C4 Center Brief No. 1: Good Governance and the Global Plastic Waste Trade


China’s ban on waste materials disrupted the global market for recyclable material, leading to an influx of waste to Southeast Asian countries. Research was carried out from November 2019 to March 2021 to examine the value chains of the import, transport, and processing of plastic waste in recycling facilities in Malaysia, and to trace the actors and agencies involved in regulating the chains. The aim of the research is to investigate the problem of illegality linked to imported plastic waste in the country.

Drawing from 40 interviews conducted with government officials, businesses, and community representatives, findings show that despite extensive efforts by the Malaysian government, industrial activity including plastic waste recycling is extremely difficult to regulate. Environmental laws continue to be flouted by unscrupulous operators through illegal burning, dumping, and improper management of emissions and effluents, gravely affecting the lives of people living around such waste processing facilities or dumpsites.


To countries exporting plastic waste:

  • Prevent plastic waste generation by redesigning products and packaging for reuse, and for mechanical recycling once a product or packaging is no longer reusable.
  • Prioritise local plastic waste management over exports.
  • Ban plastic waste exports.
  • Until a ban is implemented:
  1. enforce limits of 0.5% contaminants and require disclosure of additives contained in plastic waste;
  2. fully comply with other Basel Convention requirements;
  3. Ensure full transparency for plastic waste exports;
  4. only allow exports where there are effective guarantees of environmentally-sound management.
  • Increase resources to tackle illegal plastic waste shipments and effectively collaborate with importing countries to prevent illegal trade and ensure the repatriation of illegally exported wastes where necessary.

To countries importing plastic waste, including Malaysia:

  • Assist local recycling operators in sourcing recyclable material from waste generated domestically as a priority, including by enhancing domestic waste collection and waste separation at source, and through extended producer responsibility.
  • Ban plastic waste imports.
  • Until a ban is implemented:
  1. enforce a limit of 0.5% contamination, and require disclosure of additives;
  2. ensure transparency for plastic waste imports;
  3. ensure that imported wastes are managed in a manner that minimises harm to human health and the environment.
  • Strengthen national policies as well as regional and international coordination and cooperation in monitoring, enforcement, and anticorruption efforts, and importantly, enhance participatory multistakeholder engagement to tackle the illegal waste trade.
  • Adopt whole-of-society and whole-of-government approaches in all policymaking, in line with climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies.

Read more in the briefing paper here.

Watch the webinar on Challenges in the Global Plastic Waste Trade and Ways Forward here:




All publications by C4 Center are downloadable for free. Much resources and funds have been put into ensuring that we conduct cutting edge research work for these issues to be brought to the attention of the general public, authorities, as well as public policymakers and lawmakers. If you like our work, please do consider supporting us by donating to us. Your financial support will go a long way in ensuring that we can continue fighting for a clean, and better, Malaysia.