Recycling is one of the most popular ways to be eco-friendly in global efforts to reduce our carbon footprint. For years, there have been campaigns that support and encourage recycling and now, more people are realising that it is important to do so.
Our household and domestic waste usually ends up in landfills after collection from various sources. In Malaysia, approximately 30,000 tonnes of waste is produced each day, but only a minor 5% is recycled or re-purposed. The remaining 95% of the waste ends up in landfills around the country, where even space for these landfills is diminishing.
Making recycling a conscious habit
Despite being exposed to the importance of waste management and the 3Rs (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle), only about 9% of Malaysian households practice recycling as of 2012. However, surveys have found that Malaysians will recycle if it is more convenient to do so.
The Japanese have a slogan – “separation is resource and mixing is waste”. Towns like Kamikatsu, Japan, require their residents to separate waste into 45 different types. For now, we need to master three; paper, plastic and other recyclables. To encourage citizens to make it a conscious habit to separate their recyclables, some states in Malaysia have implemented mandatory separation of solid waste at source.
Additionally, to reduce waste such as single-use plastics, campaigns have been on-going to encourage citizens to bring their own bags when grocery shopping. This extends further by encouraging citizens to bring their own containers when getting take-out food. These simple acts can greatly reduce the amount of waste created by single-use plastics.
3Rs: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
The three R’s – reduce, reuse and recycle – all help to cut down on the amount of waste generated. First, we should evaluate if we can reduce the usage of any given product. Next, once reduction has been considered, we need to evaluate if it can be reused or repurposed. The final step in the hierarchy is to consider if the product is recyclable.
So, why should we utilise the 3Rs?
- Conservation of natural resources
The amount of natural resources required to produce packaging and various products is minimised. Extraction and mining are also lessened, having a positive effect on natural habitats.
- Conservation of energy
When aluminium is recycled, it saves the energy required to produce it out of new materials by 95%. Recycling a single plastic bottle can help in saving enough energy to provide power to a 60-watt bulb for about 3 hours.
- Protection of the environment
Recycling reduces the dependence on landfills. Landfills are a major contributor of toxic gas emissions such as methane which causes great harm to the environment.
Benefits of recycling by the numbers
- Recycling 1 ton of plastic saves 7.4 cubic yards of landfill space
- The energy saved by recycling a single plastic bottle is enough to power a 60-watt bulb for 3 hours
- Recycling plastic saves twice as much energy as burning it in an incinerator
- Recycling one aluminium can saves enough energy to run a TV for 3 hours
- Aluminium can be recycled over and over without breaking down
- The energy saved from recycling one glass bottle can run a 100-watt light bulb for 4 hours or a compact fluorescent bulb for 20 hours
- Glass is 100% recyclable and can be used again and again
- Recycling one tonne of paper saves an equivalent of:
: 17 trees : 2 barrels of oil : 4,100 kilowatts of energy
Fostering an environment to practice the 3Rs
As highlighted by surveys conducted by the Solid Waste Corporation of Malaysia (SWCorp), Malaysians would be more inclined to practice the 3Rs if there was a suitable environment that created a positive feedback loop. By being able to register that their efforts are making a difference, active participation in the 3Rs can be cultivated.
Hence, efforts need to be made at all levels to create an eco-system that fosters the practicing of the 3Rs. At the municipal level, proper infrastructure needs to be implemented for ease of access. At an organisational level, management should nurture a culture which includes the practice of 3Rs. Finally, habit-forming for individuals is needed so that the collective efforts of all can be felt throughout society.
 Innocent A. Jereme et al – Assessing Problems and Prospects of Solid Waste Management In Malaysia (2015)
 Azilah M. Akil – The Effects of Socio-Economic Influences on Households Recycling Behaviour In Iskandar Malaysia (2014)
 ABC News AU – Kamikatsu: The Japanese town working towards a zero-waste goal by 2020 (2018)
 Loh Chun T’ing et al. – Determinants of 3Rs behaviour in plastic usage: A study among Malaysians (2020)