To­wards a clean en­vi­ron­ment

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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.

Trash2Gather

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.

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