Mushrooming of Illegal Plastic Recyclers and Continued Pollution in Malaysia after China Bans Plastic Waste Imports

For decades China was actually taking in nearly half of the world’s plastic waste. Suddenly in 2018 the Chinese brought an abrupt end to this practice. Much of that waste that was coming from the European Union (EU) – roughly 55 million tons of plastics, cardboard, paper and so forth – had nowhere to go. The Chinese cited that the mountains of trash were too “impure” for them to continue to recycle and said that now – THEIR rules for recycling were more stringent than the EU’s. China now only accepts certain paper trash with a total ban on plastics. (Source: Modus Operandi)

We applaud China for taking this stringent action. China was forced to burn or bury the residual trash from other countries that couldn’t be recycled, leading to massive environmental pollution and public health impacts in host communities processing imported plastic waste. China has responded to calls to clean up its act by banning the importation of plastic waste and focusing on the collection and recycling of plastic waste generated domestically.

However after China enforced its ban, we started seeing how illegal trade in plastic waste had surged since 2018. Criminal groups have sought to exploit the massive market disruption prompted by China’s decision to ban plastic waste imports. Countries in South-East Asia, South Asia and Eastern Europe bore the brunt of this growing criminal activity as plastic waste shipments from Europe and North America have been diverted. This is done through false declaration of the consignment to avoid inspection.

We also saw illegal recycling plants popping up in Malaysia, mostly by investors from China, operating without permits, using low-end technology and environmentally harmful methods of disposal. And now we are increasingly seeing investors from China opening up paper and plastic recycling plants in Malaysia.

Most of these plants have on-site incinerators to burn the residual waste. Now we have to bear the brunt again from toxic air pollution, ash disposal and our rivers being polluted.