Exporting Pollution and Smuggling Scrap

A two-week investigation of Malaysian imports revealed that U.S. shipments of scrap plastic may be getting into the country despite rigid import regulations designed to keep them out.

Malaysia is one of many Asian countries following China’s lead in raising purity standards for imported plastic recyclables. After China closed its doors, the overflow of material caused countries like Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, and Indonesia to do the same due to lack of sufficient infrastructure and environmental concerns.

However, it appears that simple import regulations may not be enough to keep out foreign trash. According to the environmental minister Yeo Bee Yin of Malaysia, scrap plastic is being shipped into Malaysia at an alarming rate with false trade codes.

Exports and imports have universal HS codes that identify the contents of a shipment but it appears that scrap plastic shipments are increasingly popping up with the wrong HS code identifier—most commonly the one for finished plastic products (i.e. plates, sheets, film, or foil). The code used for polyethylene resin or pellet products was also found to be used improperly for scrap plastic imports.

While the amount of imports with the code for recyclable plastics has decreased over the last year, there is a significant correlation with the increase of imports coded as finished plastic products.

This past December, finished plastic products imported in Malaysia spiked up from 1.2 million pounds per month to 7.5 million pounds. That’s a shocking increase—not to mention, the largest monthly shipment of these products on record for Malaysia. Conversely, products imported that were coded as scrap plastics decreased from 50.1 million pounds in February 2018 to just 8.9 million pounds in February 2019.

Other Asian countries are taking measures to combat similar import violations. Indonesia is now inspecting all scrap imports coming into the country. Other countries, including Vietnam and Thailand, do not have the capacity to check all plastic imports. Major ports in Vietnam announced last month that they would be halting all plastic imports for four months beginning in late June. Thailand has enacted a temporary ban on plastic imports.

In Malaysia, shipments found to be in violation of the import regulations for plastic recyclables that have been mislabeled are being sent back to their original countries, but it may only be a matter of time before they put a ban on all plastic imports as well.

While there may have been a time where we could dump our trash elsewhere for other countries to deal with, and perhaps even turn a profit from it, that time is passed. Recycling at home and cutting down the amount of impurities in our recycling stream is rapidly becoming our only option moving forward.

Berg Mill has a long history as one of the pioneers in the industry, and we are not going anywhere even when faced with recyclable import changes. If you continue to handle large amounts of recycled waste and are looking for solutions to offload idle scrap, please contact our industry veterans at Berg Mill supply via our website or phone at 866-333-BERG.