Malaysia will send back some 3,300 tons of non-recyclable plastic waste to countries such as the USA, U.K., Canada and Australia in a move to avoid becoming a dumping ground for rich nations, Environment Minister Yeo Bee Yin said Tuesday.
Recycling sent from Australia, Yeo said, included plastic bottles that were "full of maggots". Minister Yeo vowed a crackdown on illegal imports and recycling facilities.
But on Tuesday, Yeo said Malaysia had become a "dumping ground" for rubbish that was harming its environment.
It states that exporters must "obtain the consent of receiving countries before shipping most contaminated, mixed, or unrecyclable plastic waste, providing an important tool for countries in the Global South to stop the dumping of unwanted plastic waste into their country".
Some were so contaminated they could not be recycled, while others had been illegally shipped in, or mislabelled. "Malaysia will not be the dumping ground of the world", she explained in April, when a Malaysian government investigation found the U.S., Australia, Great Britain and Germany were illegally dumping rubbish into the country. "We will fight back". "Even though we are a small country, we can't be bullied by developed countries".
The waste is at a port outside Kuala Lumpur and contains items including cables from the United Kingdom, contaminated milk cartons from Australia and compact discs from Bangladesh, as well as bales of electronic and household waste from the US, Canada, Japan, Saudi Arabia and China.
Ten of the containers are due to be shipped back within two weeks.
However, an official with the Malaysian environment department said they were not ready to name the Australian companies that sent them. "It's up to you", she said, adding that the investigation was ongoing. The Philippines is finally sending some Canadian trash back home this week, too, reports the CBC. "We are compiling a list of these so-called recycling companies and will send the list to their respective governments for further action".
Jane Bremmer, the co-ordinator of Zero Waste Oz, said Australian waste management companies were taking "a colonising approach" instead of adequately taking care of waste. The Malaysians involved in importing the waste are "traitors", she said.
"When you compare those countries with the waste trade flow, what you find is those countries that are regularly reported as the biggest offenders or the biggest polluters of the ocean are in fact the ones receiving most waste from developed countries", he told CBS News.
Growing concerns about plastic pollution in oceans and stories of dead whales with plastic in their stomachs, together with China's decision to stop processing waste, have prompted nations to take more drastic steps to tackle the issue.