Malaysia permits import of US plastic waste shipment after it passes new UN treaty test

KUALA LUMPUR (Agencies): Malaysia has allowed entry of a container of plastic waste shipped from the United States reported Reuters, reversing previous opposition after finding it held only clean, recyclable material and did not violate a new United Nations treaty banning trade in contaminated plastics.

Signatories to the Basel Convention, which came into force on Jan 1, may only trade plastic waste if it is clean, sorted and easy to recycle – unless the importing country has granted an exemption.

Malaysia became the leading destination for the world's plastic trash after China banned imports in 2018, and has returned thousands of tonnes of plastic scrap since then.

Malaysia had previously said it would return the US shipment, which was shipped from Los Angeles on March 14, as it was believed to be carrying hazardous waste.

The United States, which produces more plastic waste per capita than any other country, is the only major nation not to have ratified the Basel Convention and is not bound by its rules. However, under the treaty, Malaysia cannot accept prohibited plastic waste from the United States.

The Basel Action Network non-governmental organisation said this month that contaminated plastic waste trade was still flowing despite the new UN rules, highlighting the high volume being shipped from the United States to Malaysia.

Its executive director Jim Puckett, on Tuesday (March 30) called for Malaysia to inspect all shipments of plastic waste coming into the country.

"We fear that many of the shipments will not be so clean and many will find their way to highly polluting operations," he told Reuters.

Bernama reported Environment and Water Minister Datuk Seri Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man as saying that the two containers that arrived at Port Klang on March 27 from the United States carried clean polyethylene commercial plastic waste.

"The plastic waste was clean, homogenous, and followed the criteria as required in the import licence," he said, adding that the matter was confirmed by the National Solid Waste Management Department (JPSPN).

He said the inspection on the containers was conducted by the Environment Department (DOE), Customs Department, the police, JPSPN, Port Klang Authority, Solid Waste Management and Public Cleansing Corporation (SWCorp) and Westport Malaysia Sdn Bhd.

Tuan Ibrahim said as the competent authority to Basel Convention, DOE confirmed that the plastic waste complied with the criteria of the B3011 Basel Convention.

"The B3011 plastic waste importation does not require prior inform consent (PIC) and notification from export countries," he said in a statement Tuesday.

A check by the DOE on the importer's premises found that it was in compliance with the Environmental Quality Act 1974 (Act 127) and carried out plastic waste recycling activities using environmentally sound management (ESM).

On March 20, Tuan Ibrahim was reported as saying that a container from Los Angeles, suspected of carrying commercial plastic waste, will be impounded when it arrived at Port Klang.

"Stern actions would be taken if they fail to meet the plastic waste import criteria and procedure as stipulated by Malaysia," he said.

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