Vietnam and Malaysia have enacted further restrictions on imports of plastic scrap, as both countries seek a better handle on the sizable increase in recycled materials in their ports in the wake of China's ban on imported waste.
Reuters reported that Vietnam stopped issuing new licenses for imported scrap July 25, and an industry association said that on July 23 Malaysia's government also adopted tougher rules for licensing.
The moves were in response to local news reports about serious pollution from factories illegally processing imported plastic scrap.
The China Scrap Plastics Association said in a statement that those two countries and Thailand are seeing imports surge beyond their capacity to handle them as materials formerly bound for China seek new markets.
"The sudden huge quantity inflow of plastic scraps into the Southeast Asian countries, particularly Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia, is far beyond their capability of environmental infrastructure support and the readiness of new recycling operations moved in from China," said Steve Wong, executive president of Beijing-based CSPA, in a statement.
He said the Malaysian situation is "perceived to be a temporary policy and measure for industry" and that he expressed "hope that the devastating situation can be over soon."
Wong said there are 114 companies and factories operating in Malaysia, and said the government's action is being seen as a three-month limit on permitting. He said a government task force will review the situation.
"This is to allow time for the authorities to set things right, including use of import permits and compliance of pollution controls," he said. "The imported plastic scraps should be processed by the importing factory with import permits and the factory operation should meet the environmental control regulations."
In recent months, a number of recycling companies from China have moved operations to Southeast Asia.
A July 24 statement from Vietnam's Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment said that 6,000 containers of scrap, including plastic and paper, have piled up at ports "causing risks of environmental pollution."
"In order to avoid being passive in handling with remaining scraps, in the long term, Vietnam needs a mechanism for remote control and prevention," said Hoang Van Thuc, deputy director general of the Vietnam Environment Administration.
The statement said Vietnam's government needs new, more proactive ways to track shipments and is challenged because it does not currently have "a mechanism for prevention and control of importing scrap from outside the border."
Shipments can "only be inspected when the ship docks at the port to do customs clearance, then it leads to passive dealing with violated ship owners such as commercial fraudulence or without permits," it said.