Circular economy to reduce plastic waste, create opportunities
03 Apr 2023
The nation is currently moving towards plastic circularity to close the waste loop and preserve the environment
Rapid urbanisation and commercial industry have made plastic a widely used material, especially for packaging.
Although plastic is part of our daily life, overconsumption and pollution from plastic waste do bring severe social, environmental and health impacts toward the environment.
In Malaysia, plastic consumption has grown significantly, aided by population growth, urbanisation, innovations in packaging and consumerism.
WWF Malaysia reported that only 24% of plastics in Malaysia were recycled in 2019. Despite that, the government has set ambitious goals towards the sustainability and circular transition, aiming to achieve a 40% recycling rate by 2025.
While government and environmental agencies have been actively promoting less plastic consumption, it also reinforces the shift toward the circular economy model for plastic.
Aligned with the sustainable development agenda, the circular economy is taking over the conversation and is seen as a sustainable solution to reduce plastic waste and promote a more sustainable future.
Malaysia is also moving towards plastic circularity to close the waste loop and preserve the environment.
Opportunities In Circular Economy
By adopting a circular economy model for plastics, Malaysians can reduce the environmental impact of plastic waste and create economic opportunities through recycling and innovation, which is a win-win solution for both the environment and the economy.
As Malaysia is still far behind in this segment, there is a wide opportunity for individuals, especially enterprises to turn the collection of plastic waste into a viable business.
The effort must also be streamlined through advancing technology as the country moves toward building a more sustainable environment while contributing to a meaningful economic growth.
Globally, there are many companies and organisations already championing the circular economy model for plastic and helping Malaysia towards it, namely Saudi Basic Industries Corp (Sabic), a player in the chemical industry tackling plastic waste and advancing its recycling technology.
Its APAC sustainability strategy director Dr Ashok Menon said focusing on the circular economy helps to keep waste out of the resource ecosystem and maximises the value of resources by keeping them in use for as long as possible.
“Using the latest chemical recycling technology, even mixed plastic waste can be processed many times over to be turned into basic chemical building blocks, from which any number of new products can then be made,” Menon said in an interview with The Malaysian Reserve (TMR).
He noted that Malaysians’ awareness of plastic use is satisfactory, especially through various green initiatives done to catalyse sustainability.
These include from charging the plastic bags usage in supermarkets to recycling programmes, plastic sustainability roadmap 2021-2023 from the Energy and Natural Resources Ministry, as well as consolidated efforts from various stakeholders, academia, associations, industry players and more.
Although more in-depth execution and effective effort are required, the involvement of chemical industry participants in accelerating this, particularly its vital role in accomplishing half of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDG) 2030, is a cornerstone.
“Every region and geography have its own opportunities and challenges when it comes to sustainability and the entire world has a long way to reach the UN’s SDG 2030 goals.
“We made a public commitment
for all our operations to become carbon-neutral by 2050. As a hydro-carbon feedstock-based company, we have set ourselves one of the toughest targets,” Menon added.
Under Sabic’s TrucirlceTM portfolio, it mechanically recycles pro- ducts and certifies circular products from used plastic feedstock recycling, as well as closed-loop initiatives to recycle plastics back into high-quality applications, all of which contribute to a reduction in plastic pollution.
According to Menon, in scaling sustainable operation and generating economy in the region, collaboration across the value chain is vital, providing consumers and businesses alike greater access to sustainable materials and solutions.
As part of the commitment to address the challenges, Sabic previously extended an innovative partnership with Malaysian Scientex Bhd, collecting plastic waste from Malaysian waterways to be recycled for use in premium noodles packaging.
Among others, Sabic also partnered with chemical companies BASF Malaysia and Linde Malaysia in building an electric-heated steam cracker that has the potential to reduce ethylene CO2 emissions by approximately 90% by using electricity from renewable resources instead of burning fossil fuel.
“Our mega carbon capture and utilisation plant at United, Jubail, Saudi Arabia, which opened in 2015 is capable of capturing and purifying up to 500,000 metric tonnes (MT) of CO2 from the production of ethylene glycol every year,” Menon said.
To increase productivity, Sabic is set to continue to invest in technology and facilities to scale up recycling efforts.
At this year’s World Economic Forum, Sabic announced its commitment to deliver one million MT of circular products under the TrucirlceTM portfolio of material solutions by 2030 and is looking at new investments and value chain partners to help contribute towards that target.
Some examples of Sabic’s collaborations include with Unilever’s Magnum to roll out more than seven million ice cream tubs made from certified circular polypropylene.
Launched in 2020, it represented the world’s first tub within the ice cream industry that contained recycled plastic, and that aims to keep plastic waste out of the environment and in the value chain.
“We also announced our 2030 target to deliver one million MT of circular, polymer solutions each year, where Sabic will upscale volumes of advanced and mechanical recycling as well as bio-based materials,” Menon added.
Framework Or Guidelines for Circular Economy
Whether Malaysia needs a framework or guidelines for the circular economy as the demand is growing, he opined that innovative design, use and end-of-life recycling is in everybody’s interest to be kept as flexible as possible.
Additionally, government regulations need to consider the transition to a low-carbon economy and where feasible, incentivise investments.
“Innovations anywhere in the world need to be translated into all countries as fast as possible for everyone’s benefit,” he concluded.
Other than Sabic, similar plastic recycling manufacturers like CY Group, Hiap Industries Sdn Bhd and Scientex are at the forefront to help alleviate plastic waste issues in the country.
Source: The Malaysian Reserve