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Tuesday July 26, 2005

Glass recycling virtually non-existent in Malaysia


Recycling of glass has many benefits but it is little practised here, writes HILARY CHIEW. 

Little recycling of glass exists here. There are three glass bottle manufacturers in Malaysia and they produce 600 tonnes of new bottles daily. But only 10% of these bottles will eventually go back to the factories and be reused to make new ones. 

Glass, surprisingly, may well be the least recycled discard. Some blame that on the low value of used bottles. 

“Glass does not fetch good price. We get less than 10 sen a kilogram,” says Christa Hashim, director of conservation group Treat Every Environment Special (TrEES), which runs an active recycling campaign in the Klang Valley. To encourage people to recycle glass, she says glass manufacturers should raise the price paid for used bottles.  

KL Glass contract collector Ah Guan emptying a 50kg drum-load of used glass bottles, collected from a hotel, into his one-tonne lorry.
“People are reluctant to store used glass bottles for collectors because they are heavy and breakable, which poses a hazard for households with kids,” says Christa. Her organisation collects and sells used bottles several times a month and promote the benefits of glass recycling alongside other recyclable materials.  

Christa feels that glass manufacturers should play a prominent role in recycling.  

Kuala Lumpur Glass (KL Glass) batch and furnace manager Mohd Hassan Mamat concurs that price is a discouraging factor for glass recycling. He says glass has lower value than other recyclable materials such as metal, paper and plastic waste.  

He says the company used to distribute collection bins to residents’ associations and other public organisations only to end up having to clear all sorts of rubbish from the bins. Recycling bins placed outside the KL Glass factory in Jalan Kilang, Petaling Jaya were ignored by the public. 

“We simply don’t have the resources to be involved in direct collection. We have to rely on local councils, non-governmental organisations and schools to organise themselves and send the bottles to us,” explains Mohd Hassan on the absence of KL Glass collection bins in public places. 

The factory, in operation since 1968, focuses on producing flink (clear glass bottles) and hence sends coloured used bottles like the amber and green ones, to its parent company Malaya Glass in Johor.  

It currently employs a contractor to make collection rounds and pays him RM150 per tonne in addition to a retainer fee. The sole contractor retrieves glass bottles from hotels in the city but barely brings in more than one tonne a day.  

“Some days, we don’t get anything,” laments Mohd Hassan.  

Another reason for the poor collection, ventures Christa, is that glass bottles are getting fewer by the day in the waste stream. She believes use of glass has declined over the years with manufacturers switching to the cheaper plastic.  

However, Malaya Glass senior commercial manager Chan Suet Ean says the glass bottle manufacturing sector is registering a growth range of 3% to 5% annually. 

Far from being waste, used bottles are highly valued raw materials in glass production regardless of the forms – bottles or sheets, cleared or coloured. The presence of cullet in the furnace reduces the melting point temperature and hence, saves on fuel. 

“The rule of thumb is, for every 5% cullet used, we save 1% on fuel consumption. So it makes a lot of economic sense to recycle glass bottles,” says Mohd Hassan.  

The KL Glass plant uses nearly a million litre of medium fuel oil each month when its production is at 230 tonnes a day. Of this, 69 tonnes (or 30%) is cullet, half of which is locally collected waste bottles and the rest from rejects in the factory. 

Mohd Hassan Mamat attributes the low interest in recycling glass to the fact that glass is not a commodity, as well as the uncoordinated collection system.
In comparison, glass bottles in Thailand have a recycled content of as much as 80% while those in Europe, between 60 to 70%.  

“We try to maintain the ratio of cullet at 30% (of 230 tonnes) although we can use more. It’s important to stabilise the cullet input at a feasible level due to the unpredictable, seasonal and generally low supply,” says Mohd Hassan. 

To overcome the cullet shortage, KL Glass has little choice but to look abroad. Lorries laden with semi-crushed glass from Thailand frequently truck to the factory. The factory purchases half of its cullet from New Zealand, Thailand, Sabah and Sarawak. While the material costs of the imports are minimal, Hassan says the freight charges are substantial. For example, the cost of importing used bottles from New Zealand is 25% higher than locally-sourced cullet.  

So frustrated is Hassan with the low local cullet supply that he often dares anyone who question the factory’s decision to import with this line: “I challenge them to guarantee me a monthly supply of 500 tonnes.”

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