Right attitude can save our rivers


Participants at a River of Life programme collecting rubbish accumulated at a log boom across Sungai Gombak in Sentul, Kuala Lumpur.

TODAY is World Rivers Day. Most of us probably aren’t even aware of this. A celebration of the world’s waterways, it highlights the many values of rivers, strives to increase public awareness and encourage good stewardship of rivers.

Then again, how many actually remember the last time you spent a pleasant time near or in a river, especially if you live in Kuala Lumpur? My last trip to a river was not too long ago, and it wasn’t a pleasant one.

In the course of attending a River of Life public outreach programme in Sentul, I had an up-close-and-personal look at the kind of rubbish that ends up in our rivers.

In this instance, Sungai Gombak was choked with plastic bottles, polystyrene containers and aluminium cans.

It is amazing to know that everything - from furniture like sofas and refrigerators, to motorcycle and car frames - all these and more, are dumped into our rivers every day.

The river water was a murky moss-green and there was a stench coming from the area where the water had stagnated because of the rubbish.

While most of us stuck close to the river banks, on the opposite side, two men who seemed indifferent to the scene and stench, were seen fishing.

It seemed to be a successful venture, as they managed to catch several tilapia fish in their outing.

While I admired their nonchalant attitude, I couldn’t help thinking of the repercussions of them eating the fish from these contaminated waters.

On our side, a river-cleaning activity was taking place, and it seemed to be a never-ending chore.

It took Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) workers only an hour to scoop up more than 100kg of rubbish from the river. I can only imagine the amount of rubbish they have to clean up along the entire stretch of Sungai Gombak and Sungai Klang. We are taking steps to reduce the type and amount of rubbish that ends up in these rivers, but it is a long process.

One of the government initiatives seems to be bearing fruit, if the type of rubbish collected is any indication to go by.

There has been a significant reduction in polystyrene thrash after the ban on polystyrene in Selangor and the Federal Territories came into effect in Jan 1 last year.  

At the event, DBKL Civil Engineering and Urban Transportation Department engineer Mohd Hafiz Abdullah said there was a 50% decrease in polystyrene-based thrash in the city’s rivers since the ban.

The implementation may have had a slow start with plenty of hiccups along the way, but kudos to the public and business owners for going along with the change.

Following this trend, by right we should be seeing a similar reduction in plastic-based trash, given the enforcement of the compulsory use of biodegradable and compostable plastics bags and food containers in the Federal Territories on Sept 1 last year. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case.

Under the ruling, plastic bags can only be dispensed for things such as raw meat, plants and products like seafood. Otherwise, consumers are supposed to pay 20 sen for each plastic bag they require from the stores.

According to the Drainage and Irrigation Department (DID), between 10 and 13 tonnes of rubbish is collected each month from its 10 log booms and 396 gross pollutant traps (GPT) along Sungai Klang and Sungai Gombak.

DBKL collects some 500kg to 700kg of rubbish a day at its 19 log booms – most of it comprise recyclable items.

Once again, it all boils down to having the right attitude.

The responsibility lies with the people. Kuala Lumpur residents must adopt a new culture for waste management and not dump rubbish into the rivers.

There are good people out there trying to change attitudes, like EcoKnights and the Global Environment Centre, but this needs more than a gentle nudge in the right direction.

Reducing the amount of trash in our rivers requires an awareness that it is everyone’s responsibility to manage our rivers.

It can be as simple as picking up after yourself to taking it a step further and cleaning up trash around you.


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