The high price of not recycling

PETALING JAYA: Malaysia lost out on an estimated RM291mil this year from recyclable materials that did not end up being recycled, and instead, went to waste.

Solid Waste Management and Public Cleansing Corporation (SWCorp) chief executive officer Datuk Ahmad Husaini Abdul Rahman (pic) said, taking into account the national recycling rate of 35.38% in 2023, it is estimated that the amount of recyclable materials that was not recycled is 6.96%, or nearly one million tonnes.

The composition of recyclable waste that has the potential to be recycled is 42.34%, based on the Survey on Solid Waste Composition, Characteristics & Existing Practice of Recycling In Malaysia report by the National Solid Waste Management Department in 2012.

Ahmad Husaini said the 42.34% figure takes into account existing technology in this country that can process recyclable materials.

“Assuming the average price of recycled waste is 30sen per kg, then the estimated value of the waste that should have been recycled is RM291mil,” he told The Star.

Ahmad Husaini said plastic, paper, metal and Tetrapak packaging are four types of waste that can be recycled and potentially contribute to the national income.

However, according to a study on solid waste composition conducted by the SWCorp at 26 landfills in 2022, plastic and paper materials constituted the bulk of waste.

Plastic made up 22% and paper 15% of the estimated total 3,181,735.56kg worth of waste sent to those landfills last year.


Based on the minimum market rate of 10sen per kg, plastic can contribute nearly RM70mil to the national income while paper has the potential to generate more than RM47mil.

The third largest recyclable material found at landfills is metal at 2%, with a potential income of more than RM25mil based on the minimum market rate of 40sen per kg, followed by Tetrapak, which can potentially fetch RM3mil at 5sen per kg.

Ahmad Husaini said with the target of reaching the national recycling rate of 40% by 2025, it is hoped that more Malaysians would take up the high-value practice of recycling.

He noted that the national recycling rate has been increasing every year, starting from only 15.7% in 2015 to 31.52% in 2021, 33.17% in 2022 and hitting 35.38% this year.

“This shows that the programmes implemented by SWCorp have had a positive impact, and the community is increasingly aware of recycling in their daily lives.

“However, SWCorp cannot be complacent. Efforts to encourage recycling among the community will be intensified to ensure Malaysia achieves the 40% national recycling rate by 2025,” said Ahmad Husaini.

He added that through various efforts and initiatives that have been, and are being, implemented by the Local Government Development Ministry, the country is believed to be on the right track to reach that target.

To ensure the target is met, Ahmad Husaini said the enforcement of solid waste separation activities at source (SAS, or Separation at Source) must be coordinated and implemented in all states in Malaysia as it is currently only implemented in the seven states that adopted the Solid Waste and Public Cleansing Management Act 2007 (Act 672).

At the moment, only the Federal Territories of Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya, Johor, Melaka, Negri Sembilan, Pahang, Kedah and Perlis are subject to rules under Act 672.

“The enforcement of this regulation in all states in Malaysia would certainly obligate the community to carry out waste segregation, as well as recycling activities,” he said.

He added that another strategy is strengthening solid waste management in the commercial, industrial and institutional sectors.

As for public awareness programmes, Ahmad Husaini said these would also require support in terms of sufficient infrastructure, such as recycling centres, to enable the community to carry out ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’ activities efficiently.

The recycling industry in Malaysia can also be empowered to boost recycling activities, he said, adding that this is because there is still a lack of industry players in Malaysia buying recycled goods, which sees many recyclable items ending up being disposed of in landfills.

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