Southeast Asia has been flooded with plastic from more developed nations such as the US and Australia since last year when China — which boasted a massive recycling industry — ordered a halt to imports.
Many recycling businesses from China moved to Malaysia after the ban took effect, leaving officials struggling to return a large number of shipping containers full of waste brought in from abroad.
After a visit by UK environment officials, Britain agreed to take back containers sent to a major port in northern Penang state since last year without the necessary import papers.
Malaysian Environment Minister Yeo Bee Yin praised the “highly commendable” move by London.
“This cooperation signifies a recognition that plastic pollution is a global issue which requires commitment from various countries to address the problem,” she said in a statement.
British High Commissioner Charles Hay said the return of the containers showed the UK’s “commitment to fighting the illegal plastic waste trade”.
Officials hope to take back all the containers by the end of the year, a Malaysian High Commission spokesman said.
Several Southeast Asian countries have sent back unwanted waste in recent months. Indonesia has returned hundreds of containers to their countries of origin, while the Philippines returned a huge shipment of garbage to Canada.