KUALA LUMPUR: The entry of the world’s plastic waste which is polluting parts of Malaysia is a matter of serious concern.
Over the past year, 157,299 tonnes of plastic waste was shipped to this country – an increase of 273 per cent compared to the previous year.
This year, a number of allegedly illegal plastic waste disposal sites have been uncovered in Ipoh, Perak; Sungai Petani, Kedah; Jenjarom, Selangor – besides over 60 containers which arrived at West Port, Selangor containing plastic waste believed to have been smuggled into the country and abandoned by local importers.
Recently, Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Minister Yeo Bee Yin said that all 60 containers filled with 3,000 tonnes of plastic waste will be sent back to their countries of origin.
This is in contrast to a statement by Housing and Local Government Minister Zuraida Kamaruddin last year, saying that the plastic waste processing business is a RM30 billion a year industry which cannot be neglected.
Hence, what is the country’s direction on this issue?
Malaysian Nature Society president Prof Dr Ahmad Ismail said that if the government is serious about venturing into the plastic waste processing industry, it has to be done carefully, as the country has been ranked eighth in the world for contributing towards marine pollution caused by plastic waste.
The lecturer at the Department of Biology, Faculty of Science at Universiti Putra Malaysia said that the chemicals generated from plastic waste are polluting the air, water and soil biota; besides its combustion products posing a risk of contaminating breast milk.
“Ethyl polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) and fire resistant materials that are widely found in television sets and computers can alter sex hormones, reduce fertility and hinder ovarian development if (individuals are) exposed to them for long,” he told Bernama.
Charting a path forward, he said that with high costs and limited space, new technologies in waste disposal should be introduced by the government, including Mechanical Biological Treatment (MBT) technology which is used in Germany and the Netherlands.
Meanwhile, EcoKnights president Yasmin Rasyid is of the opinion that the import of contaminated plastic waste should be banned, stressing that the government should protect the people and regulate corporations.
“The profiteering perspective focuses on just economic gain for certain sectors, with disregard to the harm it can bring to the people and the environment.
“We need to change the way profit is made, not continue as per usual. This shows lack of social innovations on the part of the plastics industry. Disposable plastics need to go. Economic growth is short term, human health and the planet needs to be protected,” she said.
According to National Solid Waste Management Department assistant director Wemi Kalsuna Katerun, only 62 companies have Approved Permits (APs) to process plastic waste, compared to 314 companies before the government set stricter conditions for the granting of APs on Oct 26, last year.
Sahabat Alam (Friends of Nature Activists Society) activist Shakila Zain said that the country’s garbage disposal industry is still unable to accommodate domestic waste in terms of cost and the size of landfill areas, much less to take over the task of managing waste from outside.
“In 2017, garbage disposal sites were reduced from 289 to 113, and this figure is alarming, as there is no alternative proposed for disposal of garbage. No (new) recycling sites (have been built either).
“We are not a zero-carbon country like Bhutan, and so are able to take over the responsibility of reducing the amount of garbage or carbon from other countries,” she said.
Sahabat Alam Sekitar Malaysia president Datuk Abdul Malek Yusof, said that if the government wants to seriously venture into plastic waste processing, it must set standard operating procedures and strict enforcement.
“If properly processed and imported according to industry requirements, there (would be no problem with accepting foreign waste). The problem is when the garbage imported from countries outside is not for recycling… (and) the waste is dumped at illegal disposal sites,” he said.