by Ayako Mizuno • 23 November 2021

23 November 2021Representatives from the government of Malaysia, the private sector in the field of plastics, an international alliance, and ERIA, have gathered at an online event today to discuss the pressing issue of marine plastics. This event came in on time, just a few days after the soft-launch of the National Marine Litter Policy and Action Plan 2021–2030 of Malaysia at the SEA of Solutions 2021 on 16 November 2021. The Action Plan aims to achieve six national outcomes, including multistakeholder engagement and the use of the latest technology and standards: both of which require a strong involvement of the private sector.

Dato Jana Santhiran Muniayan, Deputy Secretary-General of the Ministry of Environment and Water of Malaysia, underlined in his opening remark the importance of changing our relationships with plastic toward a more circular model. Especially given the transboundary nature of marine plastics, the efforts to combat this pollution need to be well-coordinated among all the stakeholders, he said.

To ensure the global circularity of plastics, both the government and the business sector need to work in good collaboration, highlighted Dato Jana, as significant economic issues such as plastics cannot resolve by either actor alone. Malaysia is finalizing the Plastic Sustainability Roadmap 2021–2030, which aims to enhance plastic circularity through the extended producer responsibility (EPR), and the roles played by the private sector will keep growing.

‘It is our greatest hope that today’s program can help spur the innovation in addressing marine plastic agenda. Thank you ERIA, for complimenting Malaysia’s journey toward achieving plastic circularity and addressing marine plastic pollution,’ he concluded.

Ms Pauline Goh, General Manager of Malaysian Recycling Alliance Berhad (MAREA), explained that the application of EPR is already put into effect by her alliance. Indeed, the industry-driven voluntary EPR efforts are at the core of all 10 of MAREA’s affiliated private companies, which got together in 2019 to find solutions to tackle consumer packaging waste.

MAREA, which launched its activities in January 2021, hopes to work with the consumer, waste collector, recyclers, and the government to achieve a 25 percent recycling rate by 2025 for the post-consumer packaging materials of the affiliated companies.

‘MAREA’s activities revolve around consumer education, collection, sorting, recycling, and the focus, for now, is on plastics. We intend to keep our membership growing, to scale up the activities,’ explained Ms Goh.

Also read: Ms Pauline Goh’s presentation

Meanwhile, Mr Ayamany A/L P Sinakalai, CEO of Jesa Enterprise Sdn Bhd, a manufacturer of the brand “Fallaleaf”, said he was shocked by the amount of plastic waste existing in the environment and started to look into using palm leaves as a solution to the single-use-plastic pollution. After many years of products development utilizing his engineering background, Mr Ayamany has created biodegradable dishware products using palm leaves as its raw material.

Palm leaves are abundant and ubiquitous in Malaysia, and the leaves are collected when they have fallen naturally and not harvested when still green, making the process environmentally sustainable. Once cleaned with high-pressure water, the leaves will be dried completely, and without any chemical additives, the heat will be moulding them into dishware.

‘Consumers can use the palm-leaf dishware up to 10 times before throwing it away, and they are biodegradable,’ beamed Mr Ayamany.

Also read: Mr Ayamany’s presentation 

Ms Wee Ching Yun, Chairman of Sustainability Sub-Committee of Malaysia Plastic Manufacturers Association (MPMA), introduced her association established in 1967. MPMA currently welcomes over 700 members, representing 60 percent of plastics manufacturers and accounting for 80 percent of the total plastic production of Malaysia. To ensure sustainability and future growth of the plastic industry, MPMA educates and empowers member companies with plastic knowledge, including advanced technologies for better recycling.

Bringing innovation to make plastic recyclable, reusable, or compostable is the objective that MPMA has set for itself. To give concrete examples, Ms. Wee showcased five success stories of MPMA member companies: DAIBOCHI BERHAD switched from non-recyclable multi-material laminate packaging to mono-material laminate that is fully recyclable; THONG GUAN INDUSTRIES managed to produce stretch films with 30 percent recycled content; SEKOPLAS INDUSTRIES succeeded in making their garbage bags photodegradable; DIYOU FIBRE is producing post-consumer recyclate; and HENG HIAP INDUSTRIES is known for its Ocean Bound Plastic recycling.

‘Consumer choice is a crucially important component that pushes the industry in a sustainable direction. For that reason, awareness-raising and education will remain vital factors,’ Ms Wee concluded.

Also read: Ms Wee Ching Yun’s presentation

Mr Thomas Chhoa, Senior Advisor in the Office of the CEO of the Alliance to End Plastic Waste (AEPW), explained that AEPW works globally in developing practical solutions and throughout the plastic value chain from production to recycling.

Mr Chhoa addressed the existing gaps in achieving plastic circularity: design gap, data gap, alignment gap, quantity gap, quality gap, and affordability gap.

‘Closing those gaps is what AEPW and its partners consider as their missions,’ concluded Mr. Chhoa.

Also read: Mr Thomas Chhoa’s presentation

Ms Ellen Putri Edita, Research Associate, the Regional Knowledge Centre for Marine Plastic Debris of ERIA, confirmed that the private sector is one of the most important stakeholders in plastic waste solutions. The online Private Sector Platform developed by ERIA’s Regional Knowledge Centre showcases positive business practices conducted by private companies in ASEAN+3 region in plastic waste reduction.

Ms Ellen emphasized that companies need to fulfill two simple conditions to participate in the platform: (1) business activities must be operating in the ASEAN+3 region, and (2) the said business activities need to contribute to plastic waste reduction. She encouraged eligible private sector participants in the audience to take part in the platform, where future business opportunities may lie.

The Importance of Education

When asked about the role of alliances in supporting the new National Marine Litter Policy and Action Plan 2021-2030, Ms Wee of MPMA underscored the importance of education, especially to school-age children, as it will be vital to encourage segregation at source.

Ms Goh added that education is most effective when offered to young children in their formative years, referring to Japan and Taiwan as good examples of environmental education being part of the school curriculum. MAREA would like to collaborate with the ministry of education on this, she said.

As for the challenges that small-to-medium companies like Jesa Enterprise face in developing new products, Mr Ayamany cited the lack of consciousness from the retailers as one. According to Mr Ayamany, often enough, his palm-leaf dishware is displayed right next to the single-use plastics cutleries that they aim to replace in supermarkets.

‘This is rather disappointing as we want to communicate to the consumers the added value of our products,’ he said.

Ms Wee of MPMA stressed the critical role played by the citizens in separating wastes at source. Whether it is about recycling or composting, consumers, along with other actors need to fulfil their obligations, she concluded.

When asked whether the retailers should be obliged to use recycled material, Mr Chhoa (AEPW) argued that for such products to be understood as genuinely eco-friendly, we must closely examine the life cycle assessment of the products first.

‘We must address the information gaps in alignment, affordability, and quality to ensure communicating the correct information and create incentives,’ he underlined.

Mr Michikazu Kojima, team leader of the Regional Knowledge Centre for Marine Plastic Debris of ERIA, has expressed his sincere thanks to all participants for their valuable contributions at the event. The event discussed a wide range of topics, such as voluntary EPR, alternative material to plastic, recycling and segregation at source, education, and awareness-raising, and many ways to achieve the plastics circularity.

‘I hope that the event was inspiring and beneficial in further propelling the discussion on reducing marine plastic debris in the region,’ he said.