Groups urge 2nd largest shipping company in the world to stop shipping plastic waste

Jun 30, 2022



Kuala Lumpur, 28 June 2022: In conjunction with the 2022 UN Ocean Conference which kicked off yesterday with an interactive dialogue on addressing marine pollution, Malaysia Break Free from Plastics – Stop Waste Trade Coalition joined groups from around the world calling for Danish shipping company A.P. Moller – Maersk to emulate CMA CGM and stop shipping plastic waste from rich countries to weaker economies.

In February this year, during the One Ocean Summit in France, France-based CMA CGM Group announced that they would no longer be transporting any plastic waste aboard their ships effective 1 June 2022.


Leading the pack

The Group said the decision was made “heeding the urgent calls made by certain NGOs” in February 2021 to “prevent this type of waste from being exported to destinations where sorting, recycling or recovery cannot be assured”, potentially ending up in the oceans and causing “irreversible damage to marine ecosystems, fauna and flora”. The UN estimates that more than 800 species are harmed by marine debris, 80 percent of which is plastic.  

In 2021, 3.75 million tonnes of plastic waste were shipped from the top ten plastic waste exporting countries including US, Japan, Germany, UK, and the Netherlands, which is equivalent to 7.13 tonnes per minute. 

CMA CGM admitted to shipping approximately 50,000 twenty-foot equivalent units of plastic waste from developed countries to Southeast Asia that year, sending 454,000 tonnes of foreign plastic waste to countries that already have high rates of domestic waste mismanagement.


Corporate responsibility

Governments have attempted to institute bans on plastic waste imports, only to rescind the bans due to industry pressure. Traders were found circumventing import restrictions by labelling plastic scrap as another type of plastic, or hiding mixed plastic scrap behind clean homogenous plastic waste. 

In May 2019, 187 countries came together at the Basel Convention Conference of Parties and passed the Plastic Waste Amendments, but certain Parties have seemingly violated the terms, while criminals continue to exploit flawed plastic waste export systems.

Where the government falters, businesses, particularly industry giants, have a duty to step up.

Denmark has been appointed as co-facilitators for the UN Ocean Conference political declaration. This is an opportune moment for Maersk to support the government, burnish their sustainability credentials, and join CMA CGM as leaders in the fight against marine plastic pollution,” said Anne Aittomaki, Strategic Director of Plastic Change, a Danish NGO. “Like how Maersk was the first to ban the transport of shark fins.”

“Maersk invests in ocean clean-ups but remedial actions like that are too little, too late. The global plastic waste trade facilitates the leakage of plastics into the ocean. We need to plug that leak now,” Pui Yi Wong from the Break Free From Plastic movement added.


North-South pressure

This renewed pressure on shipping lines is led by groups in both the Global North and Global South. Malaysian Stop Waste Trade Coalition submitted a letter to Maersk today, demanding transparency in the volume of plastic waste being shipped to their country. Groups in the Philippines plan to follow suit. 

“Malaysia became the world’s top destination for plastic waste exports in 2018, importing close to 800,000 tonnes. What is a country 30 times smaller than the US supposed to do with all that waste?” exclaimed Farhan Nasa from Malaysia. “Early this month, a huge pile of imported waste from 2018-2019 was set on fire. We are still suffering from the consequences of the plastic waste shipped and dumped here.”

“The Malaysian government has put in place stringent regulations to control the plastic waste trade, but illegal plastic waste shipments and illegal recycling continue to be a problem. The shipping companies can play a strong role in preventing these wastes from the Global North from polluting our country,” stated Mageswari Sangaralingam of Sahabat Alam Malaysia.


Malaysians protesting against a background of foreign plastic waste abandoned since 2018/2019 in the state of Selangor. – Mageswari Sangaralingam, Sahabat Alam Malaysia 


Their calls support a parallel campaign by Plastic Change in Denmark, who have been pressuring Maersk to stop shipping plastic waste since 2021. 

15 organisations from three exporting countries (US, UK, and Denmark), six importing countries (Turkey, the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Thailand), and two networks (Europe and global) jointly launched an online petition on World Ocean Day on 8 June 2022, demanding that Maersk, Hapag-Lloyd, MSC, Hamburg Sud, COSCO, Orient Shipping, and Dole Ocean Cargo stop shipping plastic waste.

But this week at the UN Ocean Conference, all eyes are on sustainability leader Maersk. The NGOs urge Maersk to:

  • No longer allow shipments of plastic waste of any kind from rich to weaker economies, such as from OECD to non-OECD countries (including Malaysia), Turkey, and Mexico. 
  • Prepare a corporate policy commitment and method of verification to ensure traceability of plastic waste supply chains shipped by the company.
  • Increase transparency and accountability in plastic waste supply chains by revealing the volumes of plastic wastes shipped, countries of origin, destination countries, shipping routes, and other information to enable monitoring of plastic waste shipments by all parties.
  • Put into practice their commitment to Ocean Health: “As citizens of the oceans, we will contribute to protecting the health of the oceans and continuously reduce our own impacts.”, in line with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals 14: Life Below Water.


Containers photographed at a container yard in Malaysia. – Mageswari Sangaralingam, Sahabat Alam Malaysia




Jan Dell, Founder of The Last Beach Cleanup, United States:

“Plastic waste trade creates plastic pollution. It is time to stop this unethical, harmful business.”


Lydia Chai, Malaysian campaigner for New Zealand to ban plastic waste exports:

“The cumulative effects of so many countries dumping their waste in Southeast Asia is devastating. Stop calling plastic waste a commodity. Call it what it really is: an environmental hazard.”

Hema Sulakshana, Public Engagement Campaigner Campaigner, Greenpeace Malaysia:

The illegal dumping of plastic waste has left an indelible mark on Malaysia affecting communities across the nation. Exporting countries must take responsibility for their own wastes.”


Marian Ledesma, Zero Waste Campaigner, Greenpeace Philippines:

“Waste trade not only contributes to the plastic pollution crisis, but this global system allows higher-income countries to unjustly externalise harms to lower-income countries receiving their waste. Environmental degradation, waste colonialism, and poor health outcomes of affected communities can be prevented if both governments and corporations take action to end waste exportation.” 

Merrisa Naidoo, Plastics Campaigner for the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) & Break Free From Plastic Africa:

“The practice of exporting waste, from the higher-income countries to lower-income countries who are ill-equipped to handle this waste is an unjust form of environmental racism and waste colonialism. It places the burden of plastic and toxic waste on the environment, communities, and these countries’ informal waste sector, especially in the Global South.” 


Lauren Weir, Ocean Campaigner of Environment Investigation Agency, United Kingdom:

“Enormous and ever-increasing quantities of plastic waste have overwhelmed domestic waste management infrastructures. In the face of this crisis, a key tactic for many high-income countries with high plastic consumption has been to export plastic waste overseas for treatment, either legally or illegally. This creates environmental, social and human health harm and needs to stop.”


Trisia Farrelly, Political Ecology Research Centre, Massey University, and Aotearoa Plastic Pollution Alliance, New Zealand:

“Malaysia has exceeded its capacity to import other country’s plastic waste. It has an installed recycling capacity of 515,009 tonnes. In 2021, it imported, on average, 835,000 tonnes of plastic waste.  This was in addition to an estimated 2.4 million tonnes of plastic waste produced domestically.  It is no wonder that, of the plastics exported to Malaysia from Palmerston North, NZ in 2019, only an estimated 37% was ‘potentially recycled’ in a best-case scenario, dropping down to 11% in a worst case scenario whereby the unrecycled waste was either dumped, landfilled, or burned. Shipments of so-called ‘recyclable’ plastic waste from OECD countries to non-OECD countries must stop.”


To read the online petition calling for shipping lines to stop shipping plastic waste and the 15 supporting organisations, click here.

The organisations here are involved in an official virtual side event at the 2022 UN Ocean Conference on 28 June 2022, 1pm GMT+1, discussing issues related to the plastic waste trade. More information is available here.

Cover photo: Malaysian NGO representatives at Maersk Malaysia headquarters in Subang Jaya


For more information contact:
Mageswari Sangaralingam, +60 12 878 2706
Anne Aittomaki, Plastic Change: + 45 26142070
Pui Yi Wong, Break Free From Plastic – Asia-Pacific: +6017-5006747



Notes to Editor:

About 2022 UN Ocean Conference
The 2022 UN Ocean Conference, co-hosted by the governments of Kenya and Portugal, seeks to support the implementation of SDG 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development. The overarching theme of the Conference is “Scaling up ocean action based on science and innovation for the implementation of Goal 14: stocktaking, partnerships and solutions”. The Permanent Representatives of Denmark and Grenada were appointed as co-facilitators of the intergovernmental consultations on the political declaration for the 2022 United Nations Conference to support the implementation of SDG 14. A Zero Draft is available here. There are eight thematic dialogues including marine pollution



About #breakfreefromplastic:
#breakfreefromplastic (BFFP) is a global movement envisioning a future free from plastic pollution. Since its launch in 2016, more than 2,000 organisations and 11,000 individual supporters from across the world have joined the movement to demand massive reductions in single-use plastics and push for lasting solutions to the plastic pollution crisis. BFFP member organizations and individuals share the shared values of environmental protection and social justice and work together through a holistic approach to bring about systemic change. This means tackling plastic pollution across the whole plastics value chain—from extraction to disposal—focusing on prevention rather than cure and providing effective solutions.