Business Insider Edition

Malaysia sent 4,120 tons of plastic trash back to 13 rich countries, saying it refuses to be the 'rubbish dump of the world'

Bill Bostock , Business Insider US
 Jan 22, 2020, 07:45 AM

PORT KLANG, MALAYSIA - MAY 28: Minister of Energy,
Minister of Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change (MESTECC), Yeo Bee Yin shows plastics waste shipment from Canada before sending back to the country of origin in Port Klang on May 28, 2019. A total of 3,000 metric tonnes of contaminated plastic waste will be shipping back to their countries of origin today, signalling Malaysias effort to take the lead in the global crusade against unscrupulous export of scrap. (Photo by Adli Ghazali/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
  • Malaysia says it returned 4,120 tons of plastic trash to 13 affluent nations in late 2019.
  • Forty-three containers full of trash were returned to France, 42 to the UK, 17 to the US, and 11 to Canada.
  • "If people want to see us as the rubbish dump of the world, you dream on," Yeo Bee Yin, the environment minister, said on Monday.
  • Malaysia is buckling under the amount of trash exported there by affluent nations, especially those in the European Union.
  • Western countries have long shipped their trash to less wealthy Asian countries as they lack stringent environmental regulations.
  • For more stories go to

Malaysia says it sent back 3,717 metric tonnes (4,120 tons) of plastic trash to 13 wealthy countries, saying it won't be the "rubbish dump of the world."

"In the last quarter of 2019, 43 containers were returned to France, 42 to the UK, 17 to the US, and 11 to Canada," Yeo Bee Yin, the country's environment minister, tweeted on Monday.

A total of 150 containers were returned. The other countries are: Spain, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, Portugal, China, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Lithuania.

"The government will continue to fight cross-border pollution," she said.

At a Monday press conference, Yeo added that there are a further 100 containers currently in Malaysian ports waiting to be sent back, the Associated Press (AP) reported.

Sixty of them will be returned to the US, pending negotiations with officials, as well as 15 to Canada, 14 to Japan, and nine to the UK.

The move aims to counter the practice of smuggling trash to Malaysia, where they are taken to illegal plastic recycling facilities, the AP reported. These facilities release highly toxic fumes and causes respiratory illnesses and water-contamination issues.

Two hundred such facilities in Malaysia were shut down late last year, Yeo said.

The country also launched a joint task force to tackle the issue of illegal waste imports in April 2019, CNN reported.

"If people want to see us as the rubbish dump of the world, you dream on," Yeo told news reporters on Monday at a port in northern Penang state, according to the AP.

"Our position is very firm. We just want to send back [the waste] and we just want to give a message that Malaysia is not the dumping site of the world."

The issue is far broader than just Malaysia. Wealthier Western countries have long shipped trash to Asia, notably China and the Philippines, as they lack stringent environmental regulations, as Business Insider's Alexandra Ma previously reported.

It is difficult to track exactly how the global waste trade works but, broadly, Western companies are prepared to pay to dispose of trash, and companies in poorer nations have been accepting the contracts.

Yeo said Monday the cost of repatriating the trash was, and will be, covered entirely by the countries of origin and the shipping liners.

In May 2019, Yeo urged western states to tackle the issue of illegal trash exportation, following an investigation by Greenpeace that found Malaysia was "overwhelmed" and "cannot accommodate the waste in a way that is sustainable."

"We urge the developed countries to review their management of plastic waste and stop shipping garbage to developing countries," Yeo said at the time.

That same month over 180 countries signed off on an amendment, adding controls to the flow of trash between national borders, to the Basel Convention. The US did not sign the agreement.

Receive a daily update on your cellphone with all our latest news: click here.

Also from Business Insider South Africa:

  • Indicators
  • JSE Indexes

Get the best of our site delivered to your inbox every day.

Sign Up