Malaysia seizes 106 illegal e-waste containers

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Malaysia has seized 106 containers of dangerous electronic waste over the last three months and busted an illegal waste import syndicate after a tip-off from a watchdog group, a minister said.

Tens of millions of tons of e-waste are produced globally every year, and many discarded devices and appliances can leak heavy metals, plastics and other toxic chemicals.

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Many countries, including Malaysia, have banned the import of e-waste, though illegal shipments remain a problem.

Between March 21 and June 19 this year, Malaysian inspectors found 106 shipping containers filled with e-waste, authorities said Wednesday.

Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad, Malaysia’s natural resources and environmental sustainability minister, said the containers will be sent back to their countries of origin, without providing details about where they came from.

He added that an illegal import syndicate was involved.

“This syndicate uses false documentation to import waste for recycling purposes,” he told reporters after inspecting the seized containers on Wednesday at Port Klang, west of the capital Kuala Lumpur.

One container shown to the press was filled with what appeared to be piles of server racks.

In 2022, the world produced 62 million tons of e-waste, and less than a quarter was recycled, according to the United Nations.

Many wealthy countries send their e-waste overseas to poorer nations because it is cheaper and helps meet recycling targets.

This increases the health and environmental risks in those countries, however.

The latest seizures were prompted by information provided to Malaysia by the Seattle-based Basel Action Network (BAN), which works to prevent the dumping of toxic waste by rich, industrialized nations.

“We welcome the opportunity to assist the Malaysian government with high quality enforcement intelligence so they can detain these shipments,” Jim Puckett, BAN executive director, said in a statement.

Malaysia has seen a sharp rise in the illegal import of e-waste in recent years.

The Southeast Asian nation was increasingly becoming “a dumping ground for plastic and electronic wastes from rich countries,” warned Mageswari Sangaralingam, from the environmental group Friends of the Earth.

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