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.

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.

The after effects of Covid-19 towards Clinical Waste Management in Malaysia

The content of this article:

1.0 Facts of clinical waste Malaysia

2.0 What is clinical waste

3.0 Clinical waste management in Malaysia

4.0 Ways to handle clinical waste

According to the World Health Organisation, an estimated 16 billion injections are administered worldwide every year, but not all of the needles and syringes are properly disposed of afterwards. All these health-care activities protect and restore health and save lives. But what about the waste and by-products they generate?

Covid-19 has affected the waste management industry in terms of the disposal of clinical waste. It has become increasingly challenging as the pandemic peaked across the globe since March 2020.

What is clinical waste?

Clinical waste is the waste originating from healthcare facilities and other related facilities such as laboratories, autopsy or mortuaries and the hundreds of quarantine centers scattered throughout the country during the pandemic.

Following the Covid-19 outbreak, there has been a 27% increase in clinical waste given the increased generation of swabs, syringes, needles, blood or body fluid, excretions, mixed waste, laboratory waste, material or equipment contaminated with the virus, masks, disposable gloves and personal protective equipment. 2

About 85% of the total amount of these waste generated by health-care activities are non-hazardous waste while the remaining 15% is considered hazardous material that may be infectious, chemical or radioactive. Another term for Hazardous Waste is Scheduled Waste. According to the Department of Statistics Malaysia, scheduled wastes were recorded at 4 million tonnes as of November 2020.1

Clinical waste management services are managed by private consortiums under the supervision of the government according to the Environmental Quality (Scheduled Wastes) Regulations 2005 and regulated by the Department of Environment (DoE) Malaysia. The DoE regulates all aspects of clinical waste management from collection, transportation, treatment and disposal, and uses an electronic scheduled waste management system (eSWIS) to monitor compliance.

Generators of scheduled waste need to notify the DOE of any scheduled wastes generated and keep an up-to-date inventory of scheduled waste generated, treated and disposed as per regulation.

Types of disposal methods for Clinical Waste

Disposal of clinical waste is performed by separating, labelling and disposing clinical waste from generated waste into proper containers and bags. Blue plastic bags are used for wastes to be autoclaved, yellow is for wastes that are to be incinerated and black is for general wastes. 3

Yellow bag is for waste to be disposed
Blue bag is for waste to be autoclaved

After these clinical waste has been separated into its respective disposal bag, it will be sent to dispose using various methods. These methods are Incineration, Landfilling, Autoclaving, Recycle and Recovery.


In Malaysia, incineration is a popular treatment method for managing clinical and pharmaceutical waste, infectious and hazardous waste. This disposal method turns clinical waste into ash which must be disposed of at an approved landfill site.

The benefits include eliminating pathogen and anatomic wastes, reduced bulk volume of waste and energy recovery. However, the potential of producing secondary toxic gases and pollutants remains the primary disadvantage of incineration as this contributes to air pollution and poses risks to human health.


Fly ash is the by-product of the incineration process and needs to be disposed of in landfill sites. Leachate and gas generated from these landfills may lead to soil and groundwater contamination, can cause unpleasant odours and increase atmosphere temperature.

Landfilling is not a sustainable and long-term solution because of the toxic leachate and greenhouse gas emission. Due to the risks associated with landfilling and limited space available in the future, alternative technology for clinical waste treatment is needed.


Autoclaving or steam sterilization is also used for treating clinical waste in Malaysia but is not actively implemented. This method applies especially for highly infectious clinical waste such as lab cultures which effectively inactivates the pathogenic microbes. However, pathogenic bacteria can re-grow a few days after being autoclaved.

Recycle and recovery

This method works for non-infectious clinical waste. Recyclable materials from clinical waste are high because of the high plastic content of the medical waste stream. The recycle-reuse approach not only reduces the clinical waste generation but also saves the cost of purchasing new equipment and costs of disposal.

Reducing the amount of clinical waste will reduce the volume of waste for incineration, thus reducing the emission of pollutants that cause detrimental public health risks.Nevertheless, a cost-effective and reliable treatment method to disinfect and sterilise recycled clinical waste is needed – one that is successful and sustainable in the long-term.4

The challenge of clinical waste management in Malaysia includes searching for sustainable and long-term waste treatment methods. In addition to promoting the reduction of waste generated and ensuring proper waste segregation, we need to develop strategies with strong oversight and regulation to improve the destruction and disposal practices with an aim to meet international standards.

The Covid-19 outbreak has affected an urgent need to raise awareness on the risks related to hazardous health-care waste and application of safe practices and environmentally sound treatment of health care waste over the current method of medical waste incineration.

The 5-Steps of Waste Management Hierarchy


Management hierarchy in recognition that no single waste management approach is suitable for managing all increasing populations per capita in major cities, limited space for landfills and rising costs of proper disposal services has led to an urgent need to tackle waste management and reduce our impact on the environment. Rapidly developing countries like Malaysia are facing numerous challenges in sustainably managing wastes.

How are these wastes being managed?

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) developed the non-hazardous materials and waste management hierarchy in recognition that no single waste management approach is suitable for managing all materials and waste streams in all circumstances.

According to the Malaysia Investment Development Agency (MIDA), the waste generated in Malaysia in 2005 was 19,000 tons per day at a recycling rate of 5%. The quantity rose to 38,000 tons per day in 2018, despite the increased recycling rate of 17.5%. This is alarming as the rate has exceeded the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) study’s proposed rate of 30,000 tons per day in the year 2020.3 Thus, the implementation of the 5-Steps of Waste Management is a must.

The waste management hierarchy is a simple ranking system used for the different waste management options according to which is the best for the environment. Presented in the form of an inverted pyramid diagram, the standard hierarchy of waste management involves five crucial steps; prevention, reuse, recycling, recovery and disposal. This hierarchy aims for waste generators to extract the maximum practical benefits from products and to generate the minimum amount of waste – emphasising on reducing, reusing, and recycling as key activities of sustainable materials management.

First off, let’s look into the disposal. In 2021, the most predominantly employed application in the country is disposal. Landfills are the most common method of waste disposaland are primarily regulated by state and federal regulations.Thus, there is an urgent need to shift to more integrated and sustainable waste management practices on all levels to prevent further environmental degradation.

With that, we move on to the next step – Recovery. Most commonly known as Energy Recovery. Energy recovery from waste is the conversion of non-recyclable waste materials into heat, electricity or fuel through a variety of processes, often referred to as waste-to-energy (WTE). This produces renewable energy sources such as biofuels which reduce carbon emissions in the long-run by replacing energy generated by fossil fuel sources. The beauty of this method is that it helps to reduce the volume and toxicity of waste.

Now let’s move on to recycling. Recycling is a series of activities that include collecting used, reused, or unused items that are considered waste and processing them into raw materials for new products. It’s the third step of the waste management hierarchy due to the extra energy and resources that go into producing a new product as the end product.

Besides recycling, there is another step which is much better, Re-use. This step is very precise and direct to understand from the word itself. Such step is the best approach to waste management by preparing materials to be re-used in their original form. Aside from creating new waste, reusing waste also benefits your business by spending more on resources and paying external sources to dispose of waste for you.

Last but not least from the hierarchy is prevention. It means reducing or totally prevent waste at the source and is the most environmentally preferred strategy. This includes reducing packaging, redesigning products and reducing toxicity, especially important in manufacturing. Use products made from environmentally friendly materials such as bamboo and organic cotton.

In order to ensure proper application of the waste hierarchy across industries, private companies and households, there must be a coherent strategy with effective horizontal cooperation locally and vertical cooperation between the local, regional, state councils and the national level. Effective implementation and success of waste management policies require financial investments, information and technical expertise.

Malaysia has taken a stepwise approach to privatise and centralise its solid waste management in recent years. The Malaysian Government continues to promote effective waste management by encouraging the reuse and reduce method. This contributes huge benefits to the global environment – from prevention of greenhouse gases emissions, reduced pollution, energy savings, conservation of natural resources to the creation of new jobs – which then stimulates the development of green technologies in the long-term.2


Scheduled Waste / Hazardous Waste Management During The Covid-19 Pandemic

The impact of COVID-19 is transforming the way we live from day to day. While national and local responses are mainly concerned with saving lives and the economy, hazardous waste management is equally important for reducing long-term dangers to human and environmental health. The appropriate handling of hazardous waste generated by these operations is becoming a growing issue. Disposal of hazardous wastes is one of the most important methods for preventing other infectious diseases and should not be neglected, but in the current epidemic, disposal presents unique challenges.

 COVID-19 has had a significant impact on various aspects of our society, especially on waste management. Because waste management in developing nations is often not conducted in line with international regulations, there has been a rise in the quantity of potentially contaminated waste, necessitating extra, careful handling and treatment procedures. The waste generation industry that is most affected by Covid-19 is the disposal of clinical waste. The generation of clinical waste during the outbreak of the pandemic rose drastically.

Clinical waste is listed under Scheduled Waste by the Department of Environment Malaysia in the first schedule. According to the World Health Organization, COVID-19 patients’ clinical waste should be safely collected in designated containers and bags, treated, and then safely disposed of or treated, preferably on-site. If waste is carried off-site, it is critical to understand where and how it will be handled and removed. Everyone who handles healthcare waste should wear appropriate PPE (boots, apron, long-sleeved gown, thick gloves, mask, goggles, or a face shield) and practise hand cleanliness after removing the PPE.

With the recent discovery of the COVID-19 pandemic in late 2019, the necessity of appropriate waste management services has become even more sought after. Governments have taken some steps, but they are still insufficient. On the flipside, knowledge of the potential damage from clinical waste has to be instilled, not only among governments, medical professionals, and medical waste handlers, but also, the general public.

Copyrights © 2023 All Rights Reserved by PENTAS FLORA. Web Design Malaysia