Waste Dumping – A Modern Day Global Crisis

In recent years, the waste dumping crisis has attracted great focus globally. 

In May 2019, Malaysia sent back 450 tonnes of plastic waste to their countries of origin, including the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States, Japan, and the Netherlands, as reported by CNN.

The problem persists. In 2020, Malaysian authorities identified and halted at least 28 attempts to illegally import waste, according to state media Bernama. 

When investigators searched through one such factory in the rural town of Jenjarom, they found tons of plastic from overseas – a wrapper for Poland Spring bottled water from Connecticut, a bottle of Palmer’s Cocoa Butter Formula manufactured in New Jersey, and a bag of Metcalfe’s Skinny Popcorn packaged in the United Kingdom.

The rise in plastic trash has also led to a rise in unlicensed plastic recyclers. In 2019, Malaysian authorities found at least 148 unlicensed recycling factories that polluted local communities with toxic fumes and contaminated bodies of water. 1

Most types of plastic are not biodegradable which means the plastic made today will likely be around for centuries. Over time, some products break down and find their way to the growing presence of microplastics in our oceans, air and food.

In a study conducted by Verisk Maplecroft, a research firm that specialises in global risk, they’ve developed two new indices – on waste generation and recycling – and used publicly-available data, plus academic research to develop a global picture of how countries are coping at a time when the world is facing a mounting crisis, primarily driven by plastic.

The world produces over two billion tonnes of municipal solid waste every year, enough to fill over 800,000 Olympic sized swimming pools. 

Only 16% of this are recycled using sustainable means while 46% are disposed of unsustainably. Per head of population the worst offenders are the US, as Americans produce three times the global average of waste, including plastic and food.

The banning of waste imports in China, Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia are changing the global dynamic. There have been tensions between the government of the Philippines which has caused 69 shipping containers containing waste to be sent back to Canada.

“Asian countries don’t want to be the world’s dumping ground anymore,” said Will Nichols, head of environmental research at Verisk Mapelcroft. 2

For this reason, many governments, nonprofit and environmental organisations have welcomed the Basel Convention amendment as a step in the right direction, specifically addressing the issue of plastic waste as a huge concern. 

Basel Convention, is an international treaty that was designed to reduce the movement of hazardous waste between nations, and specifically to prevent the transfer of hazardous waste from developed to less developed countries. 3

To further support the implementation of the Basel Convention in Malaysia, the following Orders were formulated under the Customs Act 1967: 

i. Customs (Prohibition of Export) Order 2008;

ii. Customs (Prohibition of Import) Order 2008. 

These are enforced by the Royal Customs Department in cooperation with the (DOE). 4

A new amendment to the Basel Convention, which came in effect in January 2021, will allow only clean, homogeneous, and readily recyclable non halogenated polymers to be freely traded globally.

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