at the Butterworth port today.

GEORGE TOWN: A Penang government official was livid today after learning that Canada has “no plans” to take back its plastic waste that has ended up in Malaysia.

Penang Environment Committee chairman Phee Boon Poh also urged Canada to do the “morally right thing”.

Phee is angry that Penang is now home to what he says is most of the municipal waste from Canada, which is stranded at the Butterworth port.

His remarks come on the heels of a report quoting a Canadian official as saying that there are no plans to take back plastic waste from Malaysia. Putrajaya wants to redirect it to Canada.

“I am shocked by their response. You are okay to take plastic waste back from the Philippines, but not okay with Malaysia. Is that fair?

“For the Canadian authorities to make such a statement, it is irrational. They appear to show no respect for the sovereignty of Malaysia or for the people of Penang,” he said when met in Komtar here today.

Late last month, the Philippines sent back 69 containers with 2,400 tonnes of waste originating from Canada. Malaysia, too, plans to send back 3,000 tonnes of plastic waste to 14 countries, including Canada.

In Penang, the Customs Department recently revealed that “more than half”of the 265 unclaimed containers at the Butterworth port since January this year were filled with plastic waste from Canada.

Phee said he had hosted Canadian High Commission officials during their visit to the port on Tuesday to inspect the containers.

He said the officials were given solutions on how the waste could be sent back to their country, the costs and logistics involved and even an offer to dispose of them at a state-of-the-art recycling centre here.

“I don’t understand how the Canadian authorities can claim they are not aware when we have given them all the relevant documents related to the scrap plastic consignments,” he said.

Phee said the cost of keeping the containers at the port alone had reached close to RM5 million to date.

He said while it was legally right for Canada to not take the rubbish back, it had a moral obligation to do so.

“We were diplomatic about this. When the High Commission officials came, we did not tell anyone about it. But since you are keen to not take a diplomatic route, then we have to come out today in the open and say you are morally wrong.

“Although this matter is related to the environment ministry, I have the right to voice out because most of your rubbish is in Penang.”

In an emailed statement to Reuters today, Environment and Climate Change Canada spokesman Gabrielle Lamontagne said “there are no plans for the Canadian government to pick up waste in Malaysia”.

He added that Canada had not received any information about any shipment of waste from Canada to Malaysia, and that the ministry had reached out to the Malaysian government for details.

The problem of plastic waste began when China banned imports of plastic waste in 2017. This plastic waste then found its way to Southeast Asian countries.

Chinese companies have since taken up stakes in recycling factories in Malaysia.

Reports show that the country’s plastic waste imports rose to 456,000 tonnes between January and July 2018, compared with 316,600 tonnes in 2017 and 168,500 tonnes in 2016.

Malaysia has been the largest recipient of US plastic waste, registering 195,444 tonnes of plastic waste between January and July 2018, which was more than the 97,544 tonnes recorded in 2017.