Fixing a broken system


An unregulated dumpsite in Pulau Indah in Port Klang, Selangor. — Photo courtesy of Greenpeace Malaysia

An unregulated dumpsite in Pulau Indah in Port Klang, Selangor. — Photo courtesy of Greenpeace Malaysia

TAKE responsibility for your own waste – that is the message Greenpeace Malaysia has for developed nations that have been dumping their plastic waste on Malaysia and other third world countries.

Campaigner for the local arm of the global independent environmental protection group, Heng Kiah Chun, said it is time for nations, corporations and the public to be responsible and deal with unregulated plastic waste in their own countries in an ethical manner.

Transferring waste to another country for disposal purposes and the use of plastic packaging waste from single-use fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) has to reduce drastically, said Heng.

He addressed this issue at the ‘Sampah Menyampah’ environment talk held at The School, Jaya One in Petaling Jaya.

“Malaysia and any other country should not be used as a dumping ground.

Open burning of plastic waste in Pulau Indah in Port Klang. This photo was taken by Greenpeace Malaysia between October and November 2018.

“Developed countries should stop shifting their responsibility to other countries over their own plastic waste problem.

“Every country must have policies to reduce single-use plastics which could nip the problem at its source,” said Heng.

He pointed out globally, only 9% of plastic waste ever produced has been recycled, while 12% has been incinerated, and the remaining 79% ends up in the landfill or the natural environ­ment.

This, he said, is a broken system globally.

“It is clear that recycling alone cannot fix our plastic pollution problem fast enough,” said Heng, who shared his findings of foreign plastic waste dumping in the country last year.

At least 45 sites with plastic waste were identified by Greenpeace and Kuala Langat Environment Protection Association, with rubbish detected from 19 countries such as the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia and New Zealand.

Constant monitoring

Since the discovery, the Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Ministry (MESTECC) and the respective state governments have undertaken measures to control the problem.

Last October, the Government imposed a ban on the import of plastic scrap to prevent the country from becoming a dumping ground for waste.

Heng says every country must have policies to reduce single use plastics which could nip the problem at its source.

The plastic recycling and manufacturing industry in Malaysia is a lucrative business, worth about RM30bil locally, while globally, it is worth RM600bil.

This proves to be a draw for many illegal plastic recycling companies to set up shop or reopen operations that have been shut down.

This is why Heng said there is a need for these areas to be constantly monitored for fear of the return of unlicensed plastic recycling operations.

“Our field investigations suggest that unregulated processing of imported plastic waste in the country continues despite the announcement from the government of the import ban,” he said.

“At Jenjarom, the dumping of plastic waste has reduced to just 5% of the original plastic waste. Most of the waste has been cleared since the issue was given media attention.

“From our insights, the waste in Teluk Gong, Port Klang is still there.

Theng says the issue goes beyond the economic aspect; it concerns human ethics and cross-border pollution.

“Sadly, we have now received complaints from local communities in Kedah, Segamat (Johor) and Ipoh (Perak) that there are international plastic waste stored in industrial areas and abandoned buildings there.

“The problem cannot shift to other communities or even countries. We need to get to the root of it,” Heng added.

Based on Greenpeace Malaysia’s finding, most of the unregulated imported plastic waste was of FMCG items.

Among the illegally dumped plastic items that were found at Pulau Indah, Port Klang, for instance, were items such as plastic cups from a US coffee chain.

In Jenjarom, the group found fast food packing from Europe with wordings in four languages – Italian, German, French and English.

Soft drink packages from Spain, Portugal were found at Telok Panglima Garang, Kuala Langat and plastic snack packaging from Australia and New Zealand was found in Tasek, Ipoh.

The findings were gathered through in-depth research done by Greenpeace Malaysia in areas such as Klang and Jenjarom last year.

The findings were later published in a book called The Recycling Myth by Greenpeace Malaysia.

“We have to address this plastic waste issue together. The problem cannot shift elsewhere because the environmental impact affects everyone.

“Ultimately the world just has to invest in better alternatives.

“I am in touch with the plastic recycling association in the country and they say there are alternatives to plastic such as items made of starch and seaweed.

“The cost is the problem. They want some government support and it could be done through tax exemption. This will allow them to invest in new green industries.

“Governments and companies must set clear reduction targets for non-essential plastics and invest in creating alternatives,” he said.

Disgraceful waste trail

Waste management specialist Dr Theng Lee Chong, when contacted by StarMetro, said the first world countries that brag about their high recycling rates should reflect on the disgraceful waste trail shifted to other parts of the world to deal with.

“The responsibility of recycling lies on the shoulders of both the exporting and importing countries. The trading of plastic waste in the world is not well controlled and is mostly business driven.

“The issue goes beyond the economic aspect – it concerns human ethics and cross-border pollution,” he said.

People from the developed nations must be aware that their waste is affecting citizens from other countries, said Theng who shared statistics of the recycling rates of the developed countries.

Theng said based on estimation through various reports, Germany recycles 66% of its waste, Austria (56%), Belgium (53%), Switzerland (53%), Netherlands (52%), Australia (51%), Sweden (48%), Denmark (46%), Italy (44%), UK (43.5%), Norway (43%), Poland (42.9%), Finland (41%), France (40%) and the US (35%).

Greenpeace Malaysia campaigner Heng at the ‘Sampah Menyampah’ environment talk.

“I am starting to doubt these high recycling rate statistics. Is the waste truly recycled or is it just a perception?” he questioned.

Globally, the focus should on the Extended Producers Responsibility (ERP) whereby the producer of goods is responsible for the end of life of the product through recycling or another form of waste treatment.

Theng said EPR and product Design For the Environment (DFE) should be the direction product manufacturers are geared towards.

“A product should be designed in a way that when it becomes waste, it can still be easily managed as compared to dumping it in the landfill or to be incinerated.

“There is always the debate that these eco-friendly products are expensive but with the right attitude and support, it can be achieved.

“The cost of ocean pollution and pollution in the developing countries would deprive our future generations in numerous ways,” he said.

Theng also shared his worries that the issue of unregulated plastic waste recycling is now affecting other parts of the country.

He referred to an incident earlier this month where an illegal plastic waste company caught fire in Sungai Petani, Kedah.

“Parents from a nearby school there sent me some photos of the fire and the children were wearing masks in their school.

“Imagine the harmful dioxin gas that would be released into the air and inhaled by the public,” he said, adding that authorities must carry out measures to weed out these illegal plastic waste factories before they do more damage.