The new policy that we are going to come up with will not hurt legal factories at the same time it will pressure them to increase local sourcing of plastic waste in the coming years.”
Despite the blanket ban, Yeo admits that there will always be ways for people to smuggle in plastic waste into the country. “Even if it is not allowed as an official policy (to import waste materials), any-thing can be smuggled into the country, unless the customs department also improve their level of security.”
Establishing a selective ban
The problem with the blanket ban is that it will also stop the importation of a type of plastic material with the code HS 3915. This type of plastic includes high value recyclable material that ‘is more than just rubbish’ and can be utilised for industrial use. However, when the material is contaminated with other types of waste, it will be very difficult to recycle it, especially for le-gal recycling plants.
“We will not be able to recycle all of (the remaining plastic waste) legally. The ones that can be recycled are already being handled by the legally operating factories. Many of these factories avoid taking the job due to the highly contaminated and non-homogeneous material. Material that cannot be recycled will be disposed of by incinerating at high temperatures so as not to negatively affect the environment,” says Yeo.
According to her, a non-discriminatory ban or a complete ban of all plastic importation is not feasible. “We are still discussing and finalising policies regarding what can and cannot enter the country for recycling. That’s why we are open for exceptions,” she adds, saying that the government is working on developing stricter guidelines.
Some local factories are also up-cycling materials by importing high value materials and turning them into higher value. “We need to be able to allow initiatives to happen which makes room for innovation. We want to encourage innovation and that’s why a complete ban of plastics that includes the HS3915 type is not a feasible solution,” Yeo notes.
“It’s a ban for plastic waste in general, but not a ban on certain types of HS 3915, as long as it follows a more stringent policy than before. The new policy will not hurt legal factories, it will pressure them to increase their sourcing of plastic waste locally in the coming years,” says Yeo.
One of the current initiatives of the local government ministries is to increase the recycling rate in the country. “Malaysia is one of the big-gest plastic polluters in the world in terms of our waste management system as well. A lot of our local plastic waste ends up in the ocean and we are looking for ways to solve as soon as possible.” she adds, noting that the ocean is a shared resource.
As neighbouring countries are also contributing to ocean pollution, Yeo hopes that other countries will also play a part in improving the quality of waste management.
“We need to get countries to understand the importance of managing waste and pollution, so far there has been a lot of positive feedback and I hope the cooperation of other countries will help push this agenda in the coming years,” she says.
From ‘their’ perspective
MALAYSIA SME® reached out to a legally operating factory in the country that used to handle the disposal of the plastic waste before the blanket ban. Angkasa Kowaris Plastics Sdn Bhd (ANKOP) director Kent Chin says the aftermath of China’s ban that has resulted in plastic waste rushing into Malaysia doesn’t have to be a bad thing. It all depends on how it is handled.
“Plastic recycling is not a bad thing , in fact it’s a good thing. It started becoming a problem when the previous government didn’t know how to properly handle it. Especially while the eagle and the dragon are fighting each other, the spillover could be beneficial to Malaysia. But with the blanket ban in effect, we won’t be able to take advantage of this opportunity and do it well,” Chin says.
During a one-on-one interview with Chin, he mentions, “The cur-rent government is still new and very eager to clean up the mess in Malaysia. But on hindsight, they haven’t really looked into the plight of the people who have been running (legal recycling) businesses. In the end, we are the ones suffering when we had to immediately stop recycling imported plastics, despite being one of those who have always followed the rules.”
“The government needs to be more empathetic to legal businesses that have been compliant through-out the years,” Chin says.
According to him, even though his plastic recycling plant is still running, it is only processing the plastic waste from local sources. However, the amount that comes in to the factory is not enough to sustain the business.
“The quality of local plastic is not as good as people think. If we continue to only process the local ones, it will not sell for much and it will cause losses for us. We need the imported ones since the quality is much better and the value higher,” says Chin.
He hopes that the government will lift the blanket ban soon so that legal businesses can continue to get on with their businesses.