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France slaps historic first fine on brokerage firm for shipping 'illegal' plastic waste to Malaysia

Henry Samuel
France has vowed to get touch on brokerage companies that illegally send plastic waste abroad - AP

France has for the first time inflicted a €192,000 (£164,000) fine on a Gallic brokerage company for sending 20 containers of illegal plastic waste to Malaysia, which recently pledged to send back any unauthorised consignments to countries of origin, including Britain.

In an historic first, the French state slapped the fine on the company based in southern France, which it declined to name, after Malaysia refused to allow the waste into the southeast Asian country this summer and sent it back.

France’s ecological transition ministry said it traced the waste to the brokerage firm and imposed a punitive “administrative fine” before referring the company to judges.

“By inflicting this very heavy fine, France is sending a clear signal to certain brokers and their customers - recycling companies -  to put a stop to such (illegal) practices,” the ministry told Le Parisien.

The fine came several months after Malaysia joined Indonesia and the Philippines in announcing its intention to return shipping containers of non-recyclable plastic waste or ones without the necessary permits.

Malaysia has taken the brunt of illegal plastic waste after China last year closed the door to recycling Credit: Lai Seng Sin/REUTERS

Southeast Asia has been flooded with waste plastic from developed nations such as Britain, France, the US and Australia since last year when China - which boasted a massive recycling industry - ordered a halt to imports.

Malaysia has been particularly hard hit as many recyclers from China moved there as the ban took effect.

In May, Yeo Bee Yin, the country’s environment minister, said: “Malaysia will not be a dumping ground to the world.”

In August, Malaysia said it wanted to return almost 200 shipping containers but was having difficulty ascertaining their origin.

France pledged to clamp down on the practice in June after an investigative TV report in conjunction with Greenpeace showed plastic bottles and other recipients abandoned in a vast, open-air dump. In another site, they were burnt, causing respiratory problems for locals.

The French ecological transition ministry said: “France has actively fought for and obtained international agreement that starting from 2021, plastic waste, just like dangerous waste such as asbestos, will be banned from being transferred internationally without notifying the import country."

Much of the world's plastic waste ends up in oceans Credit: BBC

A new French “circular economy” bill currently under debate in the Senate aims to make it compulsory for all waste to be traceable from production to recycling, including intermediaries.

Citeo, the French company in charge of recycling plastic waste, said that only one per cent of volumes were shipped for treatment outside Europe, with the vast majority being handled in France.

Despite what it called strict checks, “no control system is 100 per cent efficient,” said Sophie Génier, in charge of recycling for the company.

She said the company had stepped up checks on foreign recycling plants “first to check whether they really exist then to ensure they are recycling the products in good conditions."

The world produces 300 million tons of plastic waste every year, according to the World Wildlife Fund, much of it ending up in dumps or the ocean, causing major pollution.