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‘Not world’s rubbish bin’: Malaysia e-waste seizure raises fears of renewed criminal trade

The containers, which were tracked by environmental activist groups en route to Malaysia’s Port Klang, signal that the Southeast Asian nation has once more become an end point in the multibillion-dollar illicit global supply chain for unprocessed e-waste and plastic waste.

“We do not want Malaysia to be the world’s rubbish bin,” environment minister Nik Nazmi told reporters, adding the illicit haul was worth around US $1.7 million to the criminals who were meant to receive it.

Aside from electronic waste, 195 other seized containers were found filled with scrap metal from the same port of origin.

The haul signifies a sharp increase from the 47 containers containing banned materials, including plastic waste and e-waste, seized in 2023.

“I would like to emphasise that it is national policy not to allow the importation of e-waste and action will be taken,” he said, adding the regulation also requires such shipments to be returned to their place of origin.

The government believes the imports are the work of a syndicate which import illegal waste into Malaysia using forged documents. The matter is being investigated under the Environmental Quality Act. If found guilty, the perpetrators would face up to 5 years jail and up to 500,000 ringgit (US $106,000) in fines.

E-waste consists of discarded electronic devices and components, which often contains toxic substances like lead and mercury that pose serious health and environmental risks. E-waste can also contain valuable metals like gold, silver, and copper, which criminals can profitably extract by avoiding the costs and regulations associated with its safe disposal.

Nik Nazmi’s comments echo those of his predecessor Yeo Bee Yin in 2019, when Malaysia was inundated with plastic waste