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Plastic waste: Malaysia

Plastics are formed from synthetic organic polymers, which are resilient, light, multifunctional, and economical to make, rendering them among the most commonly used materials. It wasn't until the late 1940s that plastic manufacturing became one of the fastest-growing businesses on the planet. Besides, it has only been a matter of time before plastic began to take the place of more conventional materials like wood, metal, and leather. As a result, plastics have become indispensable in a wide range of fields, including clothing, automobiles, manufacturing, and packaging [2][3]. Presently, the packaging business is the leading plastic industrial market in the world because of the global shift from sustainable packaging to single-use containers.

Nevertheless, in most developing nations, the mishandling of plastic trash poses a serious threat to both the environment and human well-being [1]. Despite being one of the world's largest importers of plastic garbage, Malaysia is also experiencing growing urbanization and population growth rates, which pose challenges to waste management. Plastic trash poses a danger to Malaysia's terrestrial and marine ecosystems because the country is home to some of the world's most biodiverse coral reefs.

This report examines the most pressing issues affecting Malaysia's plastic waste management systems. It begins with an explanation of the problem of plastic trash, which is followed by a description of how plastic garbage is recovered in Malaysia. It then looks at Malaysia's regulations on plastic waste and recycling. An estimate of Malaysia's role in the global plastics trade follows. The document concludes with recommendations for tackling the country's most pressing plastic waste management problems. In addition to our own experience and knowledge, we drew on the scant scholarly material available on Malaysia's plastic waste management systems and consultations with local specialists.

Since 2000, the plastics manufacturing industry's growth rate has been among the greatest. In 2016, Malaysia exported over thirty billion Malaysian Ringgits worth of resins were becoming the world's leading plastic producing sector [5]. The manufacturing process has thus been grounded on seven primary sectors in Malaysia's plastics industry: construction, agri-foodstuffs; packaging; home,  electronics; automobile; and other subsectors such as medical devices and furniture.

Plastic waste

Fig.1: Plastic waste

Garbage management systems in Malaysia, like in other of Southeast Asia's developing countries, are woefully unable to deal with the country's high levels of plastic waste production. The amount of garbage generated by Malaysian households varies by region and socioeconomic position, but the average is between 0.85 kilograms and 1.5 kilograms per person per day [4].

Plastic waste cycle in Malaysia

Besides, there has been an overall increasing trend in plastic trash output and single-use plastic use in Malaysia since the 1970s, as seen in Fig. 2 below.Trend in plastic trash output and single-use plastic use in Malaysia

Fig. 2: Trend in plastic trash output and single-use plastic use in Malaysia

As can be seen, the plastic garbage accounted for 19% of Malaysia's total waste in 2007. Seventy-four per cent of this garbage (74%) consisted of single-use plastic films, with the remainder made up of rigid plastics (17%) and foam plastics (9%) [6]. The implication of the manufacturing operations denotes a significant contribution to climate change by releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, causing air, water and land degradation. Plastics' long-term persistence in the environment is to blame for several negative effects, both to the environment as well as biodiversity.

In Malaysia, the solid waste is either disposed of and conveyed straight to landfills by privatized waste collection firms or is segregated at the recycling source (Figure 3). Garbage collectors and foragers, as well as waste generators, send recyclables to private or charitable recycling centres before transporting them to recycling companies through merchants. According to the Malaysian government, 85 per cent of Malaysian solid waste is disposed of in landfills; this is due to the low cost of this method of waste treatment [7].Plastic waste cycle in Malaysia

Fig. 3: Plastic waste cycle in Malaysia

A significant issue with plastics disposal within the management cycle is that plastics cannot be completely eradicated from the ecosystem when left to decompose in landfills. They decompose into smaller plastic particles, known as microplastics, over a period of hundreds to thousands of years. As a result, plastic waste will build upon the planet's surface, reducing landfill space while also contaminating the environment in a way that is all but unstoppable.

Current landfills are at or near capacity because of the rapid growth in the world's population and the resulting changes in consumption patterns. Land constraints and potential environmental consequences limit the search for new waste sites. It is possible to decrease Malaysia's overall garbage creation through the reclamation of plastic waste including the use of materials with economic value potential, yet alternative waste disposal strategies have been overlooked [9].

For the most part, Malaysian landfills are sterile and filthy, and post-consumer plastic recycling is essentially nonexistent in Malaysia. In gathering post-consumer plastics that have been segregated at the origin, municipalities use private garbage providers to collect their waste. These numbers, however, represent a tiny fraction of the total amount of plastics that end up in landfills. Some of the community activities such as "gotong-royong" play an important role in the collection process. Industry, landfill scavengers, and consumers also send recyclable plastics directly to plastics recyclers, though statistics on the total amount and variety of plastics is scarce.

Initiatives towards plastic waste management

Moreover, the majority of states and territories in Malaysia support curbside or drop-off collection of municipal solid trash. However, even though landfills and other sources are scavenged and manually sorted for certain recyclables with market values there is a very limited amount of recyclables culled from a landfill. Collection, sorting, and recycling practices vary widely across Malaysia in terms of quality, quantity, and kind. Privately managed gated communities (which are prevalent in Malaysia) may organize their municipal rubbish collection even within the same municipal jurisdiction [10]. Malaysia's waste management systems are decentralized, so no comprehensive datasets are describing current trends, such as specific data on the percentage of each type of plastic from production to end-of-life recycling or landfilling. Quantitative data is scarce and sometimes relied on extrapolation or extremely tiny case studies, making it difficult to generalize about the situation.

Local and state governments were responsible for waste management before the foundation of the National Solid Trash Management Department (NSWMD) [10]. Under the 1976 Municipal Government Act, local and state governments were empowered to integrate sanitary services. The projected waste recovery rate in Malaysia is less than 5% because of the absence of a uniform solid waste management system. Because of this, Malaysia's government has launched several projects aimed at resolving the nation's many waste management challenges. The subsequent subsections go into greater depth on each of these topics.

Recycling awareness- The MHLG launched the first National Recycling Program in 1993 to promote the 3Rs as a way of life (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle). Its goal is to boost recycling by 1% year by 2020. Malaysia's government plans to promote trash minimization and recycling through educational campaigns [11]. A National Recycling Day was established in 2001. A 30% rise in recycling understanding has taken place since then. Even though 70–80 per cent of Malaysia's solid waste is recyclable, waste recapture stagnated at 3–5 per cent in 2006 [12].

In 2011, the MDTCC began a No Plastic Bag Day (NPBD) awareness to reduce the usage of single-use plastic containers in food stores. This effort resulted in a statewide ban on free plastic bags. The purpose of NPBD's inception was to increase awareness of the risks of single-use plastics and encourage their avoidance. A fee of 0.20 Malaysian Ringgit (MYR) was also imposed on each plastic bag purchased in grocery stores as part of this initiative to encourage consumers to use reusable bags. From 66% in Selangor to 35% in Kuala [12].

Marine ecosystems have been affected.- Dozens of marine animals are ingested, suffocated, and entangled by plastic trash. Seabirds, whales, fish, and turtles all mistake plastic garbage for food, and as a result, they starve to death because their intestines are so full of plastic. In addition, they sustain wounds to their skin and internal ailments, as well as infections and a decreased ability to swim. Floating plastics are also a hazard to marine biodiversity and the food chain because they facilitate the spread of invasive species [13].

Food and human well-being- Various samples of the world's oceans have been shown to contain microscopic plastic particles. Carcinogenicity and endocrinological system interference have been documented for some chemicals commonly employed in plastics production, which can lead to adverse effects on human and wildlife health. It was discovered recently that human embryos contain microscopic plastic particles, but additional research is needed to understand whether or not this is a common occurrence [13].

Toxic substances build up on the surface of plastic when it is exposed to seawater for long periods. Ingestion of plastic trash by marine creatures results in the accumulation of these pollutants in the food chain over time. Consumption of seafood has been linked to the transmission of pollutants from marine species to humans, and more research is being conducted to determine the extent of this risk.Plastic trash hurts tourism because it detracts from the aesthetic appeal of popular tourist spots. The cleaning and upkeep of the locations is also a significant financial burden. Plastic waste on beaches can harm the economy, animals, and even the physical and mental health of individuals living nearby [14].

Impacts on climate change- The manufacture of plastic harms the environment. When plastic garbage is burned, it increases emissions by releasing carbon dioxide and methane (from landfills). Almost all of the plastic which doesn't make it to the recycling facility goes to the waterways and oceans. Animals and plants whose natural habitats have been turned into rubbish patches in the water are at risk, but so is the climate since decomposing plastic emits greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Methane and ethylene are liberated as the plastic degrade into increasingly smaller fragments in the presence of heat and light [15].

Reducing the use of plastics- The use of biodegradable plastics, for example, has been recommended by the government as a cooperative manner to lowering the amount of plastic waste in landfills. Nevertheless, despite the propagation of such possibilities and the existence of regulatory systems for the management of plastic trash in Malaysia, significant issues remain to be solved. Notwithstanding the government's powerful incentive, the ratio of plastic manufacturing to recycling or bioplastics remains low among the general people and many organizations, notably the food and beverage industry [16].

Sugarcane, starch, and polylactic acid (PLA) are all biodegradable alternatives, but they each have their unique properties. Unlike sugarcane, which degrades and composts completely, starch products contain PLA, a synthetic polymer that requires special conditions to decompose and hence is more difficult to compost. Plant, animal, and microorganism-derived polymers are used to make biodegradable plastics, as opposed to traditional petroleum-based plastics. Microorganisms that are commonly found in landfills can break down these polymers if they are exposed to enough humidity and oxygen. Biodegradable single-use plastic alternatives will, however, not decompose in the environment, but rather disintegrate into microplastics, notwithstanding their degradability [17].

A circular economy approach to plastic waste management- Malaysia must make a significant shift in its approach to dealing with and managing plastic trash. For the time being, the majority of companies that employ recycled plastics as raw materials choose to use imported plastics because of their consistent supply, lower prices and larger volumes. Secondly, local industry rejects plastic is used as a raw material. Since municipal (post-consumer) plastics have high levels of contaminants, higher buy-back costs, uneven quality, and higher losses, most Malaysian plastic recyclers avoid using them. Local plastic recycling plants face the biggest problem of all: a fragile supply chain that relies heavily on the market's purchasing power [18].

The Malaysian government must also enhance the implementation of its legislation and make greater initiatives to promote environmental knowledge and include the general population. The lack of implementation of plastic restrictions hampers their success. There has been a significant decline in disposable plastic bags in Denmark, Portugal and England after the introduction of bans and charges on single-use plastics, particularly in the form of plastic bags. Educating the public on the dangers of plastic pollution, especially those caused by plastic bags and microbeads, is likely to have a positive impact. Plastic bag prohibitions in places like Aruba (Venezuela) and India were attained through active preferment of awareness programs. To cut down on Malaysia's usage of single-use plastic bags, the government might promote the use of cloth or jute bags as an alternative [19].

When it comes to household garbage, Malaysia needs to learn from the policies that have been implemented in Japan, Taiwan, and Germany and execute them more strictly at the source. It is difficult to implement trash separation in Malaysia because of ambiguous legislation and differing enforcement policies between municipalities and states. Residents are typically ignorant of their recycling responsibilities and prospects, which shows a lack of oversight in the waste management sector. Integrating real estate developers and management boards could help alleviate this problem. Signage in every neighbourhood highlighting the necessity of garbage recovery and recycling is also necessary [20]. In addition, housing management organizations can provide garbage disposal bins and apply fines for noncompliance at the same time. For those who adhere to garbage recycling requirements, incentives can be granted.


Malaysia today is disreputably known as being a significant contributor to the marine plastics challenge due to the country's poor landfilling and waste management procedures for plastics. The cheap cost of solid waste management, in which landfill is the preferred choice, is a barrier to adoption. Competition with fossil-fuel-derived resin at low cost, ineffective waste isolation, and handling contamination are some of the issues faced by popularizing recycled plastics alternatives. Because not all plastics can be recycled or are economically recycled, plastic substitutes will always be a vital element of the solution.

To ensure that plastics are never discarded, Malaysia must implement a closed-loop recycling system that is grounded on the circular economy. Investments in green supply chains and a uniform waste management approach, including standardizing plastic production and recycling processes, are needed to support this effort. In addition, sterner waste separation at the source and environmental programs are needed. Moreover, biodegradable materials plastics, which may be used in the same way as food waste, could be a viable alternative to conventional plastics in the future.

Furthermore, Malaysia must restrict plastic waste imports to ensure that its waste management can reclaim these materials without posing an impact on the ecosystem or human health. Consequently, alternatives are unable to handle the production levels, necessitating a coordinated effort. The various stakeholders must work jointly to transform people's mentality in order to support these changes, which necessitate more commitment.


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