Producers of single-use packaging should share in environmental responsibility, says environmentalist

Trash collected during the first three days of experiment.

KOTA KINABALU: Producers of mineral water and single-use packaging, especially polystyrene food boxes, should share the responsibility of clearing up pollution that they have potentially created, says environmentalist Anton Ngui.

He said these producers should be aware that in their pursuit of commercial profit, they have to share some of the responsibility for the pollution now created.

This comes following the discovery of Sabah’s worrying water quality through findings recorded from a year-long study.

Future Alam Borneo (FAB) had recently launched one of its floating litter traps at Kg Berhala, as part of its Sandakan Plastic Solutions Project to document the types of rubbish being thrown into the sea.

“We also studied the communal waste situation at Kg Sim-Sim in Sandakan via independent laboratories to better understand the impact of invisible wastes, ” Ngui said here Tuesday (Oct 20).

He said the year-long environmental effort, supported by community partners Yayasan Hasanah and Dutch NGO Clear Rivers, looks at the problems in-depth and offers community-scale solutions.

He said this is done with a view to educate the public on the larger health and environmental risks of this chronic rubbish-dumping habit among Sandakan communities.

“The preliminary results from these recent activities present a very worrying picture of the pollution situation along Sandakan’s coastline, ” Ngui said.

He said collection from the first week of the litter trap revealed huge amounts of polystyrene food packaging boxes and mineral water bottles, both of which are difficult to recycle or reuse.

He said water and sediment tests that were carried out at Kg Sim Sim showed deposits that were harmful to humans and the marine ecosystem.

Ngui said by using the Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy (FT-IR), plastic polymers of various types were found in the samples.

“The sources of these microplastics were likely ropes, nets, tyres, plastic bags, bottles, coatings from wires and other household appliances; items that can often be seen strewn about the village, ” he said.

He said Coliform bacteria tests were also part of the study, of which the results revealed fecal coliform and E.coli bacteria, especially within the vicinity of the houses were present.

“Fecal coliform and E.coli counts were more than 200 times and nine times, respectively, the recommended levels set by the Malaysian Marine Water Quality Standards (MMWQS), ” Ngui said.

He said this could be attributed to the fact that Sabah’s water villages do not have any sewerage systems installed and household waste water is discharged directly into the sea.

“The consequent impact of these waste streams to the natural environment, and the marine life that communities rely on, cannot be underestimated, ” he said.

Ngui said this is more so during the Covid-19 pandemic, when people have been spending more time at home and purchasing more consumable goods using single use packaging.

Though the study was just a general analysis, the evidence pointed to a latent but growing health problem, he said.

“We hope plastic product manufacturers and producers will start to take some responsibility towards the pollution that they have contributed to, in a way, ” he stressed.

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