Changing the role of plastic waste through circularity


(From left) American Malaysian Chamber of Commerce (AMCHAM Malaysia) chief executive officer Siobhan Das,The Coca-Cola Company (ASEAN and South Pacific) sustainability and partnerships director Kirsten van Zandwijk, Natural Resources, Environment and Climate Change Minister Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad, Coca-Cola Bottlers Malaysia (Malaysia-Singapore-Brunei) public affairs, communications and sustainability director Khairul Anwar Ab. Gahani and Malaysia Recycling Alliances (MAREA) chief executive officer Roberto Benetello officiated and served as the keynote speakers for Coca-Cola's AMCHAM Spotlight Session titled "Our Future, Our Choice - Sustainability Forum."

IN A concerted effort to address the pressing issue of plastic waste and to promote sustainability in Malaysia, Coca-Cola Malaysia, in collaboration with the American Malaysian Chamber Of Commerce (AMCHAM Malaysia), recently hosted a noteworthy event – the Our Future, Our Choice sustainability forum.

The forum on Oct 11 marked a significant step towards accelerating the transition to circularity for plastic packaging in the country, drawing the attention of key stakeholders, including the Natural Resources, Environment and Climate Change (NRECC) Minister Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad as well as the Malaysian Recycling Alliance (MAREA).

Nik Nazmi, in his address at the event, emphasised the government’s dedication to achieving sustainability goals.

“Our shift towards a circular economy is not just a policy initiative; it’s a systemic move towards resilience, sustainability, and a brighter future. Our commitment, as reflected in our national policies, signifies our determination to efficiently use resources, reduce waste and minimise environmental impact,” he said.

“It’s a shared responsibility; and initiatives such as the dedication of Coca-Cola Malaysia to innovative packaging solutions play a vital role in supporting our journey towards a circular economy,” he added.

Data speaks

In July this year, StarESG reported on the circular economy representing a groundbreaking shift from the old linear “take-make-dispose” model to a closed-loop system.

According to the NRECC, data from 2019 revealed that approximately 1.7 million tonnes of plastic resins entered the Malaysian market, with only US$234mil worth being recycled due to a meagre recycling rate of 19%. An estimated 1.4 million tonnes of plastics were disposed of in the same year, representing a potential value of US$1.3bil.

Malaysia is working towards a sustainable circular economy, a transition underscored by Nik Nazmi. In this economic model, mindful production and consumption will ease environmental stress, while simultaneously separating economic value from plastic waste.

The Coca-Cola Malaysia’s AMCHAM Spotlight Session was joined by the NRECC Minister Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad, as one of the keynote speakers, who discussed the importance of collaboration on the journey towards a circular economy.The Coca-Cola Malaysia’s AMCHAM Spotlight Session was joined by the NRECC Minister Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad, as one of the keynote speakers, who discussed the importance of collaboration on the journey towards a circular economy.

In pursuit of this, the country has launched strategic policies and roadmaps, including the National Solid Waste Management Policy 2016, Malaysia Plastics Sustainability Roadmap 2021-2030, and National Cleanliness Policy 2020-2030, among others.

In addition, the establishment of the National Circular Economy Council underscores the essential role of a circular economy in Malaysia.

A vision with a goal

Recognising the urgency and complexity of the problem not only locally but also worldwide, The Coca-Cola Company has embarked on its “World Without Waste” initiative. This global sustainable packaging initiative aims to drive measurable and interconnected goals.

Their objectives include making 100% of their packaging recyclable globally by 2025, as well as using at least 50% recycled material in their packaging by 2030. It also seeks to collect and recycle the equivalent of a bottle or can for each one sold by 2030.

The Coca-Cola Company, ASEAN & South Pacific Sustainability & Partnerships director Kirsten van Zandwijk elaborated on this vision, saying: “Inspired by the circular economy model, we constantly leverage resources to eliminate waste and tackle climate problems caused by packaging.

“Our ‘World Without Waste’ initiative embodies this dedication, driving global sustainable packaging efforts aiming for recyclability and a sustainable environment.”

She emphasised the role of post-consumer packaging in advancing the circular economy, stressing the importance of creating the right ecosystem for collecting and recycling plastics, while ensuring consumers understand the recycling process.

There are layers of complexities to building recycling infrastructure from scratch in some regions, particularly in remote areas with limited resources, she acknowledged.

Zandwijk highlighted the need for collaboration with governments, industry partners, and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to establish efficient recycling systems.

Roberto Benetello participating in an engaging panel discussion on extended producer responsibility the topic of circular economy with members of aMCHaM Malaysia and the media.Roberto Benetello participating in an engaging panel discussion on extended producer responsibility the topic of circular economy with members of aMCHaM Malaysia and the media.

Just last year, The Coca-Cola Company enhanced its partnership with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a strategic collaboration poised to demonstrate what’s possible in the transition to a circular economy and recycled PET (rPET). Partnerships and collaboration were underscored as vital for addressing the plastic waste challenge.

Zandwijk also stressed that collaboration between the private and public sectors is essential to enhance the enabling ecosystem, citing initiatives like the Recycling Fantastic Campaign in partnership with AEON Malaysia and Hiroyuki Industries, which aimed at fostering positive recycling behaviours.

Collaboration and infrastructure

Coca-Cola Bottlers Malaysia (Malaysia-Singapore-Brunei) Public Affairs, Communications & Sustainability director Khairul Anwar Ab Gahani also highlighted partnerships and collaborations. He discussed the importance of scaling up collection efforts through industry collaboration, and shared how the company designs bottles with recycling in mind, such as the transition of Sprite packaging from green to clear bottles to improve recyclability.

“Utilising recyclable materials in our packaging is another step towards reducing our environmental footprint,” he said, adding that all their packaging – from cans to PET bottles – is fully recyclable.

He emphasised that collective effort with the involvement of various stakeholders is crucial, to educate consumers on the importance of recycling, to enforce segregation at the source, emphasizing the value that post-consumer packaging holds when properly segregated.

Meanwhile, MAREA – a coalition of industry leaders actively participating in voluntary extended producer responsibility (EPR) initiatives – is dedicated to boosting recycling rates and minimising packaging leakage into the environment.

“The problem right now is that there is high demand for rPET, but not enough supply,” MAREA chief executive officer Roberto Benetello stressed.

Their current focus is on making secondary raw materials like rPET accessible at equitable prices.

Benetello also discussed its crucial role in enabling recycling infrastructure improvements, including supporting mechanical sorting facilities and other investments that increase efficiency in the recycling process.

“Instead of using human resources to sort recyclables, we can look at investing in automation to help make sorting easier,” he added.

Coca-Cola Malaysia, as a founding member of MAREA, doubled down on the importance of establishing strong collaborations with stakeholders, government bodies, industry colleagues and local organisations.

The company has collaborations and advocacy efforts aimed at bolstering recycling systems, and increasing collection rates and the utilisation of rPET.

Small steps, big actions

Through small steps, we can achieve big actions. The end goal of Coca-Cola Malaysia’s partnerships is to streamline the collection and recycling of packaging materials, thus fostering the development of a circular economy within Malaysia.

As part and parcel of these initiatives, Coca-Cola Malaysia has launched the Recycle Me Programme.

This programme, in particular, aids consumers in recycling their bottles by establishing drop-off points in Johor via collaborations with organisations like AEON Malaysia and Hiroyuki in 2022. It will be expanded further this year.

The Coca-Cola Company is also tackling marine plastic pollution through global partnerships, working with The Ocean Cleanup as the first global implementation partner for their river project.

It is through concerted collaboration, innovative packaging solutions, and a steadfast commitment to environmental sustainability in which The Coca-Cola Company is leading the way towards a world without waste.

This journey isn’t just a brand’s mission; it’s a lifestyle choice that reverberates with a greener, more sustainable Malaysia and a planet that needs our collective care.

So, be part of a recycling journey that’s changing the role of plastic waste for a sustainable Malaysia.

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