Hidden plastic deep in the ground

Cause for concern: Malaysians are drowning in plastic waste and consuming more microplastics than people in 109 other nations. — AZLINA ABDULLAH/ The Star

KLANG: Despite major operations to close down illegal dump sites in Kuala Langat, local activists are still finding places with plastic waste buried deep in the soil throughout the district.

These organisations have also found new dump sites scattered throughout the area, with one containing plastic from ewaste.

Kuala Langat Environmental Action Group’s Pua Lay Peng said despite state authorities removing plastic waste for proper disposal, there was quite a large amount left beneath the ground surface.“When the leftover plastic waste was eventually uncovered, it was buried under piles of soil brought to the locations.

“The ‘burial site’ is now overgrown with grass, but if you dig deep enough, you can still find plastic waste easily,” said Pua, who has for years been fighting to prevent irresponsible quarters from illegally importing and disposing of plastic and cardboard waste in the Jenjarom and Telok Panglima areas, both of which are in the Kuala Langat district.

She said her team has not taken a break even though all the illegal dump sites have been shut down by state authorities, with members of her organisation actively on the lookout for new sites and “recycling” outlets that can pop up without any notice.

“Two days ago, we managed to locate an illegal site in Telok Mengkuang, which is also in Kuala Langat, and we found plastic waste from two European countries,” said Pua.

She said the waste composition has also changed from the mostly plastic packaging and bottles in the past to more plastics from ewaste that was illegally imported.“There is so much ewaste being brought into the country currently,” she said.

Besides general contamination, indiscriminate dumping of plastic waste also generates microplastics.

Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) senior lecturer Dr Shamila Azman, who has been extensively researching microplastics, said plastic waste in dumping grounds can break into smaller pieces due to exposure to sunlight, weathering and physical degradation over time.

“Buried plastics can leach out chemicals from additives used in the manufacturing process, and these can leach into the soil and groundwater,” said Shamila, who is with UTM’s Civil Engineering Faculty.

However, she added that the degradation of plastics into microplastics is slower if the waste is buried.

Consumers Association of Penang’s Mageswari Sangaralingam said it was almost impossible to avoid exposure to microplastics currently as they can form unintentionally due to wear and tear of synthetic materials such as plastic items and tyres, among others.

Mageswari said with the increase in plastic production, the volume of microplastics in the environment is also steadily increasing and causing serious pollution globally.

UTM’s Shamila said members of the public can do their part to prevent extensive microplastics’ contamination by opting for reusable items instead of single-use plastic.

“It is also advisable to choose natural fibres for clothing as synthetic fabric like polyester can shed microfibres during washing,” she said, adding that people should install microfibre filters when using washing machines.Shamila said in addition to filtering drinking water, people must also avoid using personal care products such as exfoliating scrubs and toothpaste that contains microbeads.

“The public must also ensure they dispose of their waste properly to prevent plastics from entering water bodies and the environment,” she added.

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