Canada morally wrong for refusing to take back own plastic waste, says Penang exco

A total of 265 containers filled with plastic waste have been left abandoned at the North Butterworth Container Terminal in George Town since January. — Picture courtesy of Phee Boon Poh
A total of 265 containers filled with plastic waste have been left abandoned at the North Butterworth Container Terminal in George Town since January. — Picture courtesy of Phee Boon Poh

GEORGE TOWN, June 14 — A Penang lawmaker expressed shock and dismay today at Canada’s refusal to accept its recyclable plastic waste found dumped in Malaysia.

Calling Canada morally wrong and irresponsible for the refusal, he also questioned the country’s inconsistency in the matter and reminded Canada that it is a signatory of the Basel Convention and obligated to accept plastic waste that originated from it.

“Why is it that they are prepared to take back plastic waste from the Philippines but not Malaysia?” he asked when speaking to reporters in his office today.

Phee was responding to a statement by Canada’s environment ministry that Ottawa does not plan to take back the plastic waste that came from the country.

In a Reuters report, Environment and Climate Change Canada spokesman Gabrielle Lamontagne also said Canada did not receive information about any shipment of waste from Canada to Malaysia.

Today, Phee said he had brought Canadian High Commission officials to the North Butterworth Container Terminal (NBCT) where 265 containers of plastic waste were abandoned since January.

“We showed them deep respect by taking them there to do a site inspection on Tuesday without calling the media as they requested not to publicise their visit,” he said.

He added that the officials were shown the contents of the containers and the condition of plastic waste within.

The officials were also taken to a plastic waste recycling factory on the mainland.

“We were in the middle of discussions to resolve this and for the Canadian ministry to make such a decision even before we come to an agreement, this is not rational thinking anymore; they’ve not given us any respect despite the respect we shown them when Canadian officials were here,” he said.

Two weeks ago, Phee along with the Customs Department conducted a site visit at the NBCT where the 265 containers were located.

It was reported that the containers held an estimated 7,420 tonnes of plastic waste, most of which were from Canada.

The importers of the waste have not claimed it from the NCBT since it arrived in January.

Penang Customs Director Datuk Saidi Ismail reportedly said that more than half of plastic waste imports were from Canada while the rest came from United States, Belgium, Germany, Hong Kong and Japan.

Phee said it would be irresponsible of Canada not to take back the plastic waste that originated from that country but conceded that the matter was for Putrajaya and Ottawa to discuss at an intergovernmental level.

The Malaysian government said in May that it would send back 3,000 tons of plastic waste back to 14 countries of origin, including Canada, the United States, Japan, France, Australia and Britain.

In 2018, China banned plastic waste imports and forced the industry to divert shipments to other countries including Malaysia where illegal operators have since mushroomed.

While the plastic waste is meant for recycling, they have been found to either be dumped or illegally incinerated instead.