Towards a clean environment
IT dawned brightly on a Saturday in May, promising a good clear day ahead – ideal conditions for a clean-up at the coastal village of Kampung Bako, not far from Kuching.
On that day, volunteers from Kuching and farther abroad as well the villagers themselves joined Kuching North City Commission (DBKU) in clearing rubbish from the lanes of the kampung and its surrounding areas.
About 50 volunteers from the Malaysian Nature Society Kuching Branch (MNSKB) and others from the Sarawak Forestry Corporation (SFC), including deputy director Hasbi Suhaili, along with 50 Kampung Bako folk, took part in the exercise.
Visitors normally head straight to Bako National Park, a 30minute boat trip, without visiting this potentially attractive village, nestled along the edges of the smaller channels of the Bako River as it empties into the South China Sea.
Volunteers were split into teams, each with a village leader, and then headed off, armed with gloves, tongs and multiple bags, to clear the rubbish. Most areas around homes had been cleaned so the teams set to work along the lanes.
In all honesty, picking up other people’s rubbish is not fun but the team spirit among diverse individuals and the common goal, as well as the desire to have a cleaner Sarawak kept the ‘cleaners’ going.
After the gigantic biodegradable rubbish bags were filled, they were left at wharfs along the river to be collected.
DBKU had, in the past, organised clean-ups of many coastal villages, including Bako and MNSKB participated in one – Trash2Gather – under its fiveyear initiative.
MNSKB committee member and beach cleaner Alcila Abby is the force behind Trash2Gather.
It began when Alcila, along with a few friends, decided to clean the beaches around Lundu.
She started three years ago in 2013, and each time she went out with her team of volunteers, she got about 100kg of rubbish, mostly plastic, off the beaches.
“I believe we need to start some place and cleaning beaches was a good idea. We didn’t have any support and I bought gloves and bags with my pocket money,” she said.
Cleaning beaches and other coastal areas is an endless task because rubbish – plastic bottles and bags, Styrofoam packaging, and sofas – dumped into the river come and go with the tides. Visitors often leave their rubbish behind.
Litter thrown along the streets is likely to end up in drains, which then empty into the rivers, then into the sea and this adds to the problem of environmental pollution.
Dumping refuse into the waterways, either intentionally or unintentionally, comes with a heavy price. Horrific pictures of sea animals starving to death is one example.
Others include gigantic leatherback turtles, ancient riders of the waves, mistaking drifting plastic bags for jellyfish, their favourite food, and choking to death trying to swallow them, and albatross chicks succumbing for mistaking bits of plastic for edible sea life. Plastic threats Plastic also presents less easily understood threats to people, animals and the environment. Floating plastic, mostly small, becomes concentrated in ‘convergence zones’ or ocean gyres found in all oceans – Pacific, Atlantic, Indian and from the Arctic to the Antarctic – and covers wide areas.
Scientists have found evidence that micro-plastics are being incorporated into the food chain and that it remains in the guts of fish. Not only does the consumption of plastic accumulate in the food chain, it can lead to a sickly population and reduces the quantity of activity.
Although plastic is considered to be an unchangeable or inert material, additives used to adjust the properties of the matter, are not. These chemicals have been linked to hormonal imbalance, negatively affecting the function of organs such as the kidneys and liver. In addition, some have been linked to cancers.
Other costs associated with debris include loss of income to the tourism industry, along with marine-related industries such as fishing and shipping. Most countries, including Malaysia, have in place the legal framework and systems to deal with refuse and its collection. Disposal of rubbish The Trash2Gather initiative also aims to increase understanding of the legal framework and how rubbish is disposed of. Two talks had been held on the subject—the first by National Resources and Environment Board (NREB) controller Peter Sawal on April 19, and the second by Trienekens (Sarawak) Sdn Bhd senior executive (business development, scheduled waste) Timothy Marimuthu and corporate and social responsibility department manager Janet Balong on May 5.
Peter shocked the full house with these facts: 2,187 metric tons of waste are produced each day; 1.3 billion metric tons of waste are producedeach year: 40 per cent of the waste is organic and could likely be composted; 16 per cent and 19 per cent of rubbish are plastic and paper respectively; On average, each person in Kuching produces 1.2kg of rubbish each day; More waste than those in the rural areas.
He noted that although NREB deals with the legal framework, it does not collect or dispose of the rubbish. Landfill sites Trienekens (Sarawak) Sdn Bhd currently collects municipal waste from residential and commercial areas in DBKU, Kuching South City Council (MBKS), Padawan Municipal Council (MPP) and some areas under the Serian District Council.
The waste is disposed of at the Kuching Integrated Waste Management Park (KIWMP) at the Level 4 category sanitary landfill site in Sarawak. The lowest, Level 1, sanitary landfill system is where waste is dumped in the landfill in a controlled way.
A Level 2 landfill site is surrounded by a bank and the refuse is covered each day with soil.
Level 3 sanitary landfill is an improved version of Level 2 as it has leachate (liquid from the decomposing waste in the landfill) collection and recirculation systems.
Level 4 sanitary landfill like the one at the KIWMP, is equipped with leachate treatment facilities. The KIWMP sanitary landfill is also equipped with methane gas collection system, which Trienekens harvests as a renewable source of energy for its facility.
Timothy described the KIWMP systems as designed to prevent contamination of the environment by the waste management and disposal systems.
He shared that the sanitary landfill cells are equipped with multilayered liners to prevent leachate from contaminating the precious underground water resources.
The leachate wastewater is then collected and treated at the leachate treatment plant which is monitored 24 hours a day. This process follows all the environmental laws and regulations. The water is discharged once it is safe to do so.
Trienekens, currently, does not recycle rubbish on site but it does encourage the 5Rs – reduce, reuse, recycle, repair and refuse – through awareness activities with schools and other organisations. It runs recycling programmes with several schools in Kuching. Absence of law Sarawak, unlike many states in Malaysia, including Kuala Lumpur, and other places around the world, has not yet implemented laws that require all waste to be separated at source, where it is produced.
This type of law, once implemented, would allow recyclable materials such as paper, plastic and tins, to be collected at the door.
There are many ways we can make recycling a part of our lives but we need to be proactive and shoulder the responsibility. Who can forget the van drivers calling out “old newspapers” in Malay and Mandarin while making their rounds in residential areas.
Some shopping centres have labelled bins for plastics, glass and paper. So it’s possible to use these. The Kuching councils – DBKU, MBKS and MPP – have programmes in place to enable recycling in their neighbourhoods.
However, one overwhelmingly effective way to reduce the amount of plastic waste is to say no to plastic. Use shopping bags and stick small items you purchase into your backpack or handbag. Bring your own container for takeaway food and carry chopsticks or forks and spoons to avoid the waste of disposable utensils.
It would be useful to now consider the amount of rubbish produced in households each week and how it is gotten rid of. Do you put out bins that are overflowing, or do you put out partially empty bins?
How can we reduce the amount of waste? Can we take recyclable materials to the collection sites, sell old newspaper, repair or reuse items? Can vegetable matter and food waste be decomposed and used as fertiliser in your garden?
Decide on one action you could take to reduce the amount of rubbish and then act on it.
It is easy to believe one person has no effect on the environment. But there are over seven billion people on the Earth. If we each take one small step, wouldn’t the positive effect on the environment be tremendous? We are part of the solution.
Rubbish in bags, boxes and bins wait to be collected and disposed of.
Volunteers clear rubbish at Kampung Bako.