THE public often perceive items made of paper as being environmentally friendly as the focus is on its ability to degrade and be recycled.
But experts on waste and recycling say this may not be totally true.
Even a recent online video revealed that most paper cups, unknown to many, cannot be recycled because of the plastic film coating on the inside.
Environment and waste management expert Dr Theng Lee Chong said many did not know that paper with other laminated medium such as plastics or wax or carbon, were not recyclable.
“In Malaysia, only newspaper, boxes, office paper, books and used beverage cartons, such as those produced by Tetra Pak, is recycled. Some are not recycled for reasons such as contamination and high cost,” he said.
Items made of paper but with a layer of laminated wax over it is not recycled in the country.
Papers with a layer of carbon, papers attached with glue, and even tissue paper is not recycled because of contamination.
Contaminated papers such as those with food waste, oil, hazardous waste and chemicals are not recycled either.
Most paper cups, paper plates and disposable utensils, especially after being contaminated with food residue, are not recycled in Malaysia.
“It is misleading when people say that all paper cups and plates are environment-friendly.
“Worst is when they think it will degrade at the landfill. Carbon footprint and environmental impact of papers cannot be dismissed,” said Theng.
He added that the recent move to ban plastic bags and polystyrene, in the country, somehow overshadowed the impact of paper to the environment.
“Sometimes I see polystyrene food containers being replaced by paper boxes.
“Paper boxes are heavier and when it is not recycled, it ends up in the landfill.
“The papers must also be from well-managed sources that emphasise on preserving the environment,” he said.
Theng added that what the country needed was to have more stringent rules to regulate recycling behaviour of institutions, commercial and industries.
“We badly need to strengthen the requirements for product standards such as inventing more greener products and include eco-labelling.
“We should discourage producers and manufacturers from freely inventing whatever they wish and selling it to maximise their profit but give no thought to the waste it generates,” he said.
He added that the country needed packaging laws to reduce waste and avoid excessive packaging.
Universiti Malaya Zero Waste Campaign research officer Jaron Keng said waste generation correlated with the human population and the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of a country.
“Based on the waste disposal pattern in Malaysia, when the population increases by 1%, waste disposed increases by 3%.
“The waste generation is largely influenced by the GDP growth rate,” said Keng.
He welcomed the idea for authorities to work together and have standardised regulations for better waste management practises in the country.
“The concerned ministries must come up with policies together.
“There should be an effective law on recycling of paper packaging like Japan,” he said, adding that this would ensure the items produced would be well thought and designed for recycling.
About mixed-medium packaging
The level of complication in the recycling process, costs, sourcing of recyclable and consumer awareness can influence the recycling of paper-based products.
KPT Recycle Sdn Bhd director Lee Chay Chen said recycling became challenging when a product packing was made of a few different materials, such as mixture of wax-like and paper materials.
“Different types of materials, especially plastic, have different melting point. Many types of plastics with different components are used in a wide range of products.
“The inconsistency in the product’s raw material poses a challenge for us to manage the efficiency of the recycling process.
“Only companies like Tetra Pak work closely with us to ensure there is a proven and viable recycling solution for its used beverage cartons,” he said.
Lee added that most others did not have a comprehensive recycling plan for the end use of packaging with mixed material.
“I welcome manufacturers to opt for eco-design products packaging. It will provide a holistic view to the entire value chain of the packaging.
“From renewability of raw material, all the way until it is recycled,” he added.
Many paper mixed with plastic-based products are not recycled as the bulk density are relatively lower and it is challenging to motivate collection especially in Malaysia, said Lee who has been in the recycling family business for more than 30 years.
“For the recycling model to reach an optimum economy of scale, we need a fair share of volume of a particular product as well as consistency of supply,” he said.
The paper recycling industry in the country contributed to RM4.3bil in GDP value per year with 1.7 million tonnes of materials being made of used papers.
Malaysia Pulp And Paper Manufacturers Association (MPPA) honorary secretary-general Datuk Mas’ut A. Samad said this was the latest 2016 figures obtained by the association.
Five major items made of recycled paper are container boards, newsprints, tissue, printing and writing related papers and others such as egg trays.
The largest bulk of paper-based items recycled in the country are brown boxes from industrial sectors with a GDP value of RM2.28bil.
This is followed by newsprint recycling worth RM610mil.
He said the recycling business heavily relied on the country’s GDP. When the economy is good, there are more packaging waste to be recycled.
The country consumed 1.9 million tonnes of paper and paperboard, and produced 1.6 million tonnes of the same items last year.
“These are basically the brown boxes used for packaging.
“The more factories we have, the higher the need for the same boxes for export purposes,” he said.