PLASTIC, dubbed a miracle invention due to its durability and versatility, has made our lives substantially easier. However, 60 years after its invention, managing plastic waste has become one of the planet’s biggest problems. The statistics are alarming, with mass production and consumption of plastic on the rise since 1950.
According to a report published by WWF-Malaysia, post-consumer plastic waste generation in Malaysia is estimated to be more than 1 million tonnes (1,070,064 tonnes, to be precise).
Plastics can in fact be reused and recycled into usable products. However, 81% of the material value of plastics is lost due to failure to recover the material.
This results in US$1.1 billion of potential material value lost to Malaysia’s economy, as reported in a study by the World Bank.
Just like any other packaging material, plastic requires proper segregation, collection, material recovery, treatment and final disposal. Currently, the largest segment of demand growth for plastic production is single-use plastic.
Encouragingly, there have been global movements to advocate for a transition from a linear plastic system to a circular one. A circular economy for plastic builds on three key principles – the elimination of waste and pollution, circulation of materials at the highest value for as long as possible, and regeneration of resources.
A circular economy envisions resources to be responsibly managed, recovered and reused to their fullest potential. It provides us with the opportunity to prosper through greater resiliency, while significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions, waste, and pollution.
In 2021, the Environment and Water Ministry launched the Malaysia Plastics Sustainability Roadmap 2021-2030, which governs plastic production, consumption, recycling and waste management in a holistic manner. This plan demonstrates the initiative of the ministry to shift the plastic economy to a circular one, and offer new ways to mitigate emerging risks to allow the plastics industry to innovate.
The plan sets six time-bound national targets. A list of problematic and unnecessary single-use plastics will be identified, followed by phasing them out by 2030 through redesign, innovation, and reuse models. The ministry aims to achieve a plastic recycling rate of an average 25% for post-consumer plastic packaging by 2025, 100% recyclability of plastic packaging and 15% of average recycled content by 2030 for plastic products and packaging. In addition, the plan targets 76% of plastic waste to be collected for recycling purposes by 2030.
In order to achieve the national targets, several strategies have been crafted from public consultations. At the downstream level, there is a need to improve collection and sorting facilities. Currently, there is a limitation of recycling capacity, as not all plastic materials can be recycled, nor can they be economically recycled due to contamination, and most pose difficulties in disassembly with combinations of different materials and additives.