Audit: Malaysia top destination for UK's plastic waste in Q1 2018

Malaysia is categorised as among countries that had in 2017 received plastic packaging waste in the range of 50,001 to 500,000 tonnes from the UK. — AFP pic
Malaysia is categorised as among countries that had in 2017 received plastic packaging waste in the range of 50,001 to 500,000 tonnes from the UK. — AFP pic

KUALA LUMPUR, July 24 — The UK exported the most recyclable plastic waste to Malaysia in the first three months of this year, according to an audit there.

British public spending watchdog National Audit Office's (NAO) latest report showed that about 250,000 tonnes of plastic — used as product packaging — were exported by the UK as waste to other countries in 2018's first quarter.

"The most significant foreign markets for plastic packaging waste in the first quarter of 2018 were: Malaysia (17 per cent); Turkey (16 per cent), Poland (12 per cent), Indonesia (11 per cent), and the Netherlands (9 per cent)," it said in its report that was released yesterday.

The NAO report noted that China had been the single biggest market for UK’s exports of packaging material for recycling, but said China had this January banned imports of various waste materials due to fears of high contamination levels.

The audit report said the decline in UK waste exports to China seems to have been replaced with higher exports to other countries instead.

In its analysis, the NAO noted that China had in the first quarter of 2018 received only three per cent of plastic packaging waste from the UK, compared to 40 per cent of slightly over 250,000 tonnes of UK's exported plastic waste in the first quarter of 2017.

Even before China's tightening this year on waste imports and the resulting channelling of waste to other countries, however, Malaysia was already a significant recipient.

"In 2017 China was the most significant foreign customer for the UK’s plastic packaging waste, receiving 25 per cent of exports.

"The next most significant customers were Malaysia, Poland and Turkey, who each received 11 per cent of exports in 2017," the report said.

According to a colour-coded map in the report, Malaysia is categorised as among countries that had in 2017 received plastic packaging waste in the range of 50,001 to 500,000 tonnes from the UK.

As for the two categories of paper and other packaging waste, Malaysia was not mentioned as among top export destinations and appears to have received relatively minimal amounts of such waste.

The report by the NAO, which reports to the British Parliament, is on a UK government scheme where businesses that handle packaging are obliged to show they recycled a certain amount of packaging. As of 2017, 7,002 companies in the UK are registered as having packaging recycling obligations.

The report said the UK's growth in overall packaging recycling rates was mainly driven by a sixfold increase in the exports of such waste for recycling between 2002 and 2017, as the total amount recycled in the UK has remained largely unchanged.

The report pointed out that half of the UK's reported recycled packaging waste in 2017 was exported.

While noting that China’s clampdown on waste has led to most of the shortfall for the UK's waste exports being diverted to other countries for recycling, the report cautioned that this may not be sustainable as some countries have also imposed more restrictions.

According to the NAO report, Thailand banned this month all plastic and electronic waste imports, while Vietnam stopped issuing licences for waste import in January.

It said Poland, which imports waste from countries such as the UK for recycling, has raised concerns that some waste are being "dumped or illegally burnt due to stockpiles increasing beyond the capacity of its reprocessing sites".

The report did not mention the stance, if any, taken by Malaysia over the import of waste.

Yesterday, local daily Kosmo! reported that the roughly 300,000 residents of Kuala Langat in Selangor claim to be facing serious health hazards due to air and ground pollution from at least 38 plastic recycling factories in their constituency.

According to the Kosmo! report, the reason so many such facilities have been built in Kuala Langat was because of its strategic location for transport containers carrying imported plastic waste from Port Klang.

The report had quoted an unnamed source saying that container lorries carry the waste to the recycling plants for processing before it is sent out again, while waste that cannot be recycled are burnt.

Some of the plants are said to be near residential areas or near rivers.