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While it has made progress in some areas, Malaysia's daily waste generation rate is way above the global average.

Malaysia’s household waste generation, already above the global average, is on the rise (file pix). : Image by Antoine Giret is available at Unsplash License Malaysia’s household waste generation, already above the global average, is on the rise (file pix). : Image by Antoine Giret is available at Unsplash License

While it has made progress in some areas, Malaysia’s daily waste generation rate is way above the global average.

The disposal of Malaysia’s waste — domestic and imported — is an increasing concern.

Malaysia’s overall household waste generation is trending upwards, from 36,500 tonnes per day in 2015 to 38,150 tonnes in 2018, while the estimated waste generation rate for Malaysia is 1.17 kg per capita per day, 65 percent of which is household solid waste.

This is significantly higher than the average worldwide of 0.74kg. By category, Malaysia wastes approximately 16,720 tonnes of food daily, which accounts for 44 percent of its total waste generated.

Apart from this, Malaysia faces increasing challenges in managing imported waste coming in under the pretext of ‘recycling’. In 2021, Malaysia imported more than 500 thousand tonnes of plastic waste and exported around 11 thousand tonnes, making the country one of the major importers of plastic waste globally.

The rise was a result of China’s ban on the importation of most plastics and other materials in 2018. China’s decision disrupted the global plastic recycling industry by diverting waste shipments to developing economies in Southeast Asia, including Malaysia.

Although home to less than nine percent of the world’s population, ASEAN countries received 17 percent of the world’s plastic waste imports from 2017 to 2021.

Malaysia has become a dumping ground as these imports include mixed plastic waste and non-recyclable plastic waste — plastic waste that is significantly contaminated with other wastes or contaminated with toxic additives making recycling impossible.

Yet, recycling used plastic has been promoted as both a business and a waste management solution in the developed world as part of the circular economy, which relies on reusing materials to boost sustainability.

Studies report that improper management of waste streams — both domestic and imported — poses significant risks to human health and the environment. Mismanagement of waste results in the inefficient use of resources and hinders recycling efforts, contributing to resource depletion and unsustainable practices.

Solid waste is made up of non-liquid waste, such as garbage and refuse produced from activities ranging from domestic to commercial, trade and industry, agriculture and construction and demolition and mining activities.

Further classifications see waste categorised based on biodegradability or non-biodegradability. combustibility and non-combustibility and hazardous or non-hazardous. The challenges in managing solid waste are to ‘curb, tackle, and minimise’ the negative effects on human health and the environment without compromising economic growth potential.

Landfills are still the primary method of managing solid wastes in Malaysia, with the remaining waste either incinerated (26.5 percent) or recycled (17.5 percent).

As waste generation is expected to increase from 468 million tonnes per year in 2016 to 714 million tonnes per year by 2050, sanitary landfills in Malaysia are nearing capacity.

The lack of accurate and comprehensive data on the types and quantities of waste being imported into Malaysia makes it difficult for the authorities to assess the risks associated with transboundary waste imports, in addition to locally generated waste.

The solid waste recycling rate in 2021 was said by researchers in Malaysia to reach 31.67 percent, nowhere near the projected 40 percent by 2025. Meeting the target requires investment in infrastructure and resources to handle the influx of waste focusing on information and studies on solid waste recovery and recycling.

The typical issues for solid waste management in Malaysia include low collection coverage and irregular collection services and open dumping and burning. The country also faces challenges such as illegal dumping, questionable practices of some local waste management operators, lack of a recycling support ecosystem and limited sanitary landfills.

In Malaysia, most of the landfills are open dumpsites and 89 percent of the collected garbage ends up in landfills. Disposal issues where most waste goes to landfills rather than being utilised as energy can be overcome by investing in Waste-to-Energy technologies.

These facilities convert waste into energy to help reduce landfill usage and generate renewable energy. Energy recovery from biogas in landfills could represent a solution for solid waste treatment and the growing demand for renewable energy.

However, the efficiency of landfill biogas recovery should be investigated considering that the impact of the operational factors such as the coating process, gas drainage and liquid management will be different according to waste characteristics, environmental factors and technical capability.

Existing recycling programs in Malaysia have failed to increase public awareness of proper waste segregation, recycling practices and the importance of reducing waste despite the overall household waste generation on the rise.

Implementing comprehensive recycling initiatives and the adoption of a circular economy approach requires strong governance instruments and buy-in from consumers.

Enforcing strict regulations on waste management practices, including penalties for illegal dumping and incentives for sustainable waste disposal methods are also needed.

On the plus side, regulatory frameworks have shifted from the linear to the circular economy to divert the waste from being disposed of in landfills.

However, there is ambiguity in monitoring and enforcement mechanisms, including non-emphasis of the recycling agenda, insufficiencies in retailers’ accountability, the lack of enforcement on legal repercussions and the delay in further improving the current regulatory framework.

In the circular economy, investments by businesses will be a key factor for waste management financing. This should complement the private and public partnerships for waste disposal operators.

Government support through effective financial mechanisms such as grants, loans and tax exemptions are a key part of the overall policy mix for waste management and to support the move to a circular economy. This would allow infrastructure development such as investment in sanitary landfills and recycling infrastructure to improve waste management efficiency.

Dr Mohd Yusoff Ishak is a Senior Lecturer at the Department of Environment, Faculty of Forestry and Environment, Universiti Putra Malaysia.

Originally published under Creative Commons by 360info™.

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