Malaysia is becoming a leading destination for plastics recovered for recycling in other countries, but the country’s growing number of illegal plastics recycling plants is causing environmental issues for the country, according to a report from Florence Looi for Al Jazeera.
“The smoke and the smell from the factories was too much for us to bear,” Tan Ching Hi, an environmental activist, tells Looi in the video. “Even in the middle of the night, there was no respite.”
Looi says enforcement officials have shut down 30 factories in the Kuala Langat area, a district within Selangor, Malaysia. However, she adds, authorities say hundreds more are located throughout the country.
The industry is “fueled by Beijing’s ban on plastic waste imports into China,” Looi says. “That [ban] came into effect this year and opened up a gap in the market.”
She says from January through July of 2018, Malaysia imported more than 450,000 tons of plastic scrap, which was 40 percent more than the country imported in the whole of 2017.
Not all of the imported plastics can be recycled, Looi says, and will instead end up in landfills “at huge financial and environmental costs” or dumped and burned by unregulated plastics recyclers, which say adds is a “common practice.”
Standing before a smoldering pile of plastic, she says, “The stench here is unbearable.”
Looi says the government is reluctant to put a complete ban on plastic scrap imports for now because the industry could be worth $840 million to the country in 2019.
Malyasia's government has a plan to phase out plastic scrap imports entirely within three years, she says.