5 Ways We Can Manage Maritime Waste in Malaysia

Waste management has traditionally dealt with downstream disposal operations. A life-cycle approach, by contrast, offers a new perspective that involves every phase, i.e., from the prevention and reduction of waste generated to the actual handling of wastes. Waste handling includes the collection, transportation, monitoring, and treatment (re-use, recycle, energy recovery, and final disposal, e.g., landfill) of wastes including the after-care of waste facilities.1

Unsafe management and disposal of ship wastes can readily lead to adverse health consequences. Humans can become exposed directly, both on ship and at port, as a result of contact with waste that has not been managed in a safe manner. Additionally, there is a risk of transforming ship-source marine pollution into land-based pollution.

Exposure can also occur via the environmental transfer of disease-causing organisms or harmful substances due to unsafe disposal. However, waste can be managed and disposed of in ways that can prevent harm from occurring.

Risks of harm arising as a result of improperly managed ship waste are increasing with the greater number of ships in service and the increase in habitation in port areas. Waste streams on ships include sewage, greywater and garbage, as well as effluent from oil/water separators, cooling water, boiler and steam generator blow-down, medical wastes (e.g. health-care wastes, laboratory wastes and veterinary-care wastes), industrial wastewater (e.g. from photo processing) and hazardous waste (radioactive, chemical and biological wastes and unwanted pharmaceuticals).2

Most collected types of marine waste in Malaysia in 2019 (in 1,000s)

Source: https://www.statista.com/statistics/1172631/malaysia-most-collected-types-of-marine-waste/ 


What measures can we take to address maritime waste?

  1. National cooperation

Marine litter and plastic pollution are serious issues in Malaysia. The nation is working to enhance collective efforts towards long-term cooperation to address this challenge. At a regional level, Malaysia plays an active role as a member of the Coordinating body of the Seas of East Asia (COBSEA) and the ASEAN Working Group on Coastal and Marine Environment. These platforms are useful vehicles to strengthen national work on marine debris and plastic pollution.

  1. Policy implementation nationally

National policy-level intervention is also underway, such as the implementation of the ‘Malaysia Roadmap Towards Zero Single Used Plastics, 2018- 2030’ (October 2018).3

  1. Deploy innovative technology

Malaysia is also seeking opportunities to deploy technologies to address the issue of plastic pollution from enforcement to finding alternatives. We must recognise that apart from reduce, recycle and reuse, the focus should also be “replace”, which requires the application of new technologies and alternatives such as environment friendly polymers.

  1. Apply waste management hierarchy  

The management of ship wastes must also follow the waste management hierarchy, that is, the priority order that ranks “waste prevention” as the most desirable option followed by preparation for re-use, recycling, other recovery operations and final disposal. 4

  1. Increase awareness and education

Increasing awareness, education, capacity and resourcing is also considered important to tackle marine plastic pollution at source. The country is working to enhance the cooperation among NGOs, the private sector and international partners, to address the issue holistically, together with the Government. 

Governance of Maritime Waste Management in Malaysia

According to Sea Circular (2020), Malaysia is located in the Indo-Pacific region with its coastlines bordering the Andaman Sea, the Straits of Malacca and Singapore, the Gulf of Thailand, the South China Sea, the Sulu Sea and Sulawesi Sea. The length of the coastline in Malaysia is 8,840 km (2018), and there is a coastal population of 22.9 million. As a maritime nation with resource-rich seas and invaluable mangroves, atolls and coastal areas, the clean and pollution-free seas are a matter of life and death for Malaysia.

Malaysia has responsibilities for the prevention and control of marine pollution both as a coastal state and as a flag state. As a coastal state Malaysia must prevent and regulate all types of pollutants (not only oil) that come from all sources of pollution (vessel-based, land-based, from air space, sea-bed activities, dumping and others) in its entire maritime territory.

Marine pollution, mainly discharge of oil, bunkers, harmful substances, pollutants and wastes from ships and offshore platforms into Malaysian waters and Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is governed through the following legislation:

• Merchant Shipping Ordinance 1952
• Merchant Shipping (Liability and Compensation for Oil and Bunker Oil Pollution) Act 1994
• Environmental Quality Act 1974
• Exclusive Economic Zone Act 1984

Merchant Shipping Ordinance 1952
The Act prohibits the discharge of oil or harmful substances by any ship into Malaysian territorial waters and renders persons at fault to fines, imprisonment or both. Harmful substances mean substances which if introduced into the sea are liable to create hazards to human health and harm living resources and marine lift, damage amenities or interfere with the legitimate uses of the sea.

Environmental Quality Act 1974
The Act prohibits the discharge of any kind of waste or pollutants into inland waters and territorial waters. Pollutants are defined widely from natural or artificial substances in solid, liquid or gas form. This includes environmentally hazardous substances as well as any objectionable odour, noise or heat with a propensity to cause pollution directly or indirectly.

Merchant Shipping (Liability and Compensation for Oil and Bunker Oil Pollution) Act 1994
This Act addresses loss and damage caused outside a ship by contamination resulting from the discharge or release of oil or bunker oil from a ship in Malaysian waters. It covers compensation for the impairment of the environment and costs of reasonable measures to be reinstated.

Exclusive Economic Zone Act 1984

Sometimes referred to as EEZ, this Act provides for measures to preserve the environment and addresses marine pollution in waters beyond Malaysian internal waters and territorial seas in the exclusive economic zone (EEZ). The EEZ covers the sea extending two hundred nautical miles from the baseline at which the breadth of the territorial sea is measured. Any deliberate dumping of wastes or other matter, whether oil or pollutants from vessels, aircrafts, platforms or man-made structures in the EEZ is prohibited. Should any oil or pollutant be discharged into the EEZ, the owner of the vessel, aircraft or the installation from where it escaped from is strictly liable unless they can prove the discharge was necessary and reasonable for the saving of life and property. In any event they shall bear all clean up and costs of removing or mitigating the damage. 1

MARPOL (The International Convention for Prevention of Marine Pollution for Ships): The Ultimate Guide

MARPOL is one of the most important global conventions which safeguards the marine environment against ship pollution. The main objective of what is known as the MARPOL 73/78 Agreement, in force at present, is to achieve the complete elimination of intentional marine environment pollution by hydrocarbons and other harmful substances, and to reduce the accidental discharging of such substances.2

Malaysia is a party to a number of international conventions dealing with marine pollution. As a party, Malaysia is duty bound to comply with these international statutes and to adopt national legislation as necessary in order to implement these conventions within its territory. 

According to the Malaysian bar council, Malaysia needs to regulate all ships flying its national flag to be in strict compliance with safety regulations and requirements under international conventions and International Maritime Organisation (IMO) resolutions for the prevention and control of marine pollution. Tankers registered in Malaysia need to follow requirements under MARPOL 73/78, and the 1990 OPRC Convention (International Convention on Oil Pollution Preparedness, Response and Co-operation).3

Achieving Sustainable Development Goals from Waste Management – Pt II

Promoting social and economic inclusion for informal waste management communities

(SDG 10 – Reduce inequality within and among countries)

Waste management contributes to achieving economic and social integration in developing countries and reduces inequalities. 

In many developing countries, it is divided into two main systems namely the formal and informal systems, each of them affects the economic growth processes to varying degrees. Therefore, the merger between the formal and informal SWM sectors will support the reduction of social and economic inequalities for all.

Solid waste management (SWM) to enhance the quality of life

(SDG 11 – Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable)

According to the United Nations, there were 2 billion people without access to waste collection services globally and 3 billion people who lacked controlled waste disposal facilities according to data collected between 2010 and 2018.6

This indicates a lack of quality of life for cities and the sustainability of local communities. Certainly, good waste management practices like waste reduction, reuse, recycling, and exploitation in generating energy or safe disposal of it are essential for sustainable city management and improvement in quality of life. 

SWM and “sustainable consumption and production patterns”

(SDG 12 – Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns)

This calls for an efficient management of our shared natural resources, and the way we dispose of toxic waste and pollutants. Introducing Integrated Solid Waste Management (ISWM) which refers to concepts that reduce production and control consumption patterns, such as moving towards the circular economy model based on recycling of materials and converting useful waste into resources. That supports the use of fewer natural resources in manufacturing processes. It can also be said that adopting the concept of extended producer responsibility which requires companies to collect and recycle the waste generated from their products is one of the applications of the green circular economy concept.

Solid waste disposal and climate change measures

(SDG 13 – Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts)

According to the World Bank, the world generates 2.01 billion tons of solid waste annually, and at least 33% of it is not managed in an environmentally safe manner. Without improvements in this sector, emissions related to solid waste will probably increase to 2.6 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2050. 7

Greenhouse gases such as methane emitted from solid waste are a major factor in air pollution and climate change. In 2016, 5% of global emissions were generated from solid waste.8 

This calls for the need to improve solid waste disposal in most parts of the world, as the safe disposal and the reduction of open burning of garbage are one of the most important climate change-related measures.

SWM to “conserve the oceans, seas, and marine resources”

(SDG 14 – Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, sea and marine resources for sustainable development)

According to UNDP, we hope to prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds, in particular from land-based activities, including marine debris and nutrient pollution by Year 2025. However, we are now facing plastic waste as one of the biggest threats to the oceans. Global production of plastic reached more than 300 million tons in 2014. Much of this plastic has ended up in the oceans, where plastic waste accounts for 90% of marine debris, damaging wildlife and harming marine ecosystems.8 The environmentally sound management of solid waste and its safe disposal, especially plastics, can certainly reduce damage to the oceans. 

SWM impacts land ecosystems

(SDG 15 – Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss)

Preserving the earth’s ecosystem means we have to safely dispose of the solid waste we produce. An integrated and sustainable waste management system from the source that includes the concepts of the 5Rs (refuse, reduce, reuse, repurpose and recycle) in addition to a circular economy model, are widely accepted approaches moving forward. 

Reducing waste production reduces the need for land utilized for waste disposal. This reduces the harsh impacts of untreated waste on soil, water and air.

Integrated SWM and institutional building strengthening

(SDG 16 – Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels)

Delegating and sharing responsibilities between central governments and local administrations, in addition to partnerships with the private sector, civil society organisations and others in the system will ensure that decisions are made in a manner that is responsive, inclusive, participatory, and representative at all levels. 

Many developing countries have turned towards decentralisation and are adopting an integrated solid waste management system in order to improve efficiency, protect local interests, strengthen participation of its populations and ensure the availability of resources needed for the success of SWM programs and projects. 

Partnerships between different parties and sectors

(SDG 17 – Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development)

The participation of multiple parties in the SWM system is one of the most important points that the system aspires to. 

The transformation from the traditional government sector to the government as a partner through multilateral partnerships between the private sector, non-governmental organizations, and the local community has become inevitable and necessary for the success of the SWM system. 

Clearly, there is an interrelationship between waste management and the SDGs, with greater impact related to certain goals more than others. 

Achieving Sustainable Development Goals from Waste Management – Pt I

Achieving the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030 is among the agenda for countries across the globe. 

This is important not just to manage the various economic, environmental and social impacts that threaten the ecology of our population but to also realise the benefits that come with achieving the goals. 

From the perspective of solid waste management (SWM) and its plans and programs, there is an interrelationship with varying degrees of impact towards the 17 SDGs, whether the effect is directly or indirectly.1

For example, the goals of “sustainable cities and communities” and “good health and well-being” came in the lead of impact towards the goals; however, the goals of “quality education” and “peace, justice, and institutions” came in the tail of the goals that are affected by SWM plans and programs, according to the experts’ opinion.2

How can solid waste management contribute towards the sustainable development goals?

Waste and poverty rates 

(SDG 1 – End Poverty in All its Forms Everywhere)

Did you know that millions of people in developing countries earn their living from recycling or reusing waste? 

Many developing countries aim to integrate the informal sector in SWM systems into their formal waste management strategies – which will have an impact on reducing poverty rates within this sector. 

For example, municipal administrations that collect the garbage can charge collection and recycling fees, making money in the process. This will also discourage institutions that generate a lot of waste, making them sustainable and more responsible to the environment.

Organic waste and food security

(SDG 2 – End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture)

Only 13.5% of the world’s waste is recycled and 5.5% turned into organic fertilizer.3  

Recycling organic waste is a huge opportunity to produce large quantities of organic fertilizers that improve the quality of crops and raise the rates of agricultural productivity in countries. This supports the provision of safer and more nutritious food throughout the year and reduces the proportion of the world population suffering from hunger. 

Solid waste management processes and ensuring a healthy life

(SDG 3 – Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all)

Garbage collectors are still exposed daily and on a continuous basis to the dangers of disease and infection as a result of improper practices of sorting and recycling these hazardous waste.

Proper management of medical waste inside health facilities – whether by incineration or sterilizing and shredding – can greatly reduce the transmission of infection and the transmission of pathogens. 

Ensuring quality education for waste management communities

(SDG 4 – Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all)

According to a 2019 United Nations report, 617 million children and adolescents lack a minimum proficiency in reading and mathematics and 750 million adults still remain illiterate.3 

We must address child labor and lack of funds for education within the community managing solid waste by providing technical and vocational education for them, especially in developing countries.

Achieve gender equality and empower all women in solid waste management

(SDG 5 – Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls)

The goal is to end all forms of discrimination against women and girls everywhere besides eliminating all forms of violence in the public and private spheres and other types of exploitation. According to the UNDP, one of the goals is to undertake reforms to provide women equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to ownership and control over land and other forms of property, financial services, inheritance and natural resources, in accordance with national laws. One of the ways is to provide awareness of the importance of adopting safe practices on sorting solid waste, thus proper job opportunities based on solid waste recycling can be directed at women.

Additionally, provision of medical assistance to women who get infected and the inclusion of young adult girls in schools to allow them to practise recycling for a paid fee while ensuring their continuation in the educational system is one way to contribute to this goal.

Dumping solid waste and provide clean water

(SDG 6 – Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all)

One-third of plastic waste ends up in the soil or freshwater. Plastic never degrades, but rather breaks into tiny particles less than 2.5 mm in size known as nano-plastics, which break down further into nanoparticles and that becomes part of the food chain. 

Fresh drinking water gets contaminated with these plastic particles, causing various diseases of cancer origin and hormonal disorder4. Certainly, reducing pollution caused by hazardous wastes dumped in or near waterways increases the chances of obtaining higher quality water. 

Energy recover from solid waste

(SDG 7 – Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all)

Scientific development in managing solid waste has led to the billions of tonnes of waste we produce to be viewed as alternative sources of energy. 

The concept of generating energy from waste is based on chemically treating solid waste to produce energy – waste is currently the third growing renewable energy source worldwide, after solar and wind – to more than half of the renewable energy used globally5

This is why many countries have invested in research and development and plan on a large scale to recycle garbage and convert it into energy.

Solid waste management and decent work for all

(SDG 8 – Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all)

The human resources of the informal sector in the SWM system and its accumulated experience in this field supports the promotion of economic growth by increasing the productivity rates of various SWM sectors.

These activities, industries, and small enterprises that are based on recycling operations of solid waste produce great decent job opportunities for the informal sector.

Recycling projects to stimulate industrialization and foster innovation

(SDG 9 – Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation)

Recycling materials create opportunities for various industries. It also stimulates innovation in industrial activities, leading to efficiency in usage of raw materials and elimination of wastage.  All of that can support growth and innovation, and even reduce production costs especially in manufacturing processes.

What is Carbon Trading?

Advantages of Carbon Trading with the Municipal Solid Waste Management

Carbon trading is the process of buying and selling permits and credits that allow the permit holder to emit carbon dioxide. The world’s biggest carbon trading system is the European Union Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) and it has been a central pillar of the EU’s effort to slow climate change.

The introduction of Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) to Malaysia improves the environment of the country. Besides achieving sustainable development, the carbon credit earned through CDM enhances the financial state of the nation. Both CDM and renewable energy contribute to society by striving to reduce carbon emission. Most of the current CDM projects are related to renewable energy, which has recorded 69% of total CDM projects.1

The municipal solid waste management in Malaysia measures the potential value of carbon through the data it collects. It will then review and evaluate the benefits of carbon emission trading as an alternative investment tool and a basic framework required for its implementation.1

Advantages of the emissions trading scheme on the waste sector 

The cost of emission units is expected to be passed on to customers of landfills (the people and organisations depositing waste) through increased prices for waste disposal. 

Users of landfills have markedly different items in their waste, which all have different potentials for landfill gas generation. Any price increases will also be affected by competition from other landfills and the management policies and priorities of the landfill owner – usually a local authority.

The combination of an absolute cap on the level of emissions permitted and the carbon price signal from trading helps businesses to identify low-cost methods of reducing emissions on site, such as investing in energy efficiency – which can lead to a further reduction in overheads.

According to the International Emissions Trading Association (IETA)2, an organisation that promotes a carbon market and pricing solutions for climate change, there are various advantages on a global scale to carbon trading: 

  1. Emissions trading achieves the environmental objective of reduced emissions – at the lowest cost
  • Cap and trade are designed to achieve an environmental outcome – the cap must be met or there are sanctions such as fines. Allowing trading within the cap is the most effective way of minimising the costs – which is good for businesses and households.
  1. Emissions trading responds better to economic fluctuations than other policy tools
  • Allowing the open market to set the price of carbon has better flexibility and avoids price shocks. For example, as seen in Europe, prices will fall during a recession as industrial output, and thus emissions, will fall.
  1. Emissions trading incentivises innovation and identifies lowest cost solutions to make businesses more sustainable
  • The combination of an absolute cap on the level of emissions permitted and the carbon price from trading helps businesses to identify low-cost methods of emissions on site, such as investing in energy efficiency. This can lead to a further reduction in overheads and makes businesses more sustainable in the long-run. 
  1. Cap and trade have proven to be an effective policy choice
  • This method has proven effective for example in the US through the acid rain program, where it quickly and effectively reduced pollution levels at far lower cost than expected. 
  • The International Carbon Action Partnership’s 2019 status report found that almost 40% of global GDP is now subject to emissions trading, with systems active in South Korea, China, California and the EU, among several others.
  1. Emissions trading can provide a global response to a global challenge
  • Allowing carbon trading reduces compliance costs and can help involve other jurisdictions or municipalities in the fight against climate change, as seen in the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) offset program under the Kyoto Protocol that inspired China. 
  • Article 6 in the Paris Agreement allows countries to work together to reduce emissions as well as establish a market-based mechanism to enhance efforts. Under this mechanism, countries with low emissions would be allowed to sell their exceeding allowance to larger emitters, with an overall cap of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, ensuring their net reduction.
  1. As emissions trading spreads in more locations, it increases the opportunities to link systems which enhance their effectiveness and reduces costs
  • Connecting emissions trading systems as per how California and Quebec have done, widens the pool of participants to trade with, which reduces costs.

Bottomline, an appropriate carbon emission trading system may provide higher economic value and more benefits towards developing sustainable income generation methods in the Malaysian environmental sector. Through this flexible approach, GHG emissions would experience a strong decline, coupled with stimulation for innovative and cleaner technologies and an overall transition towards a low-carbon economy.

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