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Malaysia is not Asia's top ocean plastic polluter

LETTER | Following from the recent headlines in the media claiming that Malaysia is the top plastic ocean polluter in Asia, we would like to clarify that we are disappointed with the inaccurate and misleading headlines of these articles. The report cited in the articles, entitled “Plastic Packaging in Southeast Asia and China”, only states that Malaysia ranked the highest among the six countries studied in the report in terms of annual per capita plastic packaging consumption, at 16.78 kg per person. But this high-level consumption does not translate to highest polluter. We would like to reiterate that there is no data or findings in the report which support these headlines.

In fact, the study looked into the data of six countries, specifically Malaysia, Thailand, Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia and China. These six countries are not representative of the whole of Asia, which comprises of 48 countries. Furthermore, we reiterate it is inaccurate to deduce that from the approximately 17kg per capita consumption, everything ends up in the ocean, as Malaysia also has one of the highest waste collection rates among these six countries.

High plastic consumption, does not necessarily equate to high plastic pollution. Even though Malaysia ranked high in terms of unsound waste disposal, Malaysia ranked the highest in waste collection. In addition, the data from which the study is based on was obtained in 2016, the most recent year for which reliable data was available. To date, the Malaysian government has started and carried out initiatives to reduce plastic consumption and waste, such as the roadmap towards Zero Single-Use Plastics by the Ministry of Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change (MESTECC). 

Currently, MESTECC is leading the work that is being carried out to form the Malaysian Plastic Pact (MPP), an industry-driven multi-stakeholder initiative to provide a platform for stakeholders along the plastic value chain, to achieve systemic transformation to shape a circular plastics economy by building a national plastics collaboration network. The MPP will be launched this year. MESTECC has also started a move towards a circular economy for plastics, which World Wildlife Fund-Malaysia sees as a proactive and positive step forward in tackling the plastic pollution crisis.

Nonetheless, Malaysia still needs to improve on waste segregation, better waste disposal systems and increase recycling rates with the support of all stakeholders including the industry. One of the recommendations in the report is the concept of extended producer responsibility (EPR). EPR schemes address contract waste management services for segregated collection and recycling, educate consumers to achieve higher waste segregation rates, and sometimes even support research and development of easier-to-recycle materials. WWF-Malaysia is currently working with the governments around the world and industry players to find a viable solution for plastic pollution, and EPR schemes are among the solutions being looked into.

Regretfully, information from the report was taken out of context and sensationalised. WWF- Malaysia would like to reiterate that the report does not state that Malaysia is Asia’s top plastic ocean polluter, nor are there any findings to support that statement. A more balanced view of the report or to read the whole report please visit here.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.