Experts believe that residents in cities like Petaling Jaya are well aware of the need to separate their waste, but to make it a sustainable practice, there are other factors that need to be in place.
Good leadership at neighbourhood level, recognition and consistent separated waste collection mechanism are among them. Single stream waste separation is another pull factor.
Waste management experts said the authorities should also review the effectiveness of recycling bins placed in neighbourhoods.
Currently, some residents opt to sell their recyclable items for cash while others prefer to donate those items to non-profit organisations.
Sadly, the majority are still not attuned to the idea of waste separation.
One question regularly asked by those who surrender their recyclables to local council-appointed waste collectors is how the profits generated from the sale of the separated waste will benefit them.
Unlike the Federal Territories and several other states in the country, it is not compulsory to separate waste in Petaling Jaya or in any parts of Selangor. But it is in the pipeline.
In the meantime, there are pilot projects being carried out by Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ) since last year in selected neighbourhoods. The response was underwhelming.
However, one neighbourhood stands out as a beacon of hope and it has expanded the waste separation project involving just 20 residential properties in April to 200 houses now.
The SS20 residents also roped in a cluster school in their neighbourhood, SMK Damansara Utama, to participate in their waste separation activity.
Every Friday morning, the separated waste from this neighbourhood is collected by MBPJ’s recycling lorries.
StarMetro gets some feedback and an update from MBPJ Solid Waste Management and Public Cleansing Department director Lee Lih Shyan, environment and waste management specialist Dr Theng Lee Chong, SS20 residents as well as SMK Damansara Utama principal Zulaika Rahman and students.
SS20 Damansara Utama Rukun Tetangga chairman Eileen Thong said residents were committed to the waste separation pilot project because it was executed systematically.
“We support all green initiatives. We stayed committed to this project because MBPJ assured us that the recyclable items would be collected each week in an organised manner. It has been good so far,” she said.
She said the waste separation idea was not foreign to most of her neighbours.
However, they were mostly discouraged to continue when they were not able to send it personally to the recycling centres regularly.
“When the recyclable things accumulate in the houses people feel discouraged,” she added.
The council provided each of the participating household a yellow plastic rack to store their recyclables.
Residents surrender all their single stream separated waste to the collectors on Friday morning.
“The single stream recyclable collection is another attractive factor. We do not need many containers to store the items and it cuts the hassle,” said Thong.
She opined that the large 3R recycling bins placed in residential was not a good idea because those bins were treated as rubbish bins
“I have seen waste such as old toilet bowls and other home renovation waste dumped into the 3R bins.
“The best practice is the single stream separation. After all, the recycling centres will still have to go through the waste and separate them once again,” she noted.
Thong said it was important to carry out pilot projects before any council makes waste separation a compulsory effort.
SS20 Damansara Utama Rukun Tetangga secretary Wong Yin Choo said she started recycling 20 years ago and it was a habit she picked up during her stay in the United States.
“We could drop these recyclables in schools. Children would also bring those items to school,” she said.
Wong said the focus should be to sustain the waste separation efforts and recycling efforts through communities.
The SS20 residents expanded the waste separation idea to the secondary school in the neighbourhood because they believed in instilling good practices in the young.
SMK Damansara Utama principal Zulaika Rahman said the recycling idea was a collaboration between the school and its Parent-Teacher Association.
The school launched a Greenathon campaign and recycling was among the highlights.
Zulaika said the student leaders would conduct competition to encourage better participation for the campaign.
They were also made to do research on the topic of environment and give public speeches at school assembly.
“Some of the SS20 residents have children studying in this school and they are keen to work with us,” she said, welcoming more such collaborations.
SMK Damansara Utama Leo Club president Cameron Chong said the club managed the recycling project.
“The students sell the items and the funds collected will be returned to the students through attractive competition rewards.
“The class which contributes the most will be rewarded. This is an attractive factor which keeps the project rolling.
“We believe once it becomes a habit, students will stick to it for the rest of their lives.
“We are the future generation and we have the responsibility to ensure our generation inherits good practices,” said Chong.
Environment and waste management specialist Dr Theng Lee Chong said people were aware of waste separation and some were already practising it.
“However, the public want to know what is in store for them if they give their recyclables to the council.
“I feel Petaling Jaya has a large pool of highly educated residents. I do not think they lack awareness in the aspect of waste separation. They just need to tune their minds towards doing it.
“They want to know how the council will return the gains from the sale of these recyclables to them. It will be easier if they are convinced about how the gains made from recycling will benefit them. Otherwise they will sell it, give it to non-profit organisations or not recycle at all,” he said.
MBPJ Solid Waste Management and Public Cleansing Department director Lee Lih Shyan said communities needed champions to make waste separation a success.
The council also understands that recognition is another important factor and MBPJ provides incentives such as assessment rebates as well as offers grants up to RM30,000 to exemplary neighbourhoods through its sustainable community competitions.
The council also offers logistic support in the case of SS20 to collect their recyclable waste.
Lee said the council welcomed communities to initiate their own waste separation projects.
“People need community heroes to spearhead green projects. Good leaders are able to keep their community together and focus on their final goal, which is to protect the environment for generations to come,” he said.
He also urge the public to be less driven by the economic factor of recycling.
“You cannot say you are not interested in recycling newspapers when there is a drop in the price of paper. We do not want this type of mentality. Recycling in the long run has to become our culture,” he reiterated.
Lee said the profit made from the sale of the recyclable items collected by the council was returned to the public through green activities.
“In the future, money from the sale of recyclables collected from residents can even be returned to them as rewards through environmental competitions and for their community garden initiatives,” he said.