Waste reduction is the way to go

  • Letters
  • Sunday, 12 Feb 2006

Malaysians are generating so much rubbish now that waste reduction and recycling is no longer an option but a necessity, writes S. CHANDRAVATHANI. 

LAST year, about 7.34 million tonnes of solid wastes were generated in Malaysia, enough to fill 42 buildings the size of the Petronas Twin Towers. 

And our national domestic recycling rate is just hovering at around a mere five per cent. 

Thus, Malaysians are generating waste products at a rather alarming rate – much faster than the natural degradation process – and they are using up resources at a speed exceeding the rate these materials are being replaced. 

As such, waste reduction and recycling is no longer an option but a necessity in efforts to protect both the environment and people’s quality of life. 

Alam Flora Sdn Bhd Chief Executive Officer Mohamed Siraj Abdul Razack said the focus should be on the generation of wastes rather than their disposal, as the current Malaysian lifestyle of “throwaway and over-consumerist” culture does not help to improve the situation. 

“Local authorities spend up to 60% of their annual budget on waste management, which costs Malaysia between RM110 and RM130 to collect and dispose one tonne of garbage,” he told Bernama. 

That adds up to RM1.98mil to RM2.34mil per day, or RM854mil per year at the current generation of 18,000 tonnes of solid wastes per day. 

“More than 30% of our garbage is recyclable, and these materials can be prevented from ending up in the landfills and incinerators,” said Mohamed Siraj. 

Statistics show only three to five per cent of our solid waste is being recycled while the rest end up in drains, abandoned properties and landfills, he added. 

He said educating people on waste disposal and recycling is rather difficult “because most of them are not comfortable or trained in doing so”. 

“The best approach to manage garbage disposal is to avoid creating wastes in the first place ... followed by education while enforcement is also a good start,” he said. 

Mohamed Siraj believes new methods and technologies are needed to reduce waste-generation because many cities around the world are beginning to develop and implement sustainable projects. 

This includes strategies for reducing waste, for example by using wastes as raw materials for building homes, generating energy or fertilizers, he said. 

“Although land in Malaysia is seemingly abundant, taking more and more land to be used as landfills is simply not a sustainable solution to this growing problem. 

“Our people can opt for sustainable waste management but this will be a more difficult goal because it involves changing the resources used, consumption patterns and waste treatment methods,” he explained. 

An effective waste management programme can be found in Copenhagen, Denmark, which has developed a comprehensive programme for managing urban wastes, said Mohamed Siraj. 

Fifty-eight per cent of the city’s household, commercial and industrial wastes is to be recycled, 24% incinerated and 18% deposited in a landfill. 

To increase the impact of the waste management system, the Copenhagen City Council adopted new regulations in 1991, requiring garbage producers to separate all wastes at the source of generation. 

Today, more than 50% of the city’s commercial, industrial, and demolition wastes are recycled. 

Furthermore, about 50,000 tonnes of combustible wastes, previously deposited in landfills, are now incinerated in plants that convert waste energy. 

Mohamed Siraj said recycling is very worthwhile as it saves money for Malaysia. As there are insufficient recyclables in the local market, industry players turn to importing these materials from other people’s refuse in foreign countries. 

“A large company could be spending up to RM50mil a year to import junk and other recyclable discards from foreign countries for Malaysian use, and this money could be well spent in Malaysia if we recycle more. 

“Please drop by at any of Alam Flora’s 37 recycling centres to play your part in reducing the country's foreign exchange in buying other people’s rubbish. We have 600 collection centres set up by non-governmental organisations (NGOs),” he said. 

Mohamed Siraj said everybody shops but not all realise how environmentally important it is to shop wisely and learn to precycle (source reduction). 

“With careful precycling, each of us makes the vital connection between today’s consumerism and tomorrow’s environment. Small changes in everyday behaviour can have positive consequences for generations to come,” he stressed. 

“Waste is not a waste until it is wasted,” said Consumers' Association of Penang (CAP) research officer S. Mageswari. 

Stressing that garbage separation at source is very important, she said consumers must make the right choice when making purchases, and by reducing overall consumption, reducing packaging, switching to refillable bottles and not using plastic bags. 

CAP and Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM), members of the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA), advocate Zero Waste, among others, to get households and businesses to segregate discards at source and composting organic material, and developing collection programmes to pick up clean sorted out recyclables like glass, metal, paper and plastics. –Bernama 

Related Stories:How to separate and dispose garbage 

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