The plastic waste problem in Malaysia: management, recycling and disposal of local and global plastic waste

Hui Ling Chen, Tapan Kumar Nath, Siewhui Chong, Vernon Foo, Chris Gibbins, Alex M. Lechner

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleResearchpeer-review

144 Citations (Scopus)


Plastic waste is one of the world’s most pressing human health and environmental concerns. Plastic constitutes the third highest waste source globally, with the total volume of plastic waste growing in-line with increases in the global population and per capita consumption. Malaysia is tracking global trends in both the overall generation of plastic waste and the consumption of single-use plastics and since 2017 has been the world’s largest importer of plastic waste. These elements create a number of major challenges for the country’s waste management system. This review outlines the current state of plastic waste production and management in Malaysia, including options for landfill, recycling and incineration. It presents information on the scale and both the human and ecological risks of plastic waste in the country (i.e. microplastics, landfill, incineration), outlines key plastic waste management policy initiatives (including plastics alternatives such as biodegradable plastics) and highlights key constraints on the success of these. Significant internal constraints stem from the inconsistent application of policy initiatives by state governments, in addition to the lack of public awareness and interest in household recycling. The paper closes by discussing options for and constraints on the switch to biodegradable alternatives and proposes a model of plastic management based on a circular economy approach and solid waste management hierarchy. Success in reducing the problems posed by plastic in Malaysia will require sustained effort at many levels, but positive experiences in other countries give some cause for optimism.

Original languageEnglish
Article number437
Number of pages15
JournalSN Applied Sciences
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Biodegradable plastic
  • Global plastic waste
  • Malaysia
  • Plastic waste
  • Recycling
  • Waste management

Cite this