Waste packaging from the UK that can no longer be sent to China has ended up in illegal dumps in Malaysia, a Greenpeace probe has found.
An investigation by the environmental group’s news operation Unearthed found packaging from well-known UK brands among a 10ft-tall pile of waste on a three-acre site near the town of Jenjarom.
Waste was also found from Spain, France, Germany, Ireland, Japan and Australia. In a separate investigation, Radio New Zealand has established that thousands of tonnes of plastic that used to be sent to China now ends up in illegal factories in Malaysia, where waste that cannot be processed is burnt and dumped.
Unearthed reported that bags identifiable as from UK local authorities were among discarded waste in Jenjarom, mainly plastic bags and food packaging.
Residents have complained about fumes from recycling factories and Malaysian news site The Edge Markets has reported that local activist group the Kuala Langat Environmental Action Association has asked the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission to investigate illegal plastic waste processing plants in the district.
Elsewhere in the country, Greenpeace investigators found sacks of discarded European and British plastics in a largely abandoned industrial complex in Klang, while at Ipoh, UK and Australian household plastics and factory offcuts were piled 20ft high.
Unearthed said China’s ban on most recycling imports had diverted materials to Malaysia, whose infrastructure had struggled to cope with this sudden influx.
Malaysian newspaper The Star has reported that the government will ban imports of all non-recyclable solid waste, particularly plastic.
Environment minister Yeo Bee Yin told Malaysia’s parliament: “Plastic waste are varied, some can be recycled, but there is mixed plastic waste that cannot and is usually used by illegal factories.
“So any solid waste that cannot be properly recycled and does not follow the Environmental Quality Act will be banned.”
Writing last month in MRW, Environment Agency deputy director for waste regulation Malcom Lythgo said the Chinese import ban had led to exports of UK plastic waste increasing by more than 200% to Malaysia, 50% to Vietnam, 78% to Pakistan, 7,500% to Singapore, 5,400% to Thailand and 31% to Poland.
“We expect that some of these countries will tighten their rules much like China has,” he wrote. “An increase in domestic capacity to recycle plastic will reduce the amount exported, along with the current push to reduce the amount of plastic we create and use.”