KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysia is taking steps to limit imports of plastic waste, which has flooded the country since China stopped taking in foreign scrap for recycling, housing minister Zuraida Kamaruddin said on Friday.
The Southeast Asian nation will phase out imports of all types of plastic - including "clean" plastic - in three years, the minister said.
Malaysia has become the top destination for plastic waste exporters such as the United States and Britain, having received nearly half a million tonnes from its top 10 source-countries between January and July.
The trigger was a Chinese ban on waste imports from the beginning of this year. China took 7 million tonnes of plastic scrap last year.
At a news conference on Friday, Zuraida said Malaysia would stop issuing new permits for importing plastic waste. It already had a three-month freeze on imports that ended this week.
"We will limit the import of plastic waste from developing countries. So we will limit the imports to only from the United States, Europe and Japan, for quality plastics," said the minister, who oversees the waste management department.
The United States, the world's top exporter of plastic waste, sent 178,238 tonnes of it to Malaysia between January and July, nearly twice as much as it sent to the second top destination, Thailand, according to the United Nations trade database and the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries.
Britain sends a quarter of its waste to Malaysia.
Dozens of factories have opened up in Malaysia to handle plastic waste, many without an operating licence, using low-end technology and environmentally harmful methods of disposal, Reuters reported on Thursday.
Minister Zuraida said authorities would take action to shut down illegal plants.
(Reporting by Liz Lee and Joseph Sipalan; Writing by A. Ananthalakshmi; Editing by Andrew Roche)