Solving the plastic problem


Used plastic bottles were stacked neatly in a bag at the illegal dumpsite waiting to be sent for recycling.

OF late, there has been so much media coverage on plastic waste, especially on the environmental damage due to improper disposal of plastic, that I thought it might be of interest to consumers, environmentalists, municipal authorities and regular Malaysians to see this issue from the perspective of a plastics re-cycler.

There is more than meets the eye when it comes to recycling plastic wastes and efforts by municipal authorities and environmentalists will be futile if the regulatory and legislative frameworks governing solid waste management are not conducive and if there is no infrastructure for systematic collection and sorting of plastic wastes and subsequent distribution to plastic re-cyclers.

Malaysians generate about 30,000 metric tonnes of rubbish each day. Plastic makes up about 13% of our solid waste stream, which means about 4,000 metric tonnes of plastic waste are generated in Malaysia each day.

Selangor alone generates about 5,000 metric tonnes of solid waste daily of which 13% or 650 metric tonnes are plastic waste. That is a lot of plastic to recycle.

The irony here is that although there are lots of plastic in our waste stream, plastic recyclers often face severe difficulty obtaining plastic wastes to recycle! The problem with plastic waste has always been about the collection, recovery and historical treatment of recyclables in the waste stream. The recycling part is not the issue.

Whether it is recycling plastic to oil or plastic to flakes or pallets, the technology and facilities exist in Malaysia but the current policy/regulatory frameworks for management of recyclables and infrastructure to enable comprehensive collection and recycling of plastic wastes by local plastics recyclers do not exist.

If we really want to have an effective and efficient solution to the plastic waste problem, we must FIRST be ready to change our mode of operation and move away from the status quo.

I read about the Klang Municipal Council’s (MPK) resolve to end the dumping of used cooking oil into drains. MPK would be providing eateries with plastic barrels to collect their used oil, and arrange for scheduled collection of the used oil to be sent to licensed recyclers who would turn it into clean biodiesel.

Providing the needed tools and logistics will create a cradle-to-cradle economy and the success of this project will save not only the municipal and taxpayers’ money but also the environment.

In the same way, the coordination of recovering recyclables like waste plastics needs to be done at the municipal level. Engaging and collaborating with the stakeholders will bring about the change we are looking for.

There are many benefits to be realised from doing so – and not merely in terms of making profits. If municipal authorities and industry join forces, the benefits of a circular economy for plastic wastes could translate into very tangible environmental, economic and social benefits, including job creation.

Malaysia has yet to capitalise on the many industrial uses of recycled plastics, which include use in road construction to strengthen durability of roads, as insulation in building construction, fibre for textiles, straps for tying bulk items, plastic furniture and other consumer goods.

The advantages of a shift in our approach to plastic waste management, and a circular economy for plastic wastes, are there for the taking. The Government and municipal authorities just need to step up and do more to create the regulatory frameworks and infrastructure required to enable value-added recycling of plastics for industrial application, and thereby maximise benefits for our environment, economy, taxpayers and communities.

Ultimately, we need to acknowledge that the more plastic waste we can recover from the waste stream through waste segregation, the less goes to landfills and water ways.

When can we go down this path with a concrete action plan?

S. M. DAS

Nebula Waste Management

Shah Alam

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