Did you know Malaysia and other developing countries have become the new dumping grounds for many of the world’s biggest exporters of plastic waste?

The crisis began after China effectively banned all plastic crap shipments into the country in 2018. This factory of the world, which once accepted the bulk of the waste, declared it no longer wanted to be the “world’s garbage dump” due to concerns about contamination and pollution.

Since then, Malaysia has been chosen as one of the unlucky dumping outlets, quickly becoming a top plastic importer that saw us receiving more than 900,000 tonnes of plastic crap from January to November 2018 alone.

To make this crisis even worse, Malaysia was named one of Asia’s worst plastic polluters, according to a 2020 report by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) that covers China, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam.

The WWF report estimated that the average Malaysian uses 16.78kg of plastic packaging per annum. According to Suhaila Abd Hamid, Programme Director for the Master of Occupational Safety and Health Risk Management programme, 45 sites with plastic wastes were identified by Greenpeace and Kuala Langat Environmental Protection Association.

These sites include one active burning site in Pulau Indah, and five likely illegal dumpsites in Klang, Jenjarom, and Ipoh. They contain wastes from at least 19 countries including the United States, the United Kingdom, Spain, Austria, Germany, Sweden, and Ireland.

Only a small percentage of the plastic wastes has been recycled while the rest ends up in landfills and oceans. What consumers think have been recycled locally is often shipped to other parts of the world.

“Plastic unsuitable for recycling is burnt, thus releasing toxic gases into the atmosphere. This poses health and environmental risks. They also end up in landfills, potentially contaminating soil and water sources,” Suhaila explains.

She also adds that the recycling process of plastic wastes also produces hazardous chemicals that can cause health risks to humans. This is indeed one of the major concerns in environmental health and occupational safety and health.

Malaysia has taken drastic action by shutting down 170 illegal recycling factories in a series of high-profile raids in 2019. The Government further declared that Malaysia would not become the new dumping ground for ‘western’ waste. Since then, customs officials have started refusing waste imports.

Together, we have to find a way to say “No Thanks” to all plastic waste.

“Plastic is useful in so many ways, but our own irresponsibility has created so many problems to the environment. All of it will eventually threaten the lives of all creatures on Earth,” Suhaila says.

Plastic takes hundreds of years to degrade. Needless to say, mother nature cannot do it all so we must act to reduce plastic waste, such as by reducing consumption of all types of plastics, particularly single-use plastics, and improving domestic recycling.

Reuse, recycle, but above all, reduce.