Work­ing to­gether for a cleaner world

Malaysians still have a lot to learn about solid waste man­age­ment.

The Star Malaysia - - Focus - news­desk@thes­tar.com.my Roger Tan

FROM Oct 22 to Oct 24, an im­por­tant world event, which took place at Kuala Lumpur Con­ven­tion Cen­tre, al­most went un­no­ticed by the gen­eral pub­lic.

The event was the con­gre­ga­tion of the best in the waste man­age­ment in­dus­try at the World Congress of the In­ter­na­tional Solid Waste As­so­ci­a­tion (ISWA). Some 1700 over par­tic­i­pants from 64 coun­tries took part.

Four years ago, the Waste Man­age­ment As­so­ci­a­tion of Malaysia (WMAM), the na­tional mem­ber of the ISWA, led by its Chair­man, Ho De Leong, had gone to great lengths to bid suc­cess­fully for this most im­por­tant an­nual event of ISWA to be held here.

Re­gret­tably, when it came to the big day, the Hous­ing and Lo­cal Govern­ment Min­is­ter, Zu­raida Ka­marud­din was not able to of­fi­ci­ate it due to her par­lia­men­tary obli­ga­tions. She was rep­re­sented by her deputy, Datuk Raja Ka­marul Bahrin Shah Raja Ahmad. How­ever, the Sec­re­tary Gen­eral of the min­istry, Datuk Seri Mo­ham­mad Men­tek, was most sup­port­ive by mak­ing an ef­fort to be present at sev­eral ses­sions. The Sec­re­tary Gen­eral of the Wa­ter, Land and Nat­u­ral Re­sources Min­istry Datuk Dr Tan Yew Chong was equally sup­port­ive. And what is most grat­i­fy­ing to note is that 99% of the par­tic­i­pants who were sur­veyed said they were most sat­is­fied with our beau­ti­ful Malaysia be­ing the des­ti­na­tion for this year’s world congress.

But then again, what is most alarm­ing is Malaysians are gen­er­ally ig­no­rant about solid waste man­age­ment. Most will im­me­di­ately ask what is ac­tu­ally “solid waste”. In sim­ple terms, it is any un­wanted ma­te­rial or sub­stance which is re­quired to be dis­posed of, but does not in­clude sewage, haz­ardous and ra­dioac­tive wastes. The most com­mon types are house­hold and com­mer­cial solid wastes, that is, solid waste gen­er­ated from a house­hold or any com­mer­cial ac­tiv­ity.

Malaysians too have lit­tle knowl­edge about or re­gard for gen­er­a­tion, col­lec­tion, trans­porta­tion, re­cov­ery, treat­ment and dis­posal of solid waste. This ex­plains why our drains and rivers are al­ways clogged up by solid waste, and every day work­ers have to clear the lit­ter trapped in float­ing booms in­stalled in rivers through­out the coun­try in or­der to pre­vent and min­imise pol­lu­tion and flood.

The sit­u­a­tion is ex­ac­er­bated by us gen­er­at­ing more waste over the years. Three years ago, Malaysians gen­er­ated about 19,000 tonnes of solid waste daily (TPD). To­day, the fig­ure has reached two-fold, 38,000 TPD. Out of this amount, waste sepa­ra­tion and re­cy­cling rates only ac­count for 24%. The re­main­ing 76% goes to 160 land­fills, of which about 15 of them are san­i­tary land­fills. A san­i­tary land­fill, un­like dump­sites, is a prop­erly en­gi­neered land­fill where solid waste is safely iso­lated from the en­vi­ron­ment with lin­ing ma­te­ri­als and de­signs to pre­vent leak­age of leachate and con­tam­i­na­tion of ground­wa­ter and sur­round­ing soils as well as mak­ing it pos­si­ble for land­fill gas to be cap­tured and con­verted into a re­new­able en­ergy re­source. So, in de­vel­oped coun­tries, it is quite a com­mon sight for golf cour­ses and pub­lic parks to be built and land­scaped on san­i­tary land­fills that have been closed.

In fact, to my mind, there are three main rea­sons which gen­er­ally ex­plain Malaysians’ ap­a­thy and in­sou­ciance to­wards waste re­duc­tion and lit­ter­ing habits:

> lack of en­force­ment of the rel­e­vant laws which are not uni­form through­out the states in Malaysia;

> Malaysians do not di­rectly have to pay for treat­ment, trans­porta­tion and dis­posal of solid waste; and

> poor pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion. Cur­rently, the Fed­eral Par­lia­ment can leg­is­late on mat­ters re­lat­ing to man­age­ment of solid waste and pub­lic cleans­ing, only for states in Penin­su­lar Malaysia and Labuan. This was done in 2007 when Solid Waste and Pub­lic Cleans­ing Man­age­ment Act, 2007 (Act 672) was passed on the ground that san­i­ta­tion is a mat­ter within the con­cur­rent list un­der the ninth sched­ule to the Fed­eral Con­sti­tu­tion. Act 672 is ad­min­is­tered and en­forced by the Di­rec­tor Gen­eral of Solid Waste and Pub­lic Cleans­ing un­der the Min­istry of Hous­ing and Lo­cal Govern­ment (JPSPN) and the statu­tory body of SWCorp which was es­tab­lished on June 1, 2008 un­der the Solid Waste and Pub­lic Cleans­ing Man­age­ment Cor­po­ra­tion Act, 2007 (Act 673). How­ever, Act 672 did not come into force un­til Septem­ber 1, 2011 and it is only in op­er­a­tion in Perlis, Kedah, Pa­hang, Ne­gri Sem­bi­lan, Malacca, Jo­hor, Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya.

Es­sen­tially, Act 672 con­fers ex­ec­u­tive author­ity on the fed­eral govern­ment over mat­ters re­lat­ing to man­age­ment of solid waste and pub­lic cleans­ing in the Penin­su­lar and Labuan. It also em­pow­ers the fed­eral govern­ment to en­ter into any agree­ment with any per­son au­tho­ris­ing such per­son to un­der­take, man­age, op­er­ate and carry out any solid waste man­age­ment ser­vices or pub­lic cleans­ing man­age­ment ser­vices. The fed­eral govern­ment did this with three cor­po­ra­tions which are cur­rently op­er­at­ing in those states which Act 672 has come into force, namely E-Idaman Sdn Bhd in Kedah and Perlis; Alama Flora Sdn Bhd in Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya and SWM En­vi­ron­ment Sdn Bhd in Jo­hor, Malacca and Ne­gri Sem­bi­lan. Th­ese three con­ces­sion com­pa­nies

are also li­censed un­der Act 672.

It is gen­er­ally ob­served that in those ar­eas op­er­ated by the three con­ces­sion com­pa­nies, the ser­vice level of per­for­mance in man­ag­ing solid waste and pub­lic cleans­ing is higher than those states which Act 672 is still not in force. For th­ese states, they are still gov­erned by the Lo­cal Govern­ment Act, 1976 (Act 171) and its reg­u­la­tions whereby man­age­ment ser­vices of solid waste and pub­lic cleans­ing are un­der­taken by the lo­cal au­thor­i­ties and their con­trac­tors.

This lack of uni­for­mity in our solid waste man­age­ment laws is un­healthy. Also, SWCorp has proven to be in­ef­fec­tive in en­forc­ing Act 672, es­pe­cially in re­la­tion to lit­ter­ing and waste sepa­ra­tion or seg­re­ga­tion by house­holds. It has also failed quite mis­er­ably to pro­mote pub­lic aware­ness on solid waste man­age­ment and pub­lic cleans­ing ser­vices. Of­ten, it over­laps with JPSPN and du­pli­cates the lat­ter’s du­ties.

Of course, the only time when a Malaysian fam­ily be­comes con­scious of the im­por­tance of waste col­lec­tion and dis­posal is when their house­hold waste is not col­lected for sev­eral days or a heap of un­col­lected garbage in the neigh­bour­hood has emit­ted an un­bear­able rot­ting smell or odour into their liv­ing rooms. One of the main rea­sons is that Malaysians are not di­rectly pay­ing a sep­a­rate charge for col­lect­ing and dis­pos­ing solid waste which they have gen­er­ated. We still have the mind­set that it is the re­spon­si­bil­ity of lo­cal au­thor­i­ties to do so by them just pay­ing lo­cal as­sess­ment. But lo­cal as­sess­ment is not just about pay­ing for col­lect­ing and dis­pos­ing garbage.

At ISWA 2018, we re­ally had noth­ing very much to shout about when del­e­gates af­ter del­e­gates es­pe­cially from the de­vel­oped world nar­rated their suc­cess­ful sto­ries in solid waste man­age­ment.

De­spite the govern­ment’s con­certed ef­forts in pro­mot­ing the 3R ap­proach – re­use, re­duce, and re­cy­cle – in or­der to min­imise the amount of solid waste for fi­nal dis­posal, it re­mains a Her­culean task to en­sure that ul­ti­mately solid waste is safely and en­vi­ron­men­tally dis­posed so as to at­tain a higher quality of life for Malaysians. Hence, we may have to look at other types of waste to en­ergy op­tions, in­clud­ing in­cin­er­a­tion, apart from re­ly­ing on tra­di­tional land­fill sys­tem. In the mean­time, we are al­ready fac­ing se­ri­ous threat to our en­vi­ron­ment from the use of plas­tics which has caused a huge in­crease of marine lit­ter over the years.

The cur­rent solid waste man­age­ment sys­tem which is based on lin­ear econ­omy prac­tices – ex­tract­ing, mak­ing use and dis­pos­ing solid waste - are no longer sustainable. We must work to­wards a circular econ­omy model in waste man­age­ment be­cause it is gen­er­ally ac­cepted that lin­ear prac­tices have caused a high per­cent­age of waste ex­trac­tion be­com­ing waste again each year. Malaysians must dis­pel the no­tion that waste is a prob­lem. It is not. Waste is a re­source. We can mon­e­tise waste or con­vert waste to wealth.

It fol­lows a holis­tic and co­her­ent ap­proach is needed in ex­tract­ing the max­i­mum value from a prod­uct’s life and then re­cover and re­gen­er­ate it by, for ex­am­ple, re-us­ing, re­cy­cling or re­man­u­fac­tur­ing it. This not only re­duces en­vi­ron­men­tal bur­den but also pro­motes eco­nomic growth.

At ISWA 2018, Ho warned that we are now liv­ing with the con­se­quences of waste­ful over-con­sump­tion.

“We are con­sum­ing more than the earth can re­plen­ish, and this is of great con­cern. It has been fore­cast that global de­mand for re­sources will triple by 2050. The Global Foot­print Net­work re­ports that we are now in an eco­log­i­cal deficit and it is taking Mother Earth one and a half years to re­gen­er­ate what we use in a year”, said Ho.

In this re­spect, the Deputy Min­is­ter be­lieves that ed­u­ca­tion is the key to chang­ing both our mind­set and be­hav­iour in or­der to achieve sustainable con­sump­tion and min­imise wastage. Hence, the gen­eral theme of ISWA 2018, ‘Sustainable Con­sump­tion to­wards Waste Min­imi­sa­tion’ echoed this sen­ti­ment.

I could not agree more with him. In this re­spect, we have so much to learn from the Ja­pa­nese how a Ja­pa­nese han­dles waste from his cra­dle to his grave. Ja­pa­nese are now known at global events to en­sure that no lit­ter is left be­hind by their coun­try­men. They have also shown to the world why and how their pub­lic toi­lets can be kept so clean. To my mind, it has to be and can only be by way of ed­u­ca­tion.

Hence, our govern­ment and all in­dus­try stake­hold­ers must im­me­di­ately get our act to­gether be­fore we are con­sumed by the amount of waste which we gen­er­ate but in­ca­pable of re-us­ing, re­duc­ing, re­cy­cling and fi­nally dis­pos­ing it en­vi­ron­men­tally and safely. Roger Tan is a founder and ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee mem­ber of Waste Man­age­ment As­so­ci­a­tion of Malaysia.

Not wast­ing time: Push­ing for sustainable waste man­age­ment, the writer (cen­tre) stand­ing be­side Ho, who is lead­ing the or­gan­is­ing com­mit­tee of ISWA 2018.

Ed­u­cated well: Ja­pa­nese foot­ball fans clean­ing up af­ter a match at the World Cup tour­na­ment in Rus­sia. – AFP/Getty

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