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‘Waste colonialism’ in Malaysia due to massive imports of plastic waste from Japan

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On 4 April, the Center to Combat Corruption and Cronyism (C4 Center) launched its latest report, “Ending waste colonialism, governing plastic pollution: Japan’s opportunity to lead Asia out of the plastic crisis”.

The report highlighted waste colonialism in Malaysia caused by massive imports of Japan’s plastic waste.

Since China banned solid waste imports in 2018, Malaysia has emerged as a global hub for plastic waste exports, with Japan being the leading nation exporting plastic waste to Malaysia.

In November 2023, Japan exported 21.7 million kg per month to Malaysia alone, more than the respective total amounts exported by other Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries to all non-OECD countries.

C4 Center’s research shed light on the discrepancies between each country’s domestic and regional governance capacities on the movement and management of plastic waste, raising serious questions on transparency, traceability and accountability of the plastic waste trade framework.

The report noted several major challenges for Malaysian waste management. These include illicit waste management practices such as open burning and illegal dumping, a lack of enforcement and monitoring from authorities, as well as a lack of transparency and public access to investigate regulatory compliance in importing plastic waste.


The report launch included several notable panel presentations and discussions.

Jim Puckett, executive director and founder of Basel Action Network elaborated on the lack of transparency and monitoring of waste trade. He noted that only 10 “prior informed consent” applications were made in 2023 for permission to export contaminated mixed plastic waste to Malaysia.

Lauren Weir, a senior campaigner at the Environmental Investigation Agency, presented on the recently passed EU Waste Shipment Regulation amendments. All plastic waste exports to non-OECD countries are to be banned 2.5 years after adoption. She said this was a possible step that Japan could emulate to lead Asia out of the plastic pollution crisis.

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Anthropologist Dr Shiori Shakuto shed light on the global economic, historical, racial and gender imbalances that have brought about the current plastic pollution crisis – echoing the report’s argument that governing the waste trade is not merely about economics or the environment.

On the same day of the report launch, Indonesian-based environmental non-profit Ecological Observation and Wetland Conservation (Ecoton), with other activists, performed a theatrical protest in front of the Japanese Consulate General in Surabaya. They demanded that the Japanese government stop sending plastic waste to Indonesia. The protest illustrated the urgency of this issue across the region.

Waste colonialism does not only affect Malaysia, as other Southeast Asian countries are similarly affected.

Therefore, C4 Center strongly calls for the Japanese government to phase out plastic waste exports to Malaysia and other non-OECD countries as a means of combating waste colonialism.

C4 Center also calls for the Malaysian government to:

  • Prioritise reducing plastic production, use and waste generation, and overall plastic dependency
  • Adopt Basel Convention Plastic Waste Amendments into local laws with strict penalties for violations
  • Ensure transparency and public access to data to support local community efforts which address plastic waste trade issues
  • Develop a national blueprint on solid waste management and circularity with measurable, inclusive and sustainable targets
  • Strengthen enforcement in monitoring waste shipments at ports and waste treatment at plastic recycling facilities to prevent illegal waste trafficking and illicit activities
  • Phase out plastic waste imports and focus on expanding the capacity and infrastructure in domestic waste collection and sorting

C4 Center

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The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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