A brand is all about building an identity, earning customer trust and loyalty through words, actions and stories. A product is part of conveying the brand’s story and, like it or not, a product’s packaging is a crucial part of that story.
As the quality of our lives improve, so does our consumption of goods and services, which often comes packaged in plastic. Plastic, widely used in different products and packaging of different industries and brands, comes in different shapes, colors, properties and functions. The statistics are alarming, with mass production and consumption of plastic on the rise since 1950.
According to the report published by WWF-Malaysia, annually, it is estimated that 1,070,064 tonnes of post-consumer plastic waste is generated.
In the recently launched 12th Malaysia Plan one of the key focuses is advancing sustainability by embracing the adoption of a circular economy. In line with this, there are emerging policies to address reduction of waste generation, pollution, mandate the use of recycled materials in products and packaging and recycling of waste and post-consumer packaging, and extending the responsibility of producers to managing their end-of-life products.
Having said that, how are we going to get there? How many companies are ready and have a plan to be part of the change? Individual actions, too, have largely failed to match the scale of the problem, as we continue to consume and carelessly discard the single-use plastics in our everyday lives.
However, change is on the way. As Malaysia envisions a revision to the existing system, policymakers are enacting stringent regulations and policies to address plastic waste generation. This includes demanding greater responsibility from producers, especially consumer brands, through an Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) system which holds companies accountable for their products and packaging.
Under the EPR system, the responsibility of the producer goes beyond waste collection and recycling. Products and packaging are designed so that they can be reused, remanufactured or recycled and therefore maintained in the economy for as long as possible along with the resources they are made of. The generation of waste is avoided or minimised as companies take financial responsibility by paying EPR fees to a Producer Responsibility Organization (PRO) according to the amount of waste they produce.
This system is fair, as large companies pay more than small ones; and foreign and domestic producers operating in Malaysia are charged the same. The PRO is an independent and non-profit entity responsible for the operation of the EPR system. It sets and collects the EPR fees from all obliged companies. The fees are then used to contract and pay waste management service providers for the collection, sorting and recycling of packaging waste, to cover its administrative and business costs, as well as any other duties assigned by the legal framework. Globally, the EPR system is not new, as numerous countries such as Belgium, Germany, South Korea, and Taiwan have introduced it, and recently adopted by Vietnam and Singapore.
Commitments to a circular economy are gaining traction and there is a growing appetite for change by the industry players. The Malaysia Recycling Alliance (MAREA) was incorporated in January 2021, to voluntarily and proactively drive change by taking a lead in the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) system development in Malaysia.
Is it too late, though, for us to fix the problem? Almost, but we cannot just do the bare minimum and hope for the best. Brands need to start recognising the role they play to drive change, to stay resilient and embrace new opportunities. More companies need to take part and proactively shape the direction of a mandatory EPR implementation in Malaysia, because brands should last forever; their packaging shouldn’t.
This piece was contributed by WWF-Malaysia. Established in 1972, WWF-Malaysia is part of WWF, the international conservation organisation. Working to sustain the natural world for the benefit of people and wildlife, WWF-Malaysia’s efforts to conserve nature focus on six major goals – forests, oceans, wildlife, food, climate and energy, as well as freshwater – and three key drivers of environmental problems – markets, finance and governance. Our mission is to stop the degradation of the earth’s natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature.