Even as the country gets called out by the international media as one of the “waste capitals” of the world – Malaysians are rising up against waste.
While the issue of imported plastic waste continues to hog local and international headlines, Malaysians have had to contend with our own waste – a reported 38,000 tonnes daily, enough to fill the KLCC Twin Towers every seven days. With landfill space shrinking, where do we put so much waste?
And then there’s the issue of toxic waste being dumped into rivers and seas – such as what happened with the Sg Kim Kim toxic chemical scare in Johor – and the fact that some 15,000 tonnes of food go down the drain every day.
From green activists like Pua Lay Pheng, who raised the alert on illegal plastic waste in Jenjarom, to #trashtag and #trashchallenge trending on social media, and the Zero Waste movement taking root, Malaysians seem to have had it with waste.
Trash Hero KL
Trash Hero KL co-founder Amy Popovich says when she first worked with the group in November 2017, only three to 15 people would show up for their clean-up sessions each week
“In March this year, we had 130 people showing up for one session. Many Malaysians are also starting their own chapters in other states – Johor, Penang and Terengganu.
“We now have 1,300 members in our Trash Hero KL Facebook group. And we’ve collected over six tonnes of rubbish since we began,” she says, adding that chapters in Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya and Langkawi also have weekly clean-ups. (The photo above is of Trash Hero KL volunteers with the waste they collected during a clean-up session.)
According to its website, the Trash Hero World Network links communities around the world but is mainly focused on working in South-East Asia – specifically in Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore and Thailand.
Popovich, an international school teacher, says she first joined the group after she got tired of seeing rubbish strewn about by wild monkeys in her neighbourhood in Ampang, Selangor.
People write to the group with suggestions of clean-up locations.
“I will choose a location where I can easily dispose of the rubbish or where recycling is easily available,” she says.
The clean-ups are carried out with members of other NGOs such as the Global Environment Centre, Karun Hijau and the Malaysian Eco-Brickers.
Carolyn Lau, cofounder of Sampah Menyampah, a market based on the concept of zero waste, says this movement has also taken root in Malaysia.
“We are the fastest growing community in the region, based on the number of members in the zero waste Facebook group as well as the number of bulk food stores we have in Kuala Lumpur,” she says.
A zero waste market is necessary, says Lau, if Malaysia is to promote the circular economy concept for products as well as to support the growing community in Malaysia.
“The community can’t grow without products to aid the zero waste lifestyle and zero waste businesses need a growing community to support their products,” she says.
“Soon, there will be (community) ripening in Kuantan and I think in Sabah too,” she adds.
Lau, who is also starting a market for repurposed goods, says the group will be coming up with guidelines for anyone to adopt in organising and running such events and markets in the future.
Zero Waste Malaysia cofounder Khor Sue Yee says response to the movement has been very enthusiastic in the Klang Valley, adding that the Facebook group that was set up in 2016 now has about 23,000 members.
“With awareness and a strong community response, our voice can become louder and there will be demand from corporate players,” she says, adding that it is possible for people to reduce between 50% and even up to 90% of the waste they generate.
“We are still consuming but we can definitely cut down on unnecessary trash such as food packaging and single use disposable products,” says Khor, adding that the organisation is planning on a second Zero Waste Fest this year on June 22 and 23.
The movement hosted zero waste lifestyle guru Bea Johnson during Malaysia’s first Zero Waste Fest in 2017.
The Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute’s (Mardi) Advanced and Reproductive Technologies Programme deputy director Dr
Ainu Husna MS Suhaimi says when the agency first launched its MYsavefood At Ramadan campaign in 2016, events were only held in three locations – this year, there are 15 locations nationwide.
“Under this programme, bazaar traders who cannot finish selling their food after maghrib prayers can offer us the food, which will then be re-distributed by volunteers to needy homes and charities.
“We can get up to 100kg of food from one bazaar alone,” says Dr Ainu, who is also head of the MYsavefood secretariat.
MYsavefood is part of the Save Food Campaign network, an initiative under the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation.
Not many people are aware, says Dr Ainu, of what actually goes into producing food like a plate of nasi lemak: “We are not just wasting food but resources like the ingredients as well as water and labour.”
Over on Twitter, various Malaysians are trying to get their fellow countrymen excited about #trashtag and #trashchallenge.
Tweeting about the challenge, Semuanya BOLA, a Twitter page for Malaysian football, suggested that local fans pick up their trash after the next football game.
The tweet received 674 retweets and 402 likes.
One person who is eager to see such challenges take off on social media is Housing and Local Government Minister Zuraida Kamaruddin.
“Activities such as the #trashchallenge over social media is a global initiative to increase the community’s awareness of the need to keep their surroundings clean from waste,” she says in a recent interview.
“The ministry believes that such an initiative can give rise to the community’s care and responsibility towards the waste they generate,” she says.
Zuraida, whose ministry oversees solid waste disposal, says it is also running a programme to help reduce waste in selected People’s Housing Projects (PPR) around the country.
The Zero Waste Community Project – known as ZeComm – encourages residents to take solid and food waste to a one-stop centre to be recycled in exchange for goods.
“This project benefits the community through the exchange of daily essential goods like cooking oil and rice, which indirectly encourages the practice of recycling as well as reducing solid waste at landfills,” she explains.
According to information on the ministry’s website, ZeComm is up and running at five locations: Apartment 5R1 in Putrajaya, Rumah Pangsa Senawang in Negri Sembilan, PPR Tehel in Melaka, PPR Melana Indah in Johor, and PPR Kota Baru in Kelantan.
Zuraida says the recycling rate across the country has gone up by 3.6% from 21% in 2017 to 24.6% last year, as validated by the National Committee on Recycling.
But with a year to go before 2020, this is still below the 30% recycling rate that the government hopes to achieve by then via its Reduce, Reuse and Recycle policy.
The Star had previously reported Zuraida as saying that last year, four solid waste disposal sites in Kedah, Kelantan, Negri Sembilan and Terengganu ceased operations following the end of their lifespans.
Another 150 such sites nationwide are still operating, with 74 of them expected to reach the end of their lifespans by 2020.
It looks like ordinary Malaysians are taking up the challenge to stop littering and to recycle, reuse and even reduce their waste not a moment too soon.