YOUR recent reports, “Warning for outdoor holiday-seekers” and “Doc: Malaysians need to be more civic-conscious” (The Star, March 16), highlight the challenges faced in keeping national parks and other outdoor recreational areas clean and free of litter.
Littering is not just a matter of aesthetics, but one with serious environmental, economic and health implications, especially in light of the increase in leptospirosis and dengue cases.
As a volunteer with various environmental organisations, I have coordinated and participated in public clean-up programmes for over 20 years. From my experience, Malaysians are fully aware of the health and environmental problems associated with littering, yet are not motivated to keep recreational and public areas clean, as the prevailing attitude seems to be that “someone else is paid to clean up after me” and “I don’t live here so it’s not my problem”.
Education and awareness campaigns will have little, if any, positive impact on an informed but apathetic population.
The solution to the problem is not to have an ever-increasing budget for awareness programmes and clean-up campaigns, it lies in finding ways to deter littering and to create incentives for waste reduction.
My recommendations include:
> Since most recreational areas collect entrance fees, efforts should be made to collect and remove litter on a regular basis and to assign staff to monitor the area and fine visitors on the spot for littering;
> Impose conditions on the sale of refreshments and other items inside or directly outside recreational areas, since stalls and shops are responsible for a large percentage of litter in picnic sites and parks. Local councils and park managements should have regulations banning or restricting the use of plastic bags and foam packaging, and make the shopkeepers responsible for the cleanliness of their surroundings;
> Management bodies of recreational areas must have a system to charge a deposit on all disposable packaging brought into parks. For this to be effective, all concession and snack stalls must be outside the park and all unofficial entrances to parks will have to be closed off.
Park attendants can check the belongings of all visitors and charge a deposit for each disposable item brought into the park and refund the deposit when all items are brought back for disposal upon exit.
Currently, many recreational areas charge visitors an entrance fee, which is ostensibly used for maintenance and cleaning services.
It would not cost the local councils or management bodies more to just assign the fee collector the duty of checking bags for disposable packaging and imposing a deposit on them;
> There should be a national policy to impose a higher fee on plastic bags and styrofoam packaging. This will, in turn, encourage manufacturers, retailers and consumers to look for alternatives to disposable and non-biodegradable packaging; and
> There should be a nationwide deposit system for recyclable items such as aluminium cans, PET bottles and beverage cartons. The cost of purchasing packaged food and beverages in Malaysia does not reflect the cost of disposing of them and managing the waste generated.
If a 20-sen deposit were to be charged for each unit of recyclable packaging, which will be claimable at designated recycling centres, it would create an incentive for people to collect and redeem their recyclables for cash, and also create economic opportunities for scrap material collectors. This would also translate into less litter in public and outdoor spaces.
Our lack of pride in our outdoor spaces and lack of concern for the environment reflect how we view ourselves as a society and nation.
Measures to inhibit littering must include both penalties as well as motivation to reduce waste and to encourage the public to take pride in their surroundings.
We need to take ownership of our community and public spaces by taking responsibility for them.
WONG EE LYNN
Green Living Special Interest Group,
Malaysian Nature Society
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