- How China Broke the World's Recycling
- Malaysia sent 4,120 tons of plastic trash back to 13 rich countries, saying it refuses to be the 'rubbish dump of the world'
- All the ways recycling is broken—and how to fix them
With 2020 ending soon, I revisited some events pre-COVID that happened earlier this year that seemed so long ago. In January, Malaysia sent over 150 shipping containers full of plastic wastes back to ‘wealthier countries’ (i.e France, UK, US and Canada).
Why was plastic waste shipped around the world?
China was the largest global recycling hub for plastic wastes. ‘Wealthy nations’ would ship their medium value plastic wastes (not high value enough to recover, nor low value enough to be incinerated) to China to be processed.
Why ship to China?
- It’s not profitable to recycle in the Country of Origin
- Logistics of shipping waste to China costs next to nothing (using return cargo from Chinese exports)
- Labour of sorting and processing of waste in China is cheap
- The masses can consume ‘guilt-free’ as the responsibility of recycling is off their shoulders and onto China’s
How did the trash end up in Malaysia?
In late 2017, China banned the import of plastic wastes to reduce its pollution issues. Then, Malaysia tripled its plastic wastes import and became the largest processor in the world. However, Malaysia also realised that the environmental and health issues outweigh the gain of waste processing.
Malaysia has enough problems to deal with, cross-border pollution should not be one of them. I hope we won’t ever see a container full of disposed face masks from the West at Port Klang.