Single-use plastics are one of the worst offenders in polluting the environment and our oceans.
Yet, many of us do not realise just how large of an impact such behaviour contributes to plastic pollution. Straws, food packagings, plastic bags, more often than not, are used once and then disposed off.
Think of that trip down to your favourite mamak for a Teh Tarik and Mee Goreng takeaway; how many plastic items do you use? Do they get recycled?
Light plastic bags and straws are the major culprits in Malaysia
“Light plastic bags and straws are the major culprits in Malaysia,” says Ho De Leong, Chairman of Waste Management Association of Malaysia.
“Even for drink packagings, not only you have the straw but the little plastic cover over it too. So, there’s a lot of single-use plastic in the waste stream.”
Ho, who has decades of private sector experience in waste management, witnessed first hand the detrimental impact of the ‘throwaway culture’ in exacerbating our trash problems; the ubiquitous and low-cost nature of plastics making it difficult for consumers to part ways with it.
He lauds the government’s move put a ban on the use of plastic drinking straws among food operators, effective 2020. However, the government, he says, needs to do more to ‘discourage’ consumers in using plastics; at the same time, to get serious in rolling out more effective waste management policies and infrastructures.
“I personally do not like 20 sen policy,” says Ho of the government-mandated 20 sen charge for plastic bags as a bid to encourage the public to go green.
“Yes, it discourages you from using plastic bags but it has no accountability,” Ho adds.
“Perhaps the government can regulate this and put the money - which is a levy - to fund proper facilities to manage waste better.”
For the first time, Malaysia is playing host to the International Solid Waste Management Association (ISWA) World Congress.
As chairman of the congress, Ho hopes to bring experts, policy makers and the public together to find better ways to handle waste and to rethink the future of plastics.
Globally, discussions among experts and policymakers on the New Plastics Economy have been gaining traction, especially since China - once the world’s largest importer of waste - has put strict limitations on 24 types of waste, including plastic scraps and papers, from entering its borders since January 2018; thus forcing major waste importers like U.S, Japan and particularly, Europe to manage their own trash or scramble for alternatives. (“The target appears to be Southeast Asia, Malaysia included,” says Ho).
The Europeans are having to rethink and relook at how they need with plastic waste and when they do so, they are actually creating a new economy
“The Europeans are having to rethink and relook at how they need with plastic waste and when they do so, they are actually creating a new economy.”
“They are now trying to process plastics to be made into Refuse-derived-fuel (RDF) - where plastic pallets can be used as fuel or feedstocks for cement kiln, for instance. Thus, a new cement economy arises from that,” Ho explains.
(Research has suggests that RDF, produced from municipal and business waste, is seen as a viable, supplementary fuel for industries like cement, power producing and even industrial boilers.)
“Europe has good and proper waste management infrastructure that deals with the waste stream from generation to the final disposal and implementing circular economy. As a result, it creates a lot of jobs as it is huge industry,” says Ho.
We Need Incentives to Make the Waste Business Sustainable
Topics on New Plastics Economy, Sustainable Consumption and Waste Management in Developing Countries, Energy Recovery and Biological Waste and Circular Economy will be some of the key highlights at ISWA 2018, with over 200 abstracts to be presented over the three day event.
“For the first time, we will have a mayor’s forum - whereby they can share the respective challenges and issues they face in their countries and how they plan to move ahead with waste management.”
Ho says that while Malaysia has made significant progress is providing basic waste management to the public, it is time to shift focus on basic solid waste management issues of collection, disposal and infrastructure requirements towards sustainable waste management.
“What we have taken care of today is the upstream part - which is the collection of waste. What we need now is the downstream which is the treatment,” says Ho.
Government spending in waste management has increased over the years, says Ho, but it needs to ‘move up the hierarchy’ in terms of priorities and should not be taken for granted.
The cost of inaction - meaning if you do not spend on waste management, the repercussion is actually ten times the cost you going to spend
“People need to realise the cost of inaction - meaning if you do not spend on waste management, the repercussion is actually ten times the cost you going to spend,” he says. “When there’s no good waste management, you’ll have diseases, vector-borne diseases, and a lot of negative issues and affects things like tourism.”
Priority to giving adequate budget to waste management is long overdue, he says.
“In terms of having budget, we could benchmark some countries where a certain percentage of their GDP is be accorded to waste management services and infrastructure.”
“Waste is a resource. You don’t want to throw everything into the landfills or incineration plants. You can recover plastics, papers, metal and that will save us a lot of resources.”
Look Down South for a Good Waste Management Model
“At the moment, we don’t really have big scale material recovery facilities in the country because the economies of scale is not there yet. So, we need a good system laid out in order to have good waste management infrastructure,” he adds.
ISWA 2018 will be held at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre (KLCC) from 22-24 October 2018.