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Malaysia returns thousands of tons of trash to wealthy countries, says it refuses to be their "garbage dump"

Drowning in plastic waste
Drowning in plastic waste 09:02

Malaysia will no longer allow other countries to dump their plastic waste on its land. The country has successfully returned 150 containers of plastic waste to 13 mostly wealthy nations since the end of last year. 

On Monday, Minister of Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Yeo Bee Yin said the country will send another 110 containers of trash back to its origin countries by the middle of 2020. So far, 4,120 tons of waste have been returned to the U.S. 

"This is an unprecedented move by Malaysia," she wrote on Facebook. "We do not want to be the garbage bin of the world."

Wealthier nations have sent unwanted trash to Southeast Asia since China banned the import of plastic waste in 2018. Now, Malaysia and other countries in the region are sending it back. 

Yin said key Malaysian ports have been under strict order to block the smuggling of waste. Additionally, more than 200 illegal plastic recycling factories have been shut down. 

Minister of Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change (MESTECC), Yeo Bee Yin shows samples of plastics waste shipment from Australia before sending back to the country of origin in Port Klang, west of Kuala Lumpur on May 28, 2019. MOHD RASFAN / AFP / Getty Images

So far, 43 containers have been sent back to France, 42 to the United Kingdom, 17 to the United States, 11 to Canada, 10 to Spain and the rest to Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, Portugal, China, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Lithuania, the ministry said Monday. Malaysia didn't lost any money in the operation — all costs were covered by the shipping liners and companies who handle the importing and exporting of waste. 

However, it is "not about money, it is about dignity," Yin said. 

Provided they cooperate, the U.S. is expected to take back another 60 containers this year. Canada must take back 15, Japan 14, the U.K. 9 and Belgium 8, Yin told reporters during a press conference Monday.

The government intends to implement an action plan on illegal plastic importation in February to fast-track the return process. Yin said the goal of the plan is to "strengthen and standardize" procedures to combat the illegal importation of plastic waste. 

While the U.S. shipped 760 million tons of plastic waste to China in 2016, that amount dropped 95% after China implemented regulations. The U.S. then shifted exports to Southeast Asia, but the flood of trash led many of those countries to impose their own plastic bans, throwing the U.S. into a recycling crisis

Last year, Canada agreed to take back dozens of trash-filled shipping containers from the Philippines, which had been rotting in Manila for up to six years. It ended a small battle between the nations, but represented just the beginning of the all-out trash war between wealthy and developing nations.

"Our position is very firm. We just want to send it back and we just want to give a message that Malaysia is not the dumping site of the world," Yin said.

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