Malaysia cannot be the world’s rubbish dump, says minister

Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Minister Yeo Bee Yin (second from right) launches her ministry’s initiatives for 2020.

KUALA LUMPUR: Putrajaya today stressed that hazardous waste from other countries is not welcomed after Greenpeace accused Italy of shipping plastic waste to Malaysia.

Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Minister Yeo Bee Yin said the government had always made it clear that it did not want illegal waste in the country.

“We do not want hazardous waste. Malaysia cannot be the rubbish dump of the world,” she told reporters after launching the ministry’s 130 initiatives for 2020, here.

Earlier today, the Italian government was urged to end the illicit export of plastic waste to Malaysia after an investigation exposed the environmental and health implications of the country being used as a dumping ground for unrecyclable plastic.

Greenpeace’s investigation found that in the first nine months of 2019, some 2,880 tonnes of plastic were exported to Malaysia with nearly half of that going to illegal factories that had no capacity to deal with the plastics.

It said the unrecyclable plastic waste was then kept outside factories, burnt or buried in landfills.

The group said water and soil samples close to the heaps of discarded plastic showed “an alarming level of contamination”, with a spike in respiratory illnesses in nearby villages.

Yeo said while she was unsure of the numbers in regards to the amount of waste from Italy, she said the European nation was not the biggest exporter.

“The biggest exporters are the UK, France, US and Japan.”

Malaysia has been a favourite destination for plastic waste from developed countries, following China’s ban on its import in January 2018.

Putrajaya has come down hard on illegal recycling factories importing plastic waste and recently returned 150 containers of plastic waste to the UK, France, US and Canada.

Yeo said that illegal factories would continue to operate if there was an influx of illegal waste into the country.

“One way to control the number of illegal factories is to control the influx of illegal waste,” she said, adding that based on the number of complaints received, there has been a decrease in the number of cases compared to 2018.

Meanwhile, Yeo said she was “okay” with the ministry’s performance in completing 80% of the 73 initiatives outlined last year.

She said if the ministry had achieved 100% of its initiatives, then it would mean that the target set was too low.

“Even 80% is not good. 70% means the target is quite right.

“You always want to set something that you cannot possibly achieve. Don’t set something that you know you will achieve as you’ll be in your comfort zone.”