A total of 265 containers filled with plastic waste imported from foreign countries have been held up at the North Butterworth Container Terminal, said state Environment Committee chairman Phee Boon Poh. (NSTP/DANIAL SAAD)

GEORGE TOWN: A total of 265 containers filled with plastic waste imported from foreign countries have been held up at the North Butterworth Container Terminal, said state Environment Committee chairman Phee Boon Poh.

Phee said the containers, each weighing 28 metric tonnes arrived in the port in the last six months from Belgium, Hong Kong, France, Germany. More than half of the containers are from Canada.

He said the containers, with a total weight of 7,420 metric tonnes, also included household waste.

He said only 149 of the containers were declared.

However, Phee said, they were declared under the code for household waste and without permits for plastic waste.

“A total of 11 companies were responsible for importing the plastic and household waste,” he told a joint press conference here today with Penang Customs Department director Datuk Saidi Ismail.

“These companies, while legally set up, were found to be untruthful about their operations.

“We will be taking legal action against them,” he said.

Phee said the modus operandi of the companies was to camouflage the plastic waste in the container behind a wall of household waste to evade detection.

“The Penang Customs Department together with Local Government and Housing Ministry’s solid waste officer and Department of Environment have inspected a total of 130 containers so far and we have issued a RM1,000 compound for each container.

“The companies are currently appealing against the compound.

“We are still checking the other 135 containers.”

Phee said the intention was to ship the waste back to the countries of origin, but the state government was still waiting for instructions from the Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Ministry.

Saidi said inspection of the remaining containers was likely to be a lengthy process as they were filled to the brim and likely toxic.

“We need to be in full safety gear during the inspection, which can take up to one whole day for one container,” he said.

A peek into one of 11 containers at the Customs Detention Depot revealed plastic wrappers from famous French milk and mineral water brands.

Saidi said most of the companies had yet to claim the containers as they feared repercussions and the hefty port charges owed for leaving the containers in the port for months.

Asked about the amount of port charges incurred, Saidi said it could have reached RM5 million.

Malaysia has taken firm steps against becoming the world’s dumping ground.

Yesterday, Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Minister Yeo Bee Yin oversaw the shipping of 450 metric tonnes of contaminated plastic waste back to their countries of origin.

Several municipal councils have also taken steps to weed out illegal plastic recycling factories.