News & Events

Coping with the (wasteful) consequences

The legal local plastic manufacturing plants are literally paying the price for the ban as well as trying to make do with the scarcity of local materials of inferior quality

We need imported plastic waste materials because of their superior quality.”
— Chin

In the midst of government efforts to contain and manage plastic waste that has been littering the country, legal local plastic manufacturing plants are crying foul. The local plastic manufacturing plants are literally paying the price for the ban as well as trying to make do with the scarcity of local materials of inferior quality and it’s not a small number.

During MALAYSIA SME®’s interview with Angkasa Kowaris Plastics Sdn Bhd (ANKOP) director Kent Chin, he urges the new government to look at people’s rights before working on enforcing any new policies. The prolonged blanket ban on imported plastic materials has its consequences and is causing losses on law-abiding businesses.

“ANKOP has always been in compliance with almost everything, I say ‘almost’ because before we can finish implementing the rules of compliance the ministry has already come up with a new set of things to comply with and we are always playing the catching-up game with the policy makers,” Chin laments. He points to the example of plastic recycling businesses in selected European countries stating that many of these recycling businesses get paid by their respective governments to do the job.

“But we don’t get paid for it, in-stead we get hammered on the head!” he adds. He admits that al-though ANKOP is a compliant business, it has not yet received the Approved Permit licence in order to source plastic materials internationally.

Chin states that the company has already invested thousands of ringgit in efforts to adhere to the requirements of the government. Usually, the plastics that come in to the factory for recycling are washed at the water treatment area of the plant.

According to his calculations this process alone costs more than half a million ringgit since the maintenance of the equipment and machinery alone costs an average of RM10,000 on a monthly basis. “I’m losing money on a daily basis,” he says.

The water treatment plant also includes massive water tanks known as filter pressers which contain the leftover water that has been used to clean the plastic waste be-fore the recycling process can even begin. The filter pressers will then clean the water using numerous chemicals before being discarded looking crystal clear and safe for the environment.

“Those filter pressers are really expensive and each machine is able to process 20 metric tonnes of waste a day, which equals to the weight of two huge trucks. Right now, I have five machines and four of them are idle, but I still need to maintain them which involve costs. It is no longer economical to keep the business running,” says Chin who has had to cut down on workers.

He says currently he is only relying on locally sourced plastic waste ever since the government put a temporary curb on any new application for the AP licence. Without it, legally operating factories will not be able to obtain imported plastic from international sources. The plastic waste that is already in the country is highly contaminated and some even toxic, making it very difficult to work with.

Considering the low quality of plastic material and the small amount that is generated, Chin stresses on the urgent need for imported plastics in order to sustain the business. “We need imported plastics because the quality is much higher.”

According to him, most of the international plastic manufacturers uses virgin grade material to manufacture various types of products such as shampoo bottles. Even if the bottles are discarded, the plastic bottles are made of considerably good quality materials and hold a higher value compared to local plastic products.

Chin notes most of the material used to manufacture local plastic products are already tempered by adding a numerous foreign sub-stances (such as calcium carbonate) in order to make it heavier and more durable.

“This degrades the plastic (until it becomes single-use material) but at the same time it is considered acceptable by the customer. For ex-ample, when you substitute flour with cassava which has a similar taste, by doing that, they can sell the end product at a cheaper price. The same goes for plastic as well,” he smiles.

Thinking ahead
Unfortunately due to the blanket ban ANKOP has ceased its collaboration programme with Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM) that has been running for the past six months. The programme enables students to gain plastic recycling industry experience through paid training.

Activities under the programme include teaching students the basics of plastic recycling and how to man-age it as a business. After students graduate, Chin says that they are welcome to start a career in the industry, or even work with ANKOP as part of their journey to become entrepreneurs.

“For the post graduates, they can get really excited with the opportunity to become an entrepreneur in the plastic recycling industry, which shows that there is definitely an interest in the industry.

“If they choose the entrepreneurial journey, we are more than happy to work with them by sharing the amount of plastic waste to be recycled, since they should already know the process. If it happens we are able to process higher volumes than before, but we will need a larger quantity of plastic waste,” says Chin.

Chin plans to gather plastic waste from numerous collection centres throughout the country and urges the government agencies to encourage setting up more such hubs. At the same time households need to intensify their efforts to segregate rubbish and different types of recyclable materials.

“We can even hire someone to collect the plastic waste from these centres or from houses in certain neighbourhoods so that they can bring the plastic directly to the re-cycling factories,” says Chin.

“If we can teach consumers to separate the plastic waste before it goes into the trash, it will be clean enough for us to work with. We don’t need a lot of manpower or extra resources to process it, which will fortunately bring down the cost of processing,” he adds.

Chin hopes the government will support local businesses that are processing plastic waste. “We don’t expect monetary incentives, but at least give us the opportunity to do proper recycling and keep the environment safe simultaneously. I fully support the closing down of illegal operations, but something more has to be done to support those that are legal,” he says.