The Shame of UK Recycling Waste
Dumped Illegally in Malaysia

Plastic packaging from British recycling bins has been found dumped at illegal rubbish sites in Malaysia according to Greenpeace.

The environmental charity’s publication Unearthed revealed that branded packaging found in the UK had been discarded on a pile of waste near Kuala Lumpur spanning almost 3 acres of land and standing 10-feet tall. Packaging from Fairy dishwasher tablets, Yeo Valley yoghurt and Tesco Finest crisps was found strewn across the pile. A closed recycling facility close to the illegal dump also contained bags of recycling waste from UK local authorities.

Residents who live near the waste pile told Greenpeace that they have complained about fumes being given off from ‘recycling factories’ that are operating without permits and say that they’re worried about the effect it’s having on their health.

Greenpeace say that this is occurring because many companies are still producing and selling single-use plastics at a rate that our recycling system can’t cope with. This is why the surplus ends up being shipped abroad, often to illegal dumps.

The extent of illegal waste dumping

Illegal waste dumping is rife in countries like Malaysia. In Klang, Malaysia’s largest port, Greenpeace investigators found sacks of discarded plastics from the UK and Europe in an abandoned industrial complex. 140 miles north of this in Ipoh, they found Tesco carrier bags and packaging for McCain’s oven chips, Yazoo yoghurt drink, and Heinz baked beans.

The findings come as the Environment Agency is starting a huge investigation into claims that there is ongoing fraud in the UK’s recycling exports system.

The UK exports twice as much plastic packaging for recycling as it processes in UK recycling facilities. Much of the exports end up in Asia, and since China has now banned plastic imports, Malaysia is a top destination for our recycling.

Between January and August this year, the UK exported over 88,000 tonnes of plastic recycling to Malaysia. Other countries started exporting to Malaysia too, which has overwhelmed their waste management capabilities.

When the news broke last year about China banning plastic imports, the environment secretary, Michael Gove said that the UK would have to stop exporting as much waste because it wasn’t a long-term solution. Yet according to Greenpeace, the UK has simply started exporting to the overburdened communities in Malaysia.

Greenpeace calls for action

Greenpeace say that the UK should stop its ‘out of sight, out of mind’ thinking and take responsibility for its waste. The charity has urged ministers to investigate exactly how our recycling waste ends up in illegal dumps, reform the ‘subsidies for waste exports’ system and ban plastics that are hard to recycle.

EU rules say that materials can only be exported for recycling if they are handled and processed in the same way that they would be handled in Europe. But in reality, if we are exporting to poorer countries with a lack of inadequate infrastructure, how can the recycling be dealt with in the same way at all?