Public and businesses should be informed of the environmental and health impacts of improper waste disposal
by AUFA MARDHIAH
PROPER waste disposal is crucial as one of the means to avoid global climate change.
In Malaysia, the jutting aftermath of climate change, among others, is flooding.
According to the Department of Statistics Malaysia’s (DoSM) Compendium of Environment Statistics, the scheduled waste produced in Malaysia increased by 4.5% to 7,505.2 metric tonnes (MT) in 2021 from 7,185.2MT in 2020.
Selangor contributed the highest amount of scheduled waste at 27.8% followed by Perak (26.1%) and Johor (13.7%).
The report also stated that the previous implementation of the Movement Control Order (MCO) had impacted the quality of river water in Malaysia in 2021.
In comparison to 2020, results from the Department of Environment monitoring of 144 river basins revealed that 108 (75%) river basins were “clean”, followed by 29 (20.1%) “somewhat contaminated” and seven (4.9%) “polluted”.
Despite Malaysians denouncing and blaming the authorities whenever flooding occurred, it is also vital to highlight that their habit of garbage disposal indirectly (and cumulatively) contributes to the disaster’s repeated occurrence.
As a result, the most important thing to focus on is laying the foundation stone correctly — constructing from the ground up.
Last year, a Sungai Klang clean-up movement was carried out by Landasan Lumayan Sdn Bhd (LLSB) and a Dutch non-profit, The Ocean Cleanup (TOC).
The initiative was initially mandated by the Selangor state government to rejuvenate the river through the project known as the Selangor Maritime Gateway (SMG).
LLSB MD Syaiful Azmen Nordin told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR) that two “Interceptor” watercraft, part of a larger waste management solution, have been put in place by LLSB in Sungai Klang.
It is currently working with seven of LLSB’s log booms to trap floating debris. With the dual waste trap solution, they successfully removed 85,205MT of floating debris from Sungai Klang from 2016 to January 2023.
“We have seen a 63% reduction in the annual volume of waste extraction between 2016 and 2022, surpassing our 40% target. This has also led to an improvement in the overall water quality from Class V in 2016 to Class III or better 64% of days in the year in 2022.
“The ultimate goal for us would be to eliminate the need for waste traps by ensuring trash does not end up in waterways first.
“In the long run, trash should only be in waste bins, and everyone plays a vital role in ensuring this happens,” he said to TMR.
Aside from collecting trash, the Interceptors also serve as creating awareness of the importance of river rehabilitation due to it becoming a point of conversation and garners awareness for Sungai Klang.
Sharing on LLSB’s plan for Sungai Klang’s waste management, Syaiful Azmen said LLSB is also stepping up its integrated water resources management solutions beyond just cleaning the river to deepening, widening and reinforcing riverbanks for the 56km of the river under SMG, which started in November 2022.
“It will not only increase the river capacity but also ensure that Sungai Klang, at all time, is at the right quality and quantity. This is in support of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDG) 6 — Clean Water and Sanitation, and UNSDG 14 — Life Below Water.
“By increasing the river capacity, it will also help with flood mitigation exercise and the removal of waste that has been accumulating for decades on the riverbeds,” he added.
From a circular economy lens, he noted that LLSB together with TOC is looking at ways to repurpose river waste, especially plastics, to minimise sending the waste to landfills.
LLSB also currently has a project with Nestlé Malaysia for plastic recovery at a log boom.
He added that LLSB’s solutions are about making rivers’ future fit by balancing riverine and maritime development with ecological balance and by extension contributing towards carbon reduction.
“Malaysia has too many ailing rivers and we are currently looking at offering our expertise for reviving other rivers beyond Selangor,” he further explained.
Separately, on the zero-discharge policy with the Selangor Water Management Authority, introduced in the third quarter of 2022, Syaiful Azmen said it is currently in the final stages of planning following several rounds of discussion with internal and external stakeholders including reviews of operational and enforcement procedures.
The relevant parties involved are looking at running the pilot rollout of this policy along Sungai Klang.
If approved, the policy will have an important impact on further raising Sungai Klang’s water quality as it will look at managing the effluent levels being discharged by businesses into the river.
More Awareness of Proper Waste Disposal
Commenting on Malaysians’ habit of waste disposal, Syaiful Azmen highlighted that it is a concern due to low awareness of proper waste segregation and illegal dumping practices.
Hence, he asserted that increasing public awareness especially in waste segregation and responsible disposal, and strengthening enforcement of littering laws with a solid waste management infrastructure foundation are crucial steps to address the issue.
“Several barriers must be removed to urge the community to use correct garbage disposal measures,” he added.
The first, he said, is a lack of awareness as many individuals are unaware of the harmful effects that incorrect trash disposal may have on the environment and public health.
“Education and awareness initiatives on a national scale can help promote understanding of the significance of proper garbage disposal, something as basic as dumping trash, no matter how small like sweet wrappers and cigarette butts into a bin can help.
“Additionally, there is a shortage of effective waste management infrastructure such as recycling facilities or centres and recyclable pickup services, in many locations. Making recycling centres accessible in each housing area can make it easier for individuals to properly dispose of recyclables.
“Cultural and social norms are also important since many people may consider littering to be acceptable or a typical conduct,” Syaiful Azmen said, adding that changing these cultural and social norms might take time and effort, but it must begin now rather than later.
“Domestic pollution is putting a strain on our environment, particularly our rivers.
“Finally, economic aspects should also be considered since some people may not properly dispose of waste due to the costs involved, such as waste collection or recycling fees. Making trash management more inexpensive can assist to overcome this hurdle,” he elaborated.
Efforts by Other Stakeholders
TOC river director Tames Rietdijk indicated that the organisation’s motivation for focusing on in-river interception solutions is to mitigate the damage caused by plastic pollution as soon as possible.
“In our vision, this is a problem of ‘leakage’ due to imperfections in the current waste management infrastructure.
“We aim to intercept a significant percentage of floating plastics before they reach the ocean,” he said.
Aside from the RM4.6 million required to install the Interceptor and a few hundred thousand more to operate it, Rietdijk said there are numerous and diverse options to sustain the operations of Interceptor Originals, such as government donations, in-kind contributions and impact-related sponsorships, among others — which TOC aims for the most viable combination of options for each operation.
Furthermore, he said TOC is already assembling the Interceptor Originals made in Malaysia with local partners for knowledge transfer and ownership.
“We are now evaluating a variety of solutions for our upcoming Sungai Klang interception, including enhancing our current Interceptor Originals, collecting plastics from tributaries, expanding on the log booms and many more. The decision will be taken in collaboration with our local partners,” he further explained.
On the collaboration with LLSB, Rietdijk said TOC wished to launch more cooperation projects with the same local authority due to the added benefit of establishing the connection and their common experience in river interception operations.
“For river interceptions where LLSB might not be the partner of choice, we would always consider working together with other local authorities,” he added.
Meanwhile, NGO Zero Waste Malaysia (ZWM) programme outreach and communications executive Tasha Sabapathy said Malaysians have a buy-use-throw culture of consumption, much like the rest of the world.
“We face problems of waste contamination such as rubbish being mixed with wet waste which reduces the chances of it being recycled and improper waste segregation like classifying non-recyclables as recyclables. Furthermore, a lot of single-use disposables we commonly see cannot be recycled, so they end up on our streets, rivers or in the landfills,” she said to TMR.
ZWM had developed a comprehensive guide covering 101 Household Trash called the Trash Encyclopedia to address the matter.
According to Tasha, ZWM aims to spread awareness and understanding of the nature of what the community produces, before properly segregating waste, and thus, support the act by dropping them off directly at sorting stations or recyclers.
As an organisation, ZWM aims to tackle a ground-up approach, encouraging the community to be more conscious of how they manage waste. Nevertheless, the NGO acknowledges the need to work with city councils and the government to set that infrastructure in place.
This article first appeared in The Malaysian Reserve weekly print edition