Malaysia Is Shipping 3,300 Tons of Garbage Back to the Countries It Came From

Malaysia’s Minister of Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Yeo Bee Yin shows plastic waste shipment in Port Klang, Malaysia.
Photo: AP

We, humans, do love our plastic. From our morning yogurt to our evening takeout, all this plastic feels impossible to avoid. The thing is, well, this plastic needs to go somewhere. Malaysia, a major plastics importer, is one of those somewheres. But now, the country is shipping thousands of tons of the world’s plastic back home.

Malaysian Minister for Energy, Science, Technology, Environment, and Climate Change Yeo Bee Yin announced Tuesday in a press conference that her country will be returning 3,300 tons of contaminated trash back to the countries it came from: the U.S., the U.K., Australia, Japan, China, Canada, and others. The Associated Press reports that 60 shipping containers meant to bring in plastic to recycle Tuesday were full of mislabeled plastic and trash that can’t easily be recycled (like e-waste). That shit’s headed back home, baby.


“We urge the developed countries to review their management of plastic waste and stop shipping garbage to developing countries,” said Yin at the press release, per CNN. Yin added: “Malaysia will not be a dumping ground to the world ... we will fight back. Even though we are a small country, we can’t be bullied by developed countries.”

In light of China’s plastics ban, which began in 2018, Malaysia has taken up the role of plastics importer, as a Greenpeace report published last year showed. From January 2018 to July 2018, plastic waste imports tripled to about 215,000 tons compared to the year before, the report found. The country isn’t equipped to handle the influx of waste, according to the Greenpeace report.


Malaysia is equipped to clap back, though. The minister began cracking down on illegal imports of misclassified waste last month when it launched a task force to investigate the matter. In April, officials discovered this waste coming from Spain, Germany, Australia, the U.S., and the U.K. Malaysian officials were sure to send that back, too.

Look at all our trash.
Photo: AP

The country is able to do this through the Basel Convention, an international waste treaty meant to prevent developed countries from dumping their rubbish in the Global South. World leaders came together last year to add plastic, but the U.S. didn’t sign off on that. That isn’t stopping Malaysia from sending trash back to the States, though.

And Malaysia isn’t alone. The Philippines is finally sending some Canadian trash back home this week, too, reports the CBC. This comes after years of back and forths with the Canadian government.


Ultimately, the solution is to, well, stop creating all this waste. At the very least, people in developed countries need to do a better job at recycling so that it’s all sorted and ready to go upon export. Only 25 percent of U.S. waste is recycled. Most of our 260 million tons of crap go into landfills.

We’ve got a long way to go.


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About the author

Yessenia Funes

I mostly write about how environmental policy and climate change intersect with race and class though I occasionally write about animals, science, and art, too. We all need an escape, right?

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