Target zero waste, say experts

Budget 2024 should improve incentives to encourage sustainable practices

PETALING JAYA: Waste management experts are calling for a focus on strengthening sustainable prevention policies rather than seeking a cure for Malaysia’s escalating waste problem ahead of Budget 2024.

Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) senior research officer Mageswari Sangaralingam highlighted the inefficiency of waste-to-energy (WTE) plants in managing waste.

She emphasised the negative impact of incinerating materials that could be reused or recycled, noting that incinerators are net energy losers.

They eliminate the energy-saving potential of recycling already processed materials.

This process forces the production and processing of new raw materials, which may consume equal or more energy than WTE plants.

Additionally, WTE plants do not diminish the need for landfills, as the ash from incinerators still requires disposal, leaving the primary issue of increasing waste unresolved.

Mageswari suggested that Budget 2024 should prioritise zero waste strategies and address waste issue at its source.

She advocated for investments to enhance the accessibility and ease of recycling and to promote and incentivise sustainable consumption among the population.

Environment and waste management specialist Dr Theng Lee Chong said it was important to address illegal dumpsites.

He said focusing on eliminating illegal dumpsites would not resolve the waste issue.

Such an approach, which wastes taxpayer money to clean up one site only to have others emerge, was ineffective.

Theng said it was better to enhance the enforcement of stricter waste separation rules for businesses and consumers, especially those utilising illegal dumpsites.

He also suggested improving incentives to encourage businesses and consumers to voluntarily adopt sustainable practices.

This dual approach, he believed, would be more effective in tackling the waste problem by addressing both its source and its management.

Deputy co-chair of the Environmental and Climate Change Committee of the Malaysian Bar Council Saha Deva Arunasalam said targeting consumer wallets would be the best way to encourage adopting sustainable practices.

He suggested implementing policies that aligned product prices with their environmental costs, transforming a distant issue into a personal concern for consumers.

This adjustment would naturally motivate businesses to embrace eco-friendly and sustainable practices while maintaining competitive pricing.

Arunasalam recommended imposing additional taxes on businesses based on their emissions, waste and non-recycled by-products, elevating the costs of non-recyclable products.

He also encouraged the government to broaden direct business incentives in the upcoming budget.

He said that by introducing deposit refunds, tradable permits and enforcement incentives, businesses would receive the necessary financial support to transition to a circular economic model.

This comes after months of the Natural Resources, Environment and Climate Change (NRECC) Ministry and the Local Government Development Ministry advocating for the adoption of WTE policies to answer Malaysia’s bursting landfills.

Checks with the National Solid Waste Management Department found that Malaysia still has 136 operational landfills nationwide that receive over 33,000 tonnes of waste daily from Malaysian businesses and households.

It said there were plans to construct multiple WTE plants to reduce the number of landfills over the next 15 years.

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