Minister: Customs’ scanners can’t tell if plastic is contaminated, illegal importers exploited loophole

Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Minister Yeo Bee Yin said the government had last month found many importers of illegal plastic waste making 'false declarations' to the Customs Department by declaring the imported items were not contaminated waste. — Picture by Mukhriz Hazim
Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Minister Yeo Bee Yin said the government had last month found many importers of illegal plastic waste making 'false declarations' to the Customs Department by declaring the imported items were not contaminated waste. — Picture by Mukhriz Hazim

KUALA LUMPUR, May 31 — Importers who illegally ship in contaminated plastic waste into Malaysia had exploited a loophole to smuggle in these items as they knew the Customs Department’s scanners could not detect them, minister Yeo Bee Yin revealed.

Yeo said the federal government had monitored the issue of plastic waste being brought in illegally, but found it strange that the waste could still enter the country despite the government’s ban on such imports.

“So we went to the ports to investigate, some people knew the scanner can’t detect, so they used the loophole,” she said in an interview during 8TV’s Global Watch programme late last night.

Yeo, who is minister of energy, science, technology, environment and climate change, said the government had last month found many importers of illegal plastic waste making “false declarations” to Customs by declaring the imported items were not contaminated waste.

She noted that the scanning machines can only detect plastic in the containers, adding: “The Customs’ scanners cannot detect if it’s contaminated mixed plastic waste or not.”

“So they cannot determine, and it is not only Malaysia facing this problem, the whole world is facing the problem of not being able to tell apart, whether this is contaminated or clean plastics,” she said in the interview conducted in Mandarin.

She noted that all plastic items start with a category code of 39, and that the illegal importers had used the code for plastics that can be legally brought in instead of using the code for the contaminated plastic waste.

She pointed out that plastic which are clean and have been processed into flakes that are already ready for recycling can be brought into the country legally to be recycled.

She said many legal plastic recycling factories had been carrying out recycling works legally for years, but said the illegal plastic recycling plants have tainted the entire industry.

“Plastic waste sorted out into clean homogeneous waste can be recycled, this is good for the environment; contaminated mixed waste can’t be recycled using the usual legal methods, they can’t meet environmental standards, so they only have one method of using illegal factories to process to recycle.

“Those that can’t be recycled, they burn. That’s why in Jenjarom (in Selangor), people smelled a funny smell, it’s the illegal plants, so we want to close them down and many of them have been charged,” she added.

To date, 150 illegal plastic recycling plants have been shut down, with five cases prosecuted so far resulting in one person being imprisoned and hundreds of thousands in fines, she said.

On Tuesday, Yeo announced that 450 metric tonnes of contaminated plastic waste in 10 containers that were imported illegally into Malaysia would be returned to the countries from where they were shipped out from.

By the end of this year, a total of 3,000 metric tonnes of plastic waste from approximately 50 containers are expected to be shipped back to their countries of origin once inspections are completed.

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