The Rising Cost of Waste Disposal

Why is it so expensive to dispose of waste safely?

The waste management sector has not been exempt from the challenges of rising costs that have affected a broad range of industries. It has been a tough time for the waste industry since the pandemic hit in 2020. In addition to that, recent market inflations have led to increases in prices of goods and supplies along with higher energy costs. 

As much as recycling reduces the energy needed to make products from raw materials, there are costs to dispose of waste and the costs of recycling usually lands on the books of waste management companies. This is unlike domestic disposal for 3R activities (reduce, reuse and recycle) activities. Scheduled waste management activities involve higher technology and energy usage to treat, recover, refine and recycle waste into reusable raw material.

Furthermore, waste export costs have been rising due to major waste destinations increasing taxes on waste imports. Developing countries’ cities, coping with booming populations, scarce financial resources and limited capacity to manage environmental issues, are facing a sharp rise in the amount and costs of garbage that they will be required to deal with by 2025.

The World Bank’s Urban Development department estimates that the amount of municipal solid waste (MSW) globally will rise from the current 1.3 billion tonnes per year to 2.2 billion tonnes per year by 2025.1 

The annual, global cost of this necessary solid waste management is projected to rise from the current $205 billion to $375 billion, with the cost increasing most severely for cities in low income countries.

There is a direct correlation between the per capita level of income in cities and the amount of waste per capita that is generated. In general, as a country urbanizes and populations become wealthier, the consumption of inorganic materials increases, as reported by the World Bank. 

In Malaysia between 2014 and 2018, the highest volume of waste disposed of in landfills were contributed by Johor (850 thousand tonnes/year) and Kuala Lumpur (625 thousand tonnes/year). The high population in Johor and Kuala Lumpur was a factor. Both states experienced high economic development and urbanisation levels with top GDPs at 5.7% and 5.9% respectively. The Malaysian government has spent approximately 5.24 billion USD yearly to manage solid waste and the cost of waste collection and disposal alone take up to 60% of the local authority expenditure. 2

Waste management companies have felt the strain because of this.

What can be done to manage rising costs?

  1. Adopt good housekeeping, process modifications, eco-friendly design of products and cleaner technologies. This includes conserving raw materials and energy, eliminating toxic raw materials and reducing the quantity and toxicity of all emissions and wastes before they leave a process.3

    For products, focus our strategy on reducing impacts along the entire life-cycle of the product, from raw material extraction to the ultimate disposal of the product. 

    Cleaner production is achieved by applying know-how, by improving technology, and by changing attitudes. Waste handling charges, raw material usage and insurance premiums can often be cut, along with potential risks.


  1. Integrating environmental management systems (EMS) or ISO 14001 within industries. An EMS consists of a systematic process that allows an organization to “assess, manage, and reduce environmental hazards” 4. Thus, an organisation needs to continuously monitor their environmental impacts by ensuring it is integrated into the actual management system guaranteeing its continuation and commitment to successful outcomes. Periodic EMS audits are one way to ensure it is effective and maintained.

    Several benefits of EMS include:
  • Financial savings through lower costs and improved global competition
  • Improved performance and reputation
  • Reduced business risks
  • Compliance with environmental regulations

    Environmental management systems (EMS) and cleaner production (CP) are located at the top of sustainable development tools. Huge efforts in spreading these concepts worldwide are dedicated especially to developing countries due to the immediate environmental and financial benefits they generate if properly applied.


  1. Scheduled waste management incurs costs that are payable such as Scheduled Waste SW 305 (spent lubricating oil) and SW 306 (spent hydraulic oil) or even SW 409 (disposed containers, bags or equipment contaminated with chemicals, pesticides, mineral oil or scheduled wastes). Others may be chargeable to remove hazardous properties in the waste. 


Government subsidies can ease the costs faced by municipal budgets in low-income and middle-income countries. Basic solid waste management systems should be given allocated funds for more advanced approaches for waste treatment and recycling costs now more than ever. The choice of technology and methods used depend highly on the local capacity for investments and management.

Recycling and Disposal of Lithium Batteries

Large lithium-ion batteries (LIBs) are used in the hundreds in electric vehicles (EVs) today. Like our mobile phone batteries, they are bundled together to function as one. 

For technology to be sustainable in the near future, it is no longer viable to discard products that can no longer serve their original purpose. EV batteries are expensive and loaded with limited raw materials like lithium and cobalt that are harmful to dispose of. These parts are also at risk of exploding when piled up in landfills under heat.

These batteries should be first repurposed to be reused for a different function such as charging stations or stationary energy storage to power factories, residential buildings, hospitals and others.


The battery’s remaining capacity is reused for a secondary application. This requires several processes to ensure it is safe to be reused. Car makers today are investing in repurposing opportunities in order to have control over the secondary use applications and to ensure they are reliable and financially viable.

Although this emerging industry of EV battery repurposing may not be as attractive as EV manufacturing and assembly or as popular as EV battery manufacturing, this is an important area to focus on as any part of the EV value chain. 


The functioning modules and cells in refurbished batteries are used for application in another EV battery, where the battery can be easily recovered and has not been damaged or discharged. 

Tesla and Nissan offer refurbished battery packs for warranty replacement of original battery packs in electric vehicles, according to Drive Safe & Fast Malaysia1. Tesla claims 60% of its battery components are recycled, with 10% used to build a new battery case for an EV. 

Toyota has hooked up old batteries to solar panels to power convenience stores in Japan. Meanwhile, Korea’s trade ministry partnered with LG Chem to produce portable battery packs (power banks) using discarded EV batteries. 

These are examples of how used LIBs can be given a second life and recycled. However, the issue still remains that the recycling rate of EV batteries today is low, with many still ending up in landfills leaching toxic chemicals that pollute our soil and rivers. 

In Australia, only 2–3% of LIBs are collected and sent overseas for recycling. In the EU and US, the rates are less than 5%.2

It is time to get serious about recycling lithium-ion batteries. A projected surge in electric-vehicle sales means that researchers must think about conserving natural resources and addressing battery end-of-life issues. Industry analysts predict that by 2020, China alone will have generated some 500,000 metric tons of used Li-ion batteries and that by 2030, the worldwide number will hit 2 million metric tons per year. 

This photo shows a Chevy Volt battery pack and three small batteries propped up on top of it: one of the Volt battery’s 288 pouches along with batteries from a cell phone and an iPad.

Most of the batteries that do get recycled undergo a ‘smelting’ process under high-temperature melting and extraction. Despite the high costs to build and operate, these large commercial plants don’t recover all valuable battery materials. Additionally, sophisticated equipment is required to treat the emissions generated by the smelting process. 

Driven by the enormous quantity of spent Li-ion batteries expected soon from aging electric vehicles and ubiquitous portable electronics, start-up companies are commercializing new battery-recycling technology. More scientists have started to study the problem – some battery, manufacturing, and recycling experts have begun forming large, multifaceted collaborations to tackle the impending problem.

Waste Management – Path to Sustainable ESG Management

Importance of ESG Criteria

The approach to environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues has shifted from being viewed by some as a public relations tactic to being seen by many as a major focus area for boards and management teams. There is a broad consensus that companies which manage, measure, and monitor their ESG matters proactively, are more likely to deliver sustainable growth.

Some of the main objectives and benefits of ESG analysis and reporting include the provision of valuable insights on non-financial elements which could have significant impacts on financial metrics, hence enabling more informed investment decisions.

Companies stand to lose substantial investment opportunities without environmental, social and governance (ESG) compliance, which has become an increasingly important criterion for inclusive, equitable and sustainable growth. It makes good business sense as it leads to sustainable development for both companies and the communities.

Many economic experts believe that it is necessary for corporations to transition from corporate social responsibility (CSR) to ESG, given the increasing attention and emphasis investors are paying to ESG compliance. CSR alone may not address the overall negative impact the business may cause in many cases.

Enhancing ESG Frameworks 

Identifying three to five ESG criterias that align to business strategy is a good base off where companies can start building an ESG framework. Even though the measurements may vary across platforms and industries, these are some common areas monitored within the three areas of Environmental, Social and Governance factors.

The application of the ESG standards can be enhanced by providing better transparency and thorough reporting via quantifiable metrics collected and reported regularly to address ESG gaps in the business, material risks and growth opportunities. 

Companies can adopt the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) and Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) ESG standards to achieve this.1 

Waste Matters for ESG Investors

A circular economy needs businesses not just to maximise recycling and minimise waste but to fundamentally re-engineer their products and services.

It identifies three main elements to building a circular, as opposed to linear, economy: 

  • Design out waste and pollution
  • Keep products and materials in use
  • Regenerate natural systems

This means products need to be designed for a cycle of disassembly and reuse, rather than waste. They need to be created from natural materials and then returned to natural materials at the end of their life. In effect, the circular economy replaces the concept of a consumer with that of a user.

This also means being efficient in the use of water, energy and materials, reducing packaging and raising recycling rates, and asking consumers to consider sustainability as a critical factor in their purchasing decisions.

Recent research from management consultants Accenture found that the potential economic benefits from the circular economy could be as high as $4.5 trillion by 2030. It also makes sound financial sense. As resources become scarcer, their price goes up. Those dependent on them to make their goods face higher costs and that is unsustainable over the long-term.2

As of early 2022, listed companies are gearing up towards fulfilling the ESG and Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) requirements given more comprehensive global compliance. Most companies are already expanding ESG compliance to encompass the 17 SDGs which serve as an indicator for companies overall growth. 3

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.

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