Malaysia Doesn’t Want Your Plastic Trash

In 2018, China sent a message to the West: It was no longer interested in being a dumping ground for plastic trash and intended to crack down on the items it would accept. The result was an immediate crackdown by Western recycling and garbage companies, trying to get contamination out of the bin to avoid getting penalized for unwanted waste products. Meanwhile, some other Asian nations took up the slack, agreeing to take the waste China didn’t want.

That’s starting to change. The Malaysian government just announced it’s returning 60 containers of trash to their nations of origin, while the Philippines just threatened to deliver 69 containers of garbage back to Canada.

The West has long tried to outsource garbage, low-grade recycling and e-waste to other nations with more lax environmental standards. Those countries have evidently reached their breaking point and are about to start getting serious with crackdowns on what they will and won’t take. That could pose quite a problem for the West, which produces a lot of garbage every year and is running out of places to put it.

In this case, Malaysian officials one of whom said “stop shipping garbage to developing countries” asserted that the containers were garbage imported under false pretenses, not the expected recyclables. The garbage is from a number of countries, including the U.S., U.K., Australia and France. And some of the plastic may actually be material people mistakenly thought could be recycled.

While recycling sorting facilities do a pretty good job of sifting the good from the bad, it’s easy for actual garbage to contaminate the recycling. This turns the waste into garbage, even if it had been usable recycling. The practice of “aspirational recycling” e.g., putting a pizza box in the recycling because it seems like it should fit there can make the problem worse by introducing trash to the recycling and contaminating entire loads (not just in the bin, but also the truck).

Prior to China’s crackdown, some waste management firms tried to educate consumers and encourage them to sort correctly, while knowing that being too aggressive with sorting requirements can push people into throwing everything away. After the policy change and now that other nations are playing hardball expect that attempt to get more aggressive. Consumers who put trash in the recycling may face stiffer fines, or they may find formally listed fines are actually enforced.

Many consumers are surprised by what is and is not recyclable. It’s worth contacting your waste management company for guidance and requesting a detailed handout if one is available. You may find that something you thought was recyclable definitely is not, but you may also discover that something unexpected can go in the recycling or in the greenwaste/composting bin, which can take a multitude of surprises.

Of course, cutting down on household trash is also important, especially when it comes to single-use plastic and related products. Consider ways you can cut down on packaging. And at work, push the people in charge of ordering supplies, food for events and everything else to prioritize low or no-waste packaging. There’s a business case for it: Less garbage means lower garbage bills, and a low-waste commitment can also be an advertising point for your business!

Photo credit: nevodka/Getty Images

53 comments

Chad A
Chad Anderson3 days ago

Thank you.

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Chad A
Chad Anderson3 days ago

Thank you.

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Richard E Cooley

Thank you.

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Paula M
Paula Aabout a month ago

Why can't we take care of it ourselves?

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Michael F
Michael Friedmannabout a month ago

Thank You for Sharing This !!!

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Sherri S
Sherri Sabout a month ago

More people = More trash. Until we get the population under control, this problem will continue.

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Mark T
Mark Turnerabout a month ago

Ty.

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Sherry Kohn
Sherry Kohnabout a month ago

Noted

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heather g
heather gabout a month ago

Recycling Companies pretend that they're recyling everything .. Actually, they're just accepting municipalities' monies and passing it on elsewhere. Dishonest!

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Debbi W
Debbi Wabout a month ago

Products should not be packaged in clear hard plastic packages. If manufacturers would stop using plastic it would solve a good percent of the problem.

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