World Bank sets out ways Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines can improve local plastic recycling to reduce imports

Malaysia World Bank study

A series of reports by the World Bank have looked at policies that can be implemented by Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines to improve domestic plastic recycling and reduce imports.

The country studies found that less than a quarter of plastics available for recycling in the three countries is actually recycled, with 75% of the material value of the plastics lost. This is worth approximately $6 billion per year across the three nations.


For Malaysia, tougher conditions for recyclers requiring an approved permit (AP) that were introduced in 2018, meant that imports of plastic under the HS code 3915 fell by 62% from 872,531 tonnes in 2018 to 333,500 tonnes in 2019.

The World Bank estimates that 28% of the total estimated installed capacity of 825,000 tonnes in Malaysia was used for recycled import plastics.

In the report it said: “Plastic recyclers rely on imports of clean scrap plastic because:

  • Imported material is often cheaper (eg of Q4 2019, HDPE local material was 17% more expensive than imported material, and PET local material was up to 20% more expensive)
  • Local material is of poorer quality due to lack of ‘design for recycling’
  • Imports provide a steady guaranteed tonnage, whereas in the local market, a steady flow is not guaranteed.”

In its study on Thailand, the World Bank found that tough restrictions and a proposed ban on recycled plastic imports has had a detrimental impact on the country’s plastic recycling industry.

The report said: “Lack of imports has prevented all recyclers (big or small) from being able to optimise their capacities, blend the high-quality imported feedstock and produce higher value products. This has reduced both the value yield and price yield, and thus the value yield.”

With the Philippines not really a major importer of plastics, the impact of imports was not considered in its report.

To improve material quality in the domestic markets of the three countries, the World Bank made recommendations including:

  • Increase sorting efficiency of post-consumer collection of plastics
  • Set recycled content targets across all major end-use applications
  • Mandate ‘design for recycling’ standards for plastics, especially for packaging
  • Encourage increase in recycling capacities (mechanical and chemical)
  • Implement industry-specific requirements to increase waste collection rates
  • Restrict disposal of waste plastics in landfills and phase-out non-essential plastics.

World Bank country director for Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand Ndiamé Diop said: “Mismanaged plastic waste across Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand is threatening key economic sectors such as tourism and fisheries, and impacting livelihoods and infrastructure, but there is strong government momentum in these countries to identify critical policies, and craft roadmaps to strengthen demand for all recycled plastic resins, level the playing field for global and domestic companies, and help drive a circular economy for plastics.

“These studies show that there is an untapped opportunity to reap environmental and economic benefits with clean and complementary interventions from the private and public sector.”

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