Environmental Benefits of Proper Waste Management

The atmosphere that surrounds the Earth contains many types of gases, including those known as “greenhouse gases.” Greenhouse gases (GHG) absorb and retain heat from the sun. Scientists refer to this phenomenon as the “greenhouse effect.” 

Instead of passing harmlessly through the atmosphere and dissipating into space, radiation from the sun becomes trapped behind the greenhouse gases. It remains in the atmosphere and inevitably warms the planet. 

Excess greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are already raising global temperatures. In the past 100 years, scientists have detected an increase of 1 degree Fahrenheit in the Earth’s average surface temperature. 

A carbon footprint is the total amount of GHG generated by our actions. If our wastes are not disposed properly, it will end up polluting the environment and also facilitate the production of greenhouse gases.

If resource consumption continues according to historical trends, global resource extraction could balloon to 190 billion tons a year by 2060, resulting in greenhouse gas emission levels to increase by 43%.1 

The extraction and processing of fuels, materials and even food contribute to a staggering 90% of biodiversity loss and water stress worldwide. And the waste we throw away contaminates the environment where wildlife once thrived, making migration, reproduction, and makes daily life more difficult , thus, resulting in thousands of deaths each year.

Burning fossil fuels has dire consequences for the air we breathe and for our respiratory health. Pollution diminishes air quality and can aggravate asthma and other respiratory conditions, and it can also lead to a higher risk for strokes, heart attacks and premature death. 

These unsustainable levels of waste production could lead to uncontrolled climate changes and dramatic changes to life on earth. However, we can make a difference by reducing the carbon footprint through proper waste management.

How can waste management reduce carbon footprint?

Waste prevention and recycling can reduce emissions from energy consumption

By appropriately managing your waste, you also help conserve natural resources including minerals, water and wood. 

Manufacturing goods from recycled materials typically requires less energy than producing goods from virgin raw materials. When people reuse things or when products are made with less material, less energy is needed to extract, transport, and process raw materials and to manufacture products. 

The payoff? When energy demand decreases, fewer fossil fuels are burned and less carbon dioxide is emitted to the atmosphere. 

Reduce emissions from incinerators and landfills

When our waste is disposed of efficiently, a lesser amount of junk will reach the landfills. By conserving space in landfills, the production of harmful substances is reduced.

Recycling and waste prevention allow more materials to be diverted from incinerators, thus, reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the combustion of waste. Additionally, we can reduce methane emissions from landfills when materials decompose through proper waste management activities.

Increase storage of carbon in trees

Trees absorb carbon dioxide and store it in wood, a process called “carbon sequestration.” Waste prevention and recycling of paper products allow more trees to remain standing in the forest, where they can continue to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. 2 

Energy-from-waste (EfW) facilities are a good alternative for waste management

This option is not significantly utilised globally yet, but could help manage the flow of waste and pollution emissions. These facilities provide a means for waste disposal while generating clean electricity. Besides, EfW plants burn garbage in a controlled environment that generates electricity, which in turn is sold to utilities, then distributed to residential, commercial, and industrial consumers. 3 

Disposing of your waste in an ethical and responsible manner reduces the environmental impact. A simple way to do this is to contact a professional waste disposal service from a waste management company that respects the environment. Fortunately, companies can do their part to resist climate change by making their consumption and waste disposal practices more eco-friendly. 

Improper Management of Hazardous Waste – It’s A Global Crisis

On 6th March 2019, tons of hazardous waste were illegally disposed into Kim Kim River, Pasir Gudang, Malaysia. As a result, 975 students in the vicinity developed signs and symptoms of respiratory disease due to chemical poisoning.1

Poor management of hazardous waste can lead to environmental pollution, injuries, and adverse health risks. Children’s exposure to hazardous waste may cause serious acute and chronic health problems due to their higher vulnerability to the toxic effects of chemicals. 

In April 2020, CNN also reported a discovery of 110 containers of illegally dumped toxic waste at the Port of Tanjung Pelepas in Johor Bahru, in what authorities in Malaysia called “the biggest finding of its kind” in the country’s history, according to state media Bernama.

Inside was 1,864 tonnes of electric arc furnace dust – a hazardous by-product of steel production, containing toxic elements such as lead and chromium. They were brought into the country from Romania and falsely declared as concentrated zinc, officials said. This became an Interpol investigation. 2

What’s causing the sudden influx of illegal waste?

In 2018, China imposed a ban on plastic waste imports in an attempt to clean up its environment. Since then, many countries have looked for an alternative dumping ground for their trash, thus creating problems for many countries including Malaysia, Philippines and Cambodia. 

To limit irresponsible dumping, 187 countries added plastic to the Basel Convention last year, a treaty that regulates the movement of hazardous materials from one country to another. But the problem has continued regardless.

The Environmental Quality Act 1974 is Malaysia’s maiden environmental legislation. It primarily relates to the prevention, abatement, control of pollution and enhancement of the environment. To date, there are no fewer than 40 legislations with numerous regulations, rules and orders enacted for the purpose of environmental protection in Malaysia. 

In April of 2021, the Malaysian government proposed a RM15 million fine for scheduled waste pollution.3 This is because in the event of pollution, local councils have to suspend the operation of water treatment plants and water operators have to deploy water tankers to provide water supply to residents.

The Department of Environment Malaysia’s Hazardous Substances Division does not allow the import of hazardous waste including electronic waste into the country. It is also the policy of the government of Malaysia not to allow hazardous waste to be exported out of Malaysia; except for recovery in an overseas facility if local recovery facilities do not have the capability and capacity to carry out such activity.4

It has become a global crisis.

Ever increasing population growth, urbanisation and economic development are exacerbating the increase in quantities of waste that are overburdening existing waste-management systems. Waste management is one of the most complex and cost-intensive public services, absorbing large chunks of municipal budgets even when organised and operated properly.

Public waste systems in major cities cannot keep pace with the urban expansion and rapid industrialisation happening in countries that have not developed proper systems to deal with hazardous and special wastes.

Even in countries with proper waste management systems, simply collecting and disposing of waste out of sight is no solution. In waste management, there is no such thing as ‘throwing away’. 

Today’s ‘away’ might be your child’s backyard tomorrow or, worse, might have already impaired the health of the next generation. A lot of the waste that we discard can be prevented by changing the design of a product, producing more with fewer resources, reusing, recycling and so on. However, there will always be some waste that cannot be prevented and will require proper handling.

As the crisis unfolds, there are significant opportunities for organising the waste sector, with all its complexities, in a way that is more economically, environmentally and socially sustainable. 

Indeed, if handled properly, waste management has huge potential to turn problems into solutions and to lead the way towards sustainable development through the recovery and reuse of valuable resources; the creation of new business and employment opportunities, reduced emissions of greenhouse gases from waste management operations, such as landfills; and conversion of waste to energy.

The benefits are huge, for both climate and business. 

A 2010 United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) report showed that, in Northern Europe, recycling one tonne of paper or aluminium saves more than 600kg and 10,000kg of CO2 equivalent respectively. And that is not all. A 2009 UNEP report revealed there is 65 times more gold in one tonne of old mobile phones than the five grammes in a tonne of ore. Those who work in the UDS$410 billion waste sector already understand the great potential of sound waste management.5 

So, let’s consider waste not as a problem, but as an opportunity to recover and convert resources, a paradigm shift that is gaining increasing currency. Whatever your perspective, there is no time to waste in tackling this global crisis.

Waste Dumping – A Modern Day Global Crisis

In recent years, the waste dumping crisis has attracted great focus globally. 

In May 2019, Malaysia sent back 450 tonnes of plastic waste to their countries of origin, including the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States, Japan, and the Netherlands, as reported by CNN.

The problem persists. In 2020, Malaysian authorities identified and halted at least 28 attempts to illegally import waste, according to state media Bernama. 

When investigators searched through one such factory in the rural town of Jenjarom, they found tons of plastic from overseas – a wrapper for Poland Spring bottled water from Connecticut, a bottle of Palmer’s Cocoa Butter Formula manufactured in New Jersey, and a bag of Metcalfe’s Skinny Popcorn packaged in the United Kingdom.

The rise in plastic trash has also led to a rise in unlicensed plastic recyclers. In 2019, Malaysian authorities found at least 148 unlicensed recycling factories that polluted local communities with toxic fumes and contaminated bodies of water. 1

Most types of plastic are not biodegradable which means the plastic made today will likely be around for centuries. Over time, some products break down and find their way to the growing presence of microplastics in our oceans, air and food.

In a study conducted by Verisk Maplecroft, a research firm that specialises in global risk, they’ve developed two new indices – on waste generation and recycling – and used publicly-available data, plus academic research to develop a global picture of how countries are coping at a time when the world is facing a mounting crisis, primarily driven by plastic.

The world produces over two billion tonnes of municipal solid waste every year, enough to fill over 800,000 Olympic sized swimming pools. 

Only 16% of this are recycled using sustainable means while 46% are disposed of unsustainably. Per head of population the worst offenders are the US, as Americans produce three times the global average of waste, including plastic and food.

The banning of waste imports in China, Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia are changing the global dynamic. There have been tensions between the government of the Philippines which has caused 69 shipping containers containing waste to be sent back to Canada.

“Asian countries don’t want to be the world’s dumping ground anymore,” said Will Nichols, head of environmental research at Verisk Mapelcroft. 2

For this reason, many governments, nonprofit and environmental organisations have welcomed the Basel Convention amendment as a step in the right direction, specifically addressing the issue of plastic waste as a huge concern. 

Basel Convention, is an international treaty that was designed to reduce the movement of hazardous waste between nations, and specifically to prevent the transfer of hazardous waste from developed to less developed countries. 3

To further support the implementation of the Basel Convention in Malaysia, the following Orders were formulated under the Customs Act 1967: 

i. Customs (Prohibition of Export) Order 2008;

ii. Customs (Prohibition of Import) Order 2008. 

These are enforced by the Royal Customs Department in cooperation with the (DOE). 4

A new amendment to the Basel Convention, which came in effect in January 2021, will allow only clean, homogeneous, and readily recyclable non halogenated polymers to be freely traded globally.

What Happens to Our Electronic Waste?

How many of us have mobile phones and other electronics stashed away unused at home?

Since the digital revolution, there has been an immense surge in the amount of electronic waste generated globally. Do you know how to properly dispose electronic appliances and devices once they have reached the end of their life?

Electronic waste or e-waste comprises of toxic elements such as mercury and lead. Many of these items contain materials such as microchips and steel frames that can actually be recycled. Throwing these items directly into a landfill leads to not only wastage of perfectly good raw material but more importantly, pollution to the environment.

The components of mobile phones are made from materials such as plastic and metals, as well as chemical substances and minerals. While disused devices stored at home do not pose any risk to one’s health or the environment, the same cannot be said of phones that are dumped indiscriminately. E-Waste is listed as scheduled waste under the Environmental Quality (Scheduled Wastes) Regulations 2005 in Malaysia.

Toxic substances that seep into the ground from landfills will affect the soil quality and also contaminate agricultural produce if the area is used for farming activities. It will pollute the drainage system and rivers, affecting both land and sea life. Electronic waste contributes to air pollution as well.

According to World Bank statistics, Malaysia’s cellular service subscriptions ballooned from 10,817 in 1986 to 44.6 million in 2019.  The Malaysian Department of Environment (DOE), through its studies, provided the following e-waste estimates for television sets, personal computers and rechargeable batteries – from 463,866 metric tonnes in 2011 which almost doubled to 832,692 metric tonnes in 2020. Its e-waste estimates for air-conditioners and washing machines rose from 172,281 metric tonnes in 2010 to 211,348 metric tonnes on 2020. 2

In a report by The Malaysian Reserve, Universiti Putra Malaysia Faculty of Forestry and Environment senior lecturer Dr Mohd Yusoff Ishak said the time has come for Malaysia to enforce the ‘waste to wealth’ concept or circular economy system to eliminate waste and ensure the continual use of resources. “In a circular economy, every item that has reached the end of its lifespan serves as an input in another cycle. For example, food waste which can be turned into compost and used as fertiliser,” he said.

“The mobile phone’s battery, for instance, has electronic components that can still be used. In fact, a little bit of gold plating is used in some of the components in the battery. If 26 million phones are sent to a factory for recycling in Malaysia, just imagine how much gold can be extracted from the components,” he said. Mohd Yusoff also suggested that a new legislation be introduced to make it compulsory for mobile phone producers to buy back the devices at the end of their lifespan.

In Malaysia, efforts to recycle e-waste are already underway and to date, the DOE has issued licences to 21 e-waste collection centres to collect and recycle electronic products more systematically for full waste recovery. E-waste generators from industries must ensure e-waste is transported to these licensed premises. The DOE’s website has a list of the collection points in 12 states and information on the collection points and the items it accepts.

Consumers towards e-waste should segregate e-waste from domestic waste which should then be collected by licensed collectors. Recyclers must ensure the recycling process is done properly and efficient recovery process is applied. This includes minimising the generation of waste and residues generated.

A number of electronic chain stores in the Klang Valley promote recycling programs that offer incentives to the public who bring in e-waste as well as attractive trade-in programs. In recent years, there have been a number of local private companies that provide e-waste collection services to consumers which will then be recycled and sold for a profit.

While there aren’t any completely sustainable consumer electronic products in the market, there are some improvements with environmentally friendly packaging and materials. Despite a lack of industry standard, there has been progress in the area. For example, Apple has started to reintegrate part of the raw materials from old iPhones into the production chain. Some notebook and computer models are made from recycled aluminium while HP has unveiled devices whose mechanical parts are largely made from recycled materials.3

Harvard University’s Sustainability department suggests some ways consumers can reduce their e-waste footprint on the environment4:

  • Re-evaluate your purchases. Do you really need that extra gadget? Try finding one device with multiple functions.
  • Extend the life of your electronics. Buy a case, keep your device clean, and avoid overcharging the battery.
  • Buy environmentally friendly electronics where possible
  • Donate used electronics to social programs or recycling organisations
  • Reuse large electronics
  • Recycle electronics and batteries in e-waste recycling centres

Why Manage Your Industrial Waste?

Did you know that in 2019, Malaysia generated 4.0 million tonnes of scheduled wastes?

Power plants, metal refineries, chemical industries, electrical and electronics contributed 57.1 per cent (2.3 million tonnes) to total scheduled wastes. The total amount of waste has always increased due to industrial development, population growth and urbanisation in this country. 1  

Industrial waste is the waste produced by industrial activity which includes any material that is rendered useless during manufacturing processes from factories, mills, and mining operations. Some types of industrial waste include dirt, gravel, concrete, scrap metal, oil, solvents, chemicals, scrap lumber – the list goes on.

Industrial waste may be solid, semi-solid or liquid in form. It may be hazardous or non-hazardous waste and may pollute soil or adjacent water bodies and can contaminate groundwater, lakes, streams, rivers or coastal waters. 2

The general meaning of waste or industrial waste as stated in Section(s) 2 of the Environmental Quality Act 1974 (Act 127) and Regulations (EQA 1974):

 “Waste includes any matter prescribed to be scheduled wastes, or any matter whether in a solid, semi-solid or liquid form, or in the form of gas or vapor which is emitted, discharged or deposited in the environment in such volume, composition or manner as to cause pollution.

This includes any garbage, refuse, sludge from a waste treatment plant, water treatment plant or air pollution control facility and other discarded material, including solid, liquid, semi-solid, or contained gaseous material resulting from industrial, commercial, mining and agricultural operations, and from community activities.”

Malaysia is among the countries that has practiced end-of-pipe treatment or regulation for quite a long time. Fundamentally, end-of-pipe technology is the traditional approach to waste management – think ‘burn it’, ‘sink it’ or ‘bury it’ solutions – and these have no doubt come under increasing scrutiny.

Recently, the concept of waste management is being highly promoted among organisations. Preferable options are waste prevention either through product substitution or process replacement and source reduction, process modification and improvement to equipment design. 3

There are major benefits of waste management and industrial waste recycling.

No matter what industry you’re in, be it manufacturing or medical to agricultural or energy production, you are most certainly to produce waste. Here are four benefits of implementing industrial recycling into your waste management program:

Reduce Costs

There are obvious costs when you dispose unused materials and commercial by-products.

By finding ways to reuse waste, whether it’s within your company or through a third-party, it  helps to reduce these expenses.

Additionally, you can lower costs by purchasing raw materials made from recycled materials. One example is aluminium – one of the fastest and easiest materials to recycle and used heavily in manufacturing. It costs almost double to buy fresh aluminium compared to recycled aluminium.

Save Resources and Energy

This is a highly important benefit of industrial recycling. You reduce your footprint on the environment and put less strain on our natural resources.

Decreasing the need for fresh raw material through recycling and reusing, lessens the need for landfills, reduces greenhouse emissions and other pollutants that arise as landfills breakdown.

Creating a Sustainable Brand

There are social benefits of industrial recycling as your business strives to be sustainable. It shows a commitment to your community which can give you a competitive edge in the market and elevate public perception. Many businesses are reaping the benefits of switching their business models to become more sustainable.

Job Creation

The process of recycling industrial waste includes transportation, processing and reselling – all of which requires manpower of all skill levels. Recycling and reusing create at least nine times more job opportunities according to a study done in the United States. 4

Stay Compliant

Local, state and federal governments require waste producers to abide by many regulations to ensure the safety of the environment and wellbeing of communities. Responsible waste management can help your operation comply with these regulations and prevent penalties in the future.

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