Aiming for trash-free hiking trails in Malaysia

Cheok (sixth from right) and Leng (fifth from left) with PHC staff members and hiking group captains promoting the use of MAS Tags outside the PHC office.

Popular hiking trails can look dirty and messy, and it is not because of litterbugs per se.

Some hikers and trail runners observe a practise of marking their trails.

Some carry a can of spray paint and mark tree trunks and boulders. Others use knives to score their hiking groups’ symbols onto tree trunks.

Many more practise marking the trails for their groups to follow by leaving pieces of paper behind. Some even staple the paper on leaves or tree trunks.

When too many people use spray paint to mark trails, the result is a mess.When too many people use spray paint to mark trails, the result is a mess.

Senggaran SB of Penang Sports Club’s Hash section explained that marking trails with paper was the practice of “hashers” or Hash House Harriers, which are non-competitive running clubs.

“The practice dates back to 1938. Hash leaders scatter them on the ground for others to follow.

“A typical hash run uses about 500 pieces of 10cm by 10cm paper, the equivalent to 17 pieces of A4-size office paper. Penang boasts the highest concentration of hash clubs in Malaysia, with over 25 registered clubs and many more unregistered ones.

Hash leaders sometimes staple paper markers on leaves.Hash leaders sometimes staple paper markers on leaves.

“With so many hash runs by the groups every day of the week, the amount of trail litter is mind-boggling,” said Senggaran.

Paper is biodegradable but it will still take at least two months to decompose. Good quality printer paper, treated with bleach and other chemicals that repel termites and silverfish, take many more months to break down.

With the litter along some of Penang’s hiking trails getting worse in recent years, the Hikers Roundtable has set up a trail-marking system called MAS-Tags (MAS stands for Multi-Agency Standardised).

A tree alongside a trail in Penang scored with numerous symbols of hiking groups.A tree alongside a trail in Penang scored with numerous symbols of hiking groups.

Founded by retired engineer Tony Leng, 58, and outdoor enthusiasts including Jungle Sim in 2019, Hikers Roundtable is an alliance of hikers, trail runners, mountain bikers, hash runners and others in the outdoor community.

“There are two types of tags: MAS- Tag ReUse is for short-term events like hash runs and MAS-Tag Denai is for permanent placement.

“We hope more hashers and hiking groups will use MAS-Tags for a more environmentally-friendly approach,” said Leng.

Both tags are encased in plastic for protection from water. MAS-Tags ReUse are re-collected by the hash runs’ sweeper teams.

MAS-Tag Denai are permanent trail markers, providing useful information such as trail distance, difficulty level, locations of rain shelters, a trail careline (011-5557 7167) with a WhatsApp QR code for hikers to contact Hikers Roundtable for assistance or to report trail incidents. Trail users who wish to join Hikers Roundtable may also use this number.

A pile of unused paper markers dumped along a trail on Penang Hill.A pile of unused paper markers dumped along a trail on Penang Hill.

The inaugural large-scale use of the MAS-Tags occurred during the Penang Madani Hike on Jan 1, and the trail audit team ascertained that the 400-plus participants left no rubbish or tree graffiti behind.

But putting the permanent trail markers has not been a walk in the park.

Leng lamented the fact that on a 1km trail from the Penang Botanic Gardens to Station 46, 90% of the MAS-Tags Denai were pilfered within weeks.

“We urge trail users to leave the tags alone as it took us a lot of effort to make and install them,” he said.

For example, he said a trail-maker team from Hikers Roundtable went on a tough four-day hike of over 170km from Dec 3 last year, from Bandar Baru Ayer Itam to Batu Maung, to install 76 MAS-Tags to mark hilltops and points of interest including the “sky mirror” spot at Pantai Esen.Leng emphasised that Hikers Roundtable was blessed with the strong cooperation of many individuals, outdoor groups and government agencies, including the Penang Forestry Department, Penang Hill Corporation, Penang Botanic Gardens and Penang Island City Council.

“CIMB Islamic Bank and The Habitat Foundation also became key partners after seeing the impact of our statewide programmes,” he added.

Leng revealed that later this year, they will launch the inaugural Sea to Summit - National Hiking Event 2024, in which hiking groups from all over Malaysia will converge in Penang to hike on a MAS-Tag Trail, following a conference on Sustainability-in-Recreation.

Penang Hill Corporation (PHC) general manager Datuk Cheok Lay Leng praised Hikers Roundtable for their dedication in raising public awareness about maintaining cleanliness and safety on the trails.

“Through our Trash-Free Hill programme, volunteers collected 600kg of rubbish from various trails on Penang Hill in 2022, and last year, they collected 460kg. So raising public awareness to keep our trails trash-free is a must,” said Cheok.

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StarExtra , outdoors , hiking


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