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Circular economy for plastic in Malaysia – Are we on track?
Published:  Jun 27, 2022 11:01 AM
Updated: 3:01 AM

Plastic, dubbed a miracle invention due to its durability and versatility, has made our lives substantially  easier. However, 60 years after its invention, managing plastic waste has become one of the planet’s  biggest problems.  

The statistics are alarming, with mass production and consumption of plastic on the rise since 19501.  According to a report published by WWF-Malaysia, post-consumer plastic waste generation in Malaysia  is estimated to be more than 1 million tonnes (1,070,064 tonnes, to be precise)2. Plastics can in fact be  reused and recycled into usable products. However, 81% of the material value of plastics is lost due to  failure to recover the material.  

This results in USD 1.1 billion of potential material value lost to Malaysia’s economy, as reported in a  study by the World Bank3. Just like any other packaging materials, plastic requires proper segregation,  collection, material recovery, treatment and final disposals. Currently, the largest segment of demand  growth for plastic production is predominantly single-use plastic4. Encouragingly, there have been global  movements to advocate for a transition from a linear plastic system to a circular one. 

A circular economy for plastic builds on three key principles - the elimination of waste and pollution,  circulation of materials at the highest value for as long as possible, and regeneration of resources5. A  circular economy envisions resources to be responsibly managed, recovered and reused to their fullest  potential. It provides us the opportunity to prosper through greater resiliency, while significantly  reducing greenhouse gas emissions, waste, and pollution. 

In 2021, The Ministry of Environment and Water (KASA) launched the Malaysia Plastics Sustainability  Roadmap, 2021 - 2030 which governs plastic production, consumption, recycling and waste  management in a holistic manner. This Roadmap demonstrates the initiative of the Ministry to shift the  plastic economy to a circular one, and offer new ways to mitigate emerging risks to allow the plastics  industry to innovate.  

The Roadmap sets six time-bound national targets. A list of problematic and unnecessary single-use  plastics (SUPs) will be identified, followed by phasing them out by 2030 through redesign, innovation,  and reuse models. The Ministry aims to achieve a plastic recycling rate of an average 25% for post consumer plastic packaging by 2025, 100% recyclability of plastic packaging and 15% of average recycled  content by 2030 for plastic products and packaging. In addition, the Roadmap targets 76% of plastic  waste to be collected for recycling purposes by 2030.  

In order to achieve the national targets, several strategies were crafted from public consultations. At the  downstream level, there is a need to improve collection and sorting facilities. Currently, there is a  limitation of recycling capacity, as not all plastic materials can be recycled, nor economical to be recycled  due to contamination, and difficulties to disassemble with combinations of different materials and  additives. The Roadmap sets out a way forward to build capacity and adopt new technologies for  reprocessing to achieve higher recovery rates, and manufacturing of recycled products to establish a  closed loop supply chain. It also calls for financial institutions to integrate the circularity business models  in their investment and financing policies, product development and client engagements.  

The plastics problem is so large that simply expanding waste collection, landfill, incineration and  recycling is insufficient. The most significant step would be to combine these measures with a reduction  of plastic in the system, rethink packaging and product designs and business models, such as scaling up  of reuse and refillable models. Finally, they have to be supported by standards, policies and regulations,  to enable the circular economy to thrive.  

The Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) system is a critical policy approach to accelerate the  transition to sustainable waste management and a circular model for plastic. KASA is developing a  governance framework and laying out an implementation plan and various EPR capacity building  programmes to uplift industry readiness for the adoption of a voluntary EPR system from 2023, before  imposing a nationwide mandatory EPR system by 2026. Under the EPR system, the responsibility of the  producer goes beyond waste treatment and recycling. It addresses at least four key issues that include  waste avoidance, prevention and minimisation of material use; waste collection and sorting; material  recovery, recycling and reuse; and proper treatment and disposal of wastes with minimal environmental  and social impact.  

For Malaysia to embark on the transition and to achieve the time-bound goals in the Roadmap, we need  businesses and consumers to start acknowledging the problem and take accountability to mitigate the  risk of being hit by the plastic and packaging pollution crisis. It is crucial to keep track of the national  progress and to identify effective measures to close the gaps. In line with this, a multi-stakeholder,  national level Think Tank and Working Groups have been established by the Ministry, represented by  government agencies, industry and industry associations, SMEs, academic institutions and civil  societies. More participation from the private sector is needed to champion this initiative to collectively  work together and find solutions to end plastic pollution. 

Authors: WWF-Malaysia and the Ministry of Environment and Water (KASA)

1 Geyer, R., Jambeck, J. R., & Law, K. L. (2017). Production, use, and fate of all plastics ever made. Science Advances, 3(7), e1700782. 2 WWF-Malaysia (2020). Study on EPR Scheme Assessment for Packaging Waste in Malaysia 

3 World Bank Group 2021. Market Study for Malaysia: Plastics Circularity Opportunities and Barriers. Marine Plastics Series, East Asia  and Pacific Region. Washington DC. 

4BP (2020). Energy Outlook 2020 edition 

5 What is a circular economy? | Ellen MacArthur Foundation

About WWF-Malaysia 

WWF-Malaysia (World Wide Fund for Nature-Malaysia) was established in Malaysia in 1972. It  currently runs projects covering a diverse range of environmental conservation and protection work,  from saving endangered species such as tigers and turtles, to protecting our highland forests, rivers  and seas. The national conservation organisation also undertakes environmental education and  advocacy work to achieve its conservation goals. Its mission is to stop the degradation of the earth’s  natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature, by conserving  the nation’s biological diversity, ensuring that the use of renewable natural resources is sustainable,  and promoting the reduction of pollution and wasteful consumption. For latest news and media  resources, visit 

This content is provided by WWF.

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