This week, Malaysia’s environment minister Yeo Bee Yin assertively told us that they wouldn’t put up with our illegal waste exports anymore. They will send it back. And yes, a lot of it is our recycling we spend time sorting. Developed countries, like the UK embarrassingly don’t have the infrastructure to support the volume of recycling we produce, ‘plastic needs to be sorted into its separate polymers and formats in order to facilitate final reprocessing back into reusable pellets’ (Jessica Baker, Director at Chase Plastics Ltd.) If we can’t do it, how do we expect the developing countries to be able to! But it is cheaper for us to put it on a boat and export it. Until January 2018 China took on our recycling but because we imported so much that was badly sorted and contaminated they closed their doors. Our own recycling infrastructure cannot cope with the vast quantities we create. And because we have high regulations it’s easier to export it to countries with lower regulations than us. So as long as our recycling isn’t being recycled with makeshift, dangerous and toxic methods on OUR own precious, beautiful land- who cares! Out of sight, out of mind!
“You [developed countries] have so-called high recycling rates; as citizens do you know where your plastic waste and pollution ends up? It’s in other people’s countries, affecting other people’s children. Your recycling rate is nothing to be proud of,”
Dr Theng [an independent waste consultant]
Yeah I admit it must be a terrible eyesore, but it’s not like plastic rots and can affect health?
‘‘A former civil servant, who declined to be quoted by name, said the smells were sometimes so strong they would pervade the house even when windows and doors were closed. He added that he had noticed increased pollution in the river over the past couple of years,
“There are still some fish but you wouldn’t want to eat them… We used to take wild tiger prawns from the river. Now there are none left. There’s something wrong.”
CK Lee, a local solicitor who works with the Kuala Langat Environmental Association, said:
“Local residents were having breathing difficulties, having difficulty to sleep, feeling nausea, [and] feeling unwell.”
Quotes takes from: UK household plastics found in illegal dumps in Malaysia Unearthed October 2018
‘…as long as we keep sending poorly sorted plastic overseas for reprocessing a significant proportion of this mix will end up in open landfill, the rivers and then oceans overseas.”
The solution, she suggests, is to make products more recyclable, collect these and reprocess them in the UK, adding: “Exported plastics should be of a sorted, single polymer stream or format so that overseas reprocessors do not have to re-sort it and throw out what they can’t use. Only this is going to address our contribution to the problem of ocean plastic.”
Jessica Baker, Director at Chase Plastics Ltd,
UK household plastics found in illegal dumps in Malaysia Unearthed October 2018
Malaysia to send up to 100 tonnes of plastic waste back to Australia Guardian May 2019
Why the world’s recycling system stopped working Financial Times October 2018
Government ‘clutching at straws’ over waste plastic exports Axion Circular economy specialists June 2018
Individual action is important!
Recycle less, not more. Moving towards zero waste.