GEORGE TOWN: They wash tonnes of plastic waste each day and release an unimaginable cocktail of organic and chemical fluids into the public drainage.
Then at night, they burn plastics which cannot be recycled, creating an acrid stench and releasing cancer-causing dioxins into the air.
The state estimates there are up to 200 enterprises recycling plastic waste in Penang, and only 27 of them are licensed.
“Just the licensed ones import 109,655 tonnes of plastic waste a month... a month!” said Penang Environment Committee chairman Phee Boon Poh.
He did not discount the possibility that some of the legal ones import the mountains of plastic waste and then “sub” them out to the illegal ones to handle.
“We will check their capacity. If their factories can only handle, say, 1,000 tonnes a month, why did they get approved permits (AP) to import 4,000 tonnes?” he said.
The deadline is Sept 30 in Penang for unlicensed plastic recyclers to legalise themselves, and starting next month, Phee said the state would get tough on them.
He said all illegal plastic recycling facilities that are discovered would be raided and ordered to close, while enforcers would visit the legal ones to check on their production capacity and the amount of plastic waste they are importing.
“We will work with federal agencies.
“If we find out they are importing more than they can process and cannot account for the excess, we will have their APs reduced or even revoked altogether,” Phee said.
Since China banned the import of plastic waste for recycling from Dec 31 last year, the waste is beginning to pile up in other parts of the world and Malaysia is getting a share.
“Plastic waste from Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Europe come here.
“Penang and Klang are hotspots and plastic recyclers in Ipoh are increasing too,” Phee said.
Recyclers sort the plastic waste, wash them and then melt them back into raw plastic pellets for sale.
It is a relatively simple process but it is a polluting industry and Malaysian laws have strict compliance requirements for it.
High-grade plastics can be fully recycled with good value, but plastic waste come in a motley variety and low-grade plastics, such as straws or sheet plastic, may not be worth the effort, driving recyclers to dump these.