Malaysia identified and closed 140 plastic recycling operations nationwide since the beginning of the year to combat the illegal importation and dumping of waste in the country, a minister said Monday.
The government began targeting the illegal operations in July 2018 after discovering that 750,000 metric tons of harmful waste had been imported, said Yeo Be Yin, Malaysia’s minister of Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change.
“We are still suffering from the aftermath, so we launched this operation with the target of closing 100 illegal recycling factories along with those that failed to comply with the Environment Quality Act within the first quarter of this year,” she told reporters Monday after a raid on three sites in Negeri Sembilan, south of Kuala Lumpur.
Malaysia and other countries in Southeast Asia, including Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam, became destinations for hazardous plastic waste after China cracked down on imports in January 2018, Yeo had told parliament in October.
A Malaysian recycling company saw its waste volume surge by 28 percent year-on-year, as a result of the ban, Chinese news agency Xinhuanet reported.
Yeo announced that her ministry had reached its first-quarter goal just two months into the new year with the closing of 109 of 239 inspected factories. In addition, 31 others were closed for non-compliance, making the total number of closures 140.
She warned those planning to open illegal plastic recycling operations to drop the idea because the government was serious about clamping down on the activity.
Since the crackdown, four factories and their operators were found guilty, sentenced to a day in jail and fined a total of 389,000 ringgit (U.S. $95,600), Yeo said.
“We are still investigating another 44 cases before bringing them to court. We are confident that summons of up to 3 million ringgit ($737,400) and jail time can be imposed on them if they are found guilty,” she said.
The ministry announced that the government would confiscate land used for the illegal processing and dump sites if the companies were unable to pay their fines and cleanup costs.
Along with the closings, the inspections led to the apprehension of 29 Bangladeshis, 18 Indian nationals and 35 Chinese nationals for alleged Immigration Department violations.
The chairman of the Selangor chapter of a local conservation group, the Organization for the Preservation of National Heritage (PEKA), said more needed to be done.
“It’s welcoming news but Penang Port is holding 120 containers of this waste without revealing the details of who the owners are,” Damien Thanam told BenarNews.
He said investigations should not focus on just the operators, pointing out that the importers and the ships used to bring the waste plastic into Malaysia remained free.
“What will happen to those who shipped these containers into the country? Shipping manifest should reveal many of those involved and the origin of these containers,” he said. “The shippers should be charged in court and these containers sent back and not auctioned off.”
Previously, Yeo suggested that the plastic waste material found at the closed factories be auctioned off or be sent to landfills or incinerated, with the cost billed to the offenders.
“We at PEKA have received reports that some schools in Kuala Langat have not had their physical activities sessions out in the open due to air pollution,” Thanam said. “We have also reported to the Selangor department of health about an illegal incinerator operating in Shah Alam suspected of burning plastic waste.”
Neighbors told him that the incinerator operated at night despite being ordered shut down, he said.
“Many of these operations are already being moved out of Selangor to other states now,” he said.
Selangor state had the most illegal factories with 65 identified from a total of 114 inspected, followed by Kedah with 15 and Negeri Sembilan and Pulau Pinang with 10 each, according to government statistics published Monday.