An Unearthed investigation has found packaging from everyday British products – exported as recycling – discarded at multiple illegal dump sites in Malaysia.
The news comes as the UK’s Environment Agency (EA) embarks on a major investigation into claims of fraud in the UK’s recycling exports system, including allegations that exported UK plastic waste is not being recycled. On Monday Unearthed handed over details of our investigation – which exposed the flaws in the UK’s recycling exports system – to the EA.
UK exports of plastic scrap for recycling to Malaysia shot up at the start of this year, after China – previously the world’s largest importer of the materials – closed its doors to such imports. But the sudden deluge of plastics from the UK and other western countries has left Malaysia’s recycling system struggling to cope.
Investigating conditions in the Malaysian waste industry earlier this month, Unearthed found brands familiar to UK supermarket shelves strewn across a vast pile of rubbish standing 10 feet tall on a site measuring nearly three acres. The dump, surrounded by a palm oil plantation, was outside the town of Jenjarom, about an hour’s drive from the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur.
Packaging for Fairy dishwasher tablets, Yeo Valley yoghurt and Tesco Finest crisps was scattered across the pile, alongside plastics from Spain, France, Germany, Ireland, Japan and Australia. Use-by dates indicated the packaging was left there in recent months.
In an adjoining recycling facility that was shut down months ago, Unearthed found ripped-open recycling bags from UK local authorities discarded among a huge pile of plastic bags, alongside yet more food packaging from the UK and across Europe.
Residents in the area have complained that fumes from recycling factories operating without the correct permits have kept them awake at night and left them concerned about the effect on their health.