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Malaysia is eyeing waste-to-energy solutions

Updated: Oct 9, 2020

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Malaysia was reportedly generating Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) amounting to around 37,560 tonnes per day in 2019, which is equivalent to approximately 1.17 kg per person per day. Food waste accounts for 44.5% of the total MSW (Figure 1). MSW in Malaysia is projected to have a 3-5% increase in annual generation rate.

Waste amounts and waste composition in Malaysia

In Malaysia, close to 78% of the population concentrate in cities [1]. In Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, alone, 3,000 tonnes of food waste is generated every day [2].

The Malaysian authorities are facing strenuous challenges in food waste handling and treatment. Food waste imparts the environmental issue due to its improper separation with municipal solid waste. According to research, the majority of waste or trash from households or commercial buildings is collected and sent to landfills, where it is eventually buried [3]. Such treatment casts the concern of creating harmful greenhouse gasses, namely methane, that can worsen global warming.

In Malaysia, most of the landfills are open dumpsite and 89% of the collected MSW ends up in landfills [4]. According to the National Solid Waste Management Department, most of the generated solid waste in Malaysia is disposed directly to landfills, causing pollution and scarcity of land to accommodate an ever-increasing demand for space for landfill construction (Table 1 & Table 2).

Waste Management Association’s Chairman, Mr Ho De Leong, stated that Malaysia only has a handful of landfills, which are classified as sanitary; indeed less than 15% of the 146 active landfills are sanitary [5].

89% of MSW in Malaysia enters directly into landfills with minimal treatment, whereas only 1% of the total incoming MSW receives proper treatment.

In Malaysia, 50% of landfills are open dumping sites; 30% use-controlled tipping; 12% are controlled landfills with daily cover; 5% are sanitary landfills without leachate treatment facility; and the other 5% are sanitary landfills with leachate treatment. Within the coming 10 years (by 2030), over 80% of the Malaysian open dumping landfill sites are to be shut down as they reach full capacity [8]. The major MSW fractions generated in Malaysia are 45% organic material, 13% plastics, 12% diapers, 9% paper, 3% glass, 3% metal and others (Figure 2).

Organic waste represents the largest portion of the total solid waste produced by Malaysians therefore making landfills a potential source of landfill gas (LFG). Nevertheless, decommissioning a landfill involves the process of obtaining other lands and is an environmentally challenging process. This will make land scarcer in the future. Employing waste-to-energy solutions can solve two problems at once, namely the demand for more energy and the continuous increase in MSW generation. Hence, waste is no longer an undesired product from the society but a new resource by treating non-recyclables and non-reusables from MSW to generate a substantial amount of energy for urban use while preserving scarce lands.

Additionally, proper solid waste management can help preserve Malaysia's rivers and water bodies. There are almost 1800 rivers in Malaysia. Sadly, more than half of these rivers have been polluted and destroyed [10]. Improper solid waste management contributes greatly to river pollution.

Malaysia plans to set up 6 WTE plants by 2025

The Housing and Local Government Ministry of Malaysia aims at reducing solid waste disposed directly to landfills by promoting the 3R (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) lifestyle and introducing new and proven technologies such as plans to set up six waste-to-energy (WtE) plants by 2025 with various technologies to be evaluated [11]. Among these technologies, the biogas plant and thermal treatment shall be carried out in phases to ensure effectiveness and affordability. The Ministry is eyeing waste-to-energy solutions that can generate electricity, which can in turn be sold to power providers for revenue to cover a big portion of the plant maintenance and operation costs [12].

Malaysia’s first WTE plant in Ladang Tanah Merah, Port Dickson, Negeri Sembilan, which was scheduled to be fully operational in June 2020 is now delayed due to nationwide movement restrictions amidst the global COVID-19 pandemic. Known as SMART (solid waste modular advanced recovery and treatment) WTE, the facility is designed to convert solid waste to energy (electricity) based on a sustainable and integrated waste management concept. The project, developed by Cypark Resources Bhd, has a 4ha built-up area and will able to undertake 600 tonnes of mechanically segregated and processed municipal solid waste a day. Cypark CEO Datuk Daud Ahmad said the group has yet to set a new target completion date even though they have resumed work. The WTE plant’s construction is monitored by foreign experts who provide similar technologies to Japan, Sweden and Germany [13].

The Malaysian authorities are studying various solutions that can generate energy from MSW through WTE treatment namely thermal, biological and landfilling through LFG. Malaysia hopes to play a positive role internationally in offsetting the world’s carbon emission by generating electricity from waste and to push forward a greater share of RE in the national electricity generation mix.

In Malaysia, households are the main source of total solid waste generation, which accounts for 65% compared to commercial and institutional at 28% and industry at 7%

Therefore, WTE via thermo-chemical waste treatment pathways like incineration and gasification are believed to play a crucial role in managing household solid waste by reducing the volume of MSW by up to 95% before entering landfills [14].

In Malaysia, the use of incineration as WTE is only present in a very limited quantity at a small scale. A total of 80%–95% of MSW volume can be reduced by incineration. Back in 2011, several incineration projects with the expenditure of RM 187.74 million had been commenced by the Ministry of Local Government and Housing (MHLG) Malaysia to manage MSW. These included five units of small-scale incinerators of rotary kiln type that were erected in five tourism spots (Table 3): Pulau Langkawi (100 ton/day), Pulau Labuan (60 ton/day), Cameron Highlands (40 ton/day), Pulau Pangkor (20 ton/day), and Pulau Tioman (10 ton/day) [15].


Get in touch for more information about business opportunities in Malaysia:

Veronica Hui Mei Liew

Trade Advisor at Royal Danish Embassy in Malaysia




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