PETALING JAYA: Malaysia must be firm and impose a total ban on plastic waste imports, said The Consumer Association of Penang (CAP).“It does not only harm the environment but is a burden to taxpayers who have to absorb the cost of cleaning up.
“Not all imported plastic can be processed. Especially those that are contaminated, mixed and low grade. Some were dumped in Ipoh and Sungai Petani, where it will be burned illegally and sent to cement kilns, causing toxic emission into the air.
“Not only will this harm the environment, we are also burdening our communities,” said CAP research officer S. Mageswari.
CAP believes putting a stop to the plastic trade is the right solution as illegal recyclers would only move to other premises when they are caught.
“If the government clamps down on certain areas, illegal recyclers will shift to other premises. And there are many ports for consignments of plastic waste to come into our country.
“The government has also revealed that the traders have been falsifying declaration forms by using other Harmonized System (HS) codes to bring in plastic scraps. This is the right time to measure and focus on the overall global production and consumption of plastic,” said Mageswari.
On May 19, she said Malaysia supported the move that required exporters to obtain consent of receiving countries before shipping contaminated, mixed and non-recyclable plastic waste.
“During the 14th Conference of the Parties to the Basel Convention that involved some 180 countries, Norway proposed adding plastic to the Basel Convention as a step towards curbing the plastic waste trade crisis.
“This will stop the entry of unwanted plastic waste into their country,” she added.
However, the Malaysian Plastics Manufacturers Association (MPMA) said a total ban on plastic imports could disrupt the overall supply chain in the circular economy.
“The local plastic industry is worth about RM30bil a year and about 80% of items made from recycled plastics are exported,” said MPMA vice-president C.C. Cheah adding that the industry supports other sectors such as electric and electronics, automotive, and manufacturing.
He also said the circular economy, in which products are designed to be disassembled and reused, is the way forward and scrap material is needed to fuel it.
He said strict enforcement on plastic imports could help matters and recent initiatives have been effective in shutting down illegal activities.
He also said the government’s support towards amending the Basel Convention, a UN treaty on the trade of plastic waste and its disposal, will help the problem.
Meanwhile, environmentalists believe that more needs to be done to educate the public to stop depending on single-use plastic before regulating the plastic trade.
Dr K. Kalithasan, River Care programme manager at the Global Environment Centre (GEC), said many people put convenience and style over sustainability.
This resulted in a growing amount of plastic waste that threatens water bodies, and even aquatic and human lives.
“It will take time to get people to buy into the idea of bringing their own containers and bags but we cannot take too long or the problem will worsen,” he said.
Kalithasan said there is a current movement to change from using non-biodegradable materials like styrofoam containers to ones made from more biodegradable materials but such a move hasn’t been effective in lessening the amount of waste disposed.
Kalithasan is glad that celebrities including members of royal families are opting for more sustainable solutions by bringing their own bags and food containers, setting a trend for others to follow.
The Selangor Crown Prince Tengku Amir Shah Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah and his sister Tengku Zatashah Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah have won hearts for bringing their own tiffin carriers to the Ramadan Bazaar instead of opting for single-use containers.
Separately, Greenpeace Malaysia campaigner Heng Kiah Chun said developed countries must be responsible for what they send out.
“We recognise the Malaysian government’s positive action on the matter, which includes calling out and penalising those responsible for this mess. The government is taking the right action,” he said.