Advancing and modernising Malaysia’s plastics recycling industry

From left: Professor Pervaiz K Ahmed, Professor Andrew Walker, MPMA Vice President CC Cheah and YB Puan Hajah Zuraida

Plastic waste is arguably the most significant topic in today's conversations. It has grown into a big concern of not only environmental groups but stakeholders as well. Unfortunately, illegal companies that handle the recycling of plastic waste still seem to have the upper hand at turning countries into dumping grounds. Early this year, international media reported that Malaysia is where the world sends its trash. We had inadvertently become famous for the wrong reason.

A call to action was seriously needed. With this in mind, we collaborated with the Malaysian Plastics Manufacturers Association (MPMA) and Malaysian Plastics Recyclers Association (MPRA) to produce a White Paper: An Advanced Plastics Recycling Industry for Malaysia.

The Monash Malaysia research team was led by Professor Pervaiz K Ahmed, Deputy Head of School (Research), School of Business and Director of GA21. The team collaborated with MPMA and MPRA in drafting the White Paper that was presented to Yang Berhormat Puan Hajah Zuraida binti Kamaruddin, Minister of Housing and Local Government during the launch of the Malaysian Plastics Recycling Industry White Paper on 1 October 2019.

In this White Paper, we highlight three key areas needing further discussion and consultation with all stakeholders:

  • Malaysia is in critical need of more comprehensive collaboration, as managing the flows of plastics from the cradle to the grave is a multi-stakeholder undertaking.
  • The importance of adequately managing plastics streams and waste management infrastructure to develop a viable and successful circular economy.
  • The potential of plastics recycling as a contributor to Malaysia's economy.

Transitioning to a circular economy will help Malaysia gain in resource efficiency, as well as create jobs and grow GDP, said Professor Pervaiz K Ahmed. Based on the EU’s Eurostat Efficiency Scoreboard, smart policies could bring a rise of between 15 and 30 per cent in resource productivity.

“Smart policies are needed that bring together key stakeholders. Industry must play its part but so too must other stakeholders. Government agencies must put in place the regulations and incentives to drive the circular economy. The industry must work in partnership with universities to undertake the R&D necessary to extend the horizon of plastics recycling through product and process innovations. And very importantly, consumer behaviour must change for a lasting and sustainable circular economy to emerge,” he said.

The White Paper is the plastics recycling industry's first step in articulating the industry's views as part of a program to engage all relevant stakeholders. It is a call to action for stakeholders to find a way forward together to address the urgent need to enhance Malaysia's plastics recycling industry. The move will indirectly develop an advanced and modern industry.

As cited by the white paper, the plastics recycling industry has already contributed RM4.5 billion to the Malaysian economy.

Establishing and sustaining a vibrant plastics recycling industry will also enhance the government's efforts to advance its sustainability agenda with due care to the environment.

At Monash, we are tackling the biggest challenges facing our region and the world. We hope to improve the national recycling rate to 35 per cent of local plastics recyclables (more than double the current rate) by 2025, and to create a structured, collaborative process to address Malaysia's piecemeal approach to waste management, plastics pollution and recycling.