The Malaysian plastics industry is proposing an extended producer responsibility system for plastics packaging and says that with government support the country can quadruple the size of its plastics recycling sector.
The recommendation for an EPR system, which would essentially make the industry responsible for much of the plastic packaging recycling in the country, came in an October report from the Malaysian Plastics Manufacturers Association on ways it sees to move forward on recycling.
In an interview at K 2019 in Düsseldorf, MPMA board member Kian Hoe Seah said the industry issued the white paper, "An Advanced Plastics Recycling Industry for Malaysia," to outline its ideas to policymakers and respond to environmental pressures.
"The point of the report is to create an advanced recycling economy, so rather than seeing plastics as the culprit, we want to create basically a vibrant industry that can contribute to the country's GDP," Seah said in an interview at the booth of the Malaysian External Trade Development Corp.
The report estimated that Malaysia's plastics recycling industry could grow from 4.5 billion Malaysian ringgits ($1.08 billion) to 20 billion ringgits ($4.8 billion) within 10 years.
The move by the Malaysian industry is unusual: An industry typically does not propose an EPR system to government. But plastics waste concerns have been front and center in the small Southeast Asian nation.
After China kicked off its ban on imports of many kinds of plastic scrap in 2018, some of that material started flowing to Malaysia and to newly created, unlicensed recycling factories that sprang up around the country.
Malaysia's government then started a crackdown on those factories, closing more than 150 of them, Seah said.
Malaysian government officials were also very active in meetings of the Basel Convention earlier this year, ahead of that United Nations agency putting new limits on trade in plastic scrap.
"Businesses are feeling the pinch because they are very close to the end consumer," Seah said. "I think anti-plastics is a strong word — that's a bit too extreme — but there is a sentiment to stay away from plastics and businesses could feel that already."
The 29-page report is not intended as a detailed road map, but that will start to be developed now, he said.
"Businesses are taking a lead to create this EPR-centric type of ecosystem," Seah said. "We want the government to be aware of this because once we come out with a system, we will basically recommend this to the policymakers."
He said the discussions are both bottom up, from the plastics and recycling industries, and top down, from consumer product companies and other users of packaging.
Seah, who is also CEO of Malaysian plastics recycling company Heng Hiap Industries Sdn. Bhd., said the MPMA supports stronger limits on unlicensed imports of plastics, or sampah plastik as it's called, using a Malay term for garbage.
"We are supportive of banning the importing of sampah plastic and are supportive of closing down the illegitimate recycling community," he said. "At the same time, we want to then elevate the legitimate recyclers within Malaysia, which, in fact, have been contributing to our national GDP."
"I believe essentially what we are trying to do is reinstate consumer confidence," he said.
The report was first released in Malaysia at an Oct. 1 event with government officials, who Seah said have been supportive of the industry's plans. It was also written in conjunction with the Malaysia Plastic Recyclers Association.