For three decades the United States and other industrialised nations have shipped most of their plastic waste overseas
In 2018, Malaysia became the leading alternative destination for plastic waste after China banned imports of such wastes which disrupted the flow of more than seven million tonnes of plastic scrap a year.
The country's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has declared a war against plastic wastes since then.
The South East Asian nation warned that it would not become the "world's dumpster" and has returned 150 containers of non-recyclable plastic scrap to their country of origin since last year. This includes countries such as the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia and Japan. Some of the wastes from those countries had apparently been smuggled into the country.
"Landfills don't serve any purpose any more. Wastes can't just be burned because of air pollution. So it is grossly unfair for rich countries to send waste to poor countries simply because the poor countries have no choice, maybe it contributes a little to their economy," he said.
"We are producing too much waste, and you have a problem trying to get rid of the waste. This is going to be a problem for the whole world," Mahathir said.
For three decades the United States and other industrialised nations have shipped most of their plastic waste overseas, primarily to China. The cheap labour and voracious factories there dismantled the scrap and turned it into new plastic goods.
However, China banned nearly all plastic waste imports amid concern that emissions from processing were harming the environment. Many scrap dealers rerouted their cargo to smaller recyclers in nearby Southeast Asian countries.
According to federal government data, Malaysia became the top destination for US plastic waste, importing more than 192,000 metric tons in the first 10 months of 2018, which is a whopping 132 percent jump from the year before. Thailand took in more than four times as much American plastic as it did in 2017 and Taiwan nearly twice as much.
For Malaysia, the problem is not the inflow of so-called clean plastics such as the electric meters, which are crushed into pellets and resold to manufacturers. The large quantities of low-grade scrap – soiled food packaging, tinted bottles, single-use plastic bags and so on are problem. The process for these to be recycled cleanly is a convoluted one.
Most of it has ended up in landfills or openly incinerated in violation of local laws, according to residents and environmental groups.
"They have become a dumping ground," Heng Kiah Chun, a Malaysia campaigner for the environmental group Greenpeace told Los Angeles Times.
Mahathir said Malaysia had taken steps to reduce the use of plastic bags and plastic straws, but it was incumbent on the whole world to reduce plastic consumption, and for rich countries to stop sending their waste to poorer nations for recycling.
Malaysia's Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change (MESTECC) Minister Yeo Yee Bin on January 20 said the country sent 150 containers of contaminated waste to their countries of origin.
"I was very shocked. In front was legal waste, while the illegal waste was placed behind it. I really hope things like this would not happen again," she said.
She showed reporters containers full of cables from Britain, contaminated milk cartons from Australia and compact discs from Bangladesh, as well as bales of electronic and household waste from the United States, Canada, Japan, Saudi Arabia and China, reports the Washington Post.
The dumping of wastes from the richer countries to countries like Malaysia results in contaminated water supplies, crop death, respiratory illness from exposure to burning plastic and a rise in organised crime.
Much of ocean wastes come from Asian countries like China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Sri Lanka. However, Western nations share responsibility for the crisis because they export plastic waste to these nations. Many companies from these countries also export consumer goods packaged in plastic to the developing world.
The Malaysian premier' crusade against non-recyclable plastic waste in the region will benefit the whole world and the future generations.