Return to Sender

Malaysia looks set to become the first Southeast Asian country to return commingled plastic rubbish to Australian ports.

After strong statements from Malaysia earlier in the year saying that they ‘refused to become a dumping ground for industrialized nations’, Malaysia is poised to start sending back illegally or mislabelled recycle material imported in the country.



The two containers, containing unsorted plastics, is charged with being contaminated with maggot-ridden milk cartons, among other things. The containers are being shipped back at the cost of the Malaysian importer, but if these charges are true they may soon start invoking the Basel Convention, requiring the Australian Government to pay the costs.


The Basel Convention deals with the control of movements of hazardous wastes and their disposal across nations, and was put in place after it was found Africa had become a hazardous waste dumping ground during the ‘80s. 

But the Australian Government has indicated that there has been no notification for the intent to return material, and if one were received “the Australian Government would work cooperatively with affected countries and exporters to verify if offences or breaches have occurred”.


These containers could be the first of many to be returned to Australian shores as 3000 tonnes of illegal plastic waste was recently identified by Malaysian inspectors in Port Klang, Malaysia's largest port.


However they pointed out Australia is not the only nation in the spotlight - companies operating in Britain, Canada, the US, Japan, Saudi Arabia, China, Bangladesh and France have also been found to be mislabelling or illegally exporting rubbish.


While the Australian Government has stated they plan to vet each container returned to judge the legitimacy of contamination claims, it’s important that companies found to be exporting contaminated materials are held to account.


It damages the reputation of our country and recycling industry, and no true Australian would use developing nations as a dumping ground for our waste.