Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Monday, December 28, 2009
Sunday, December 27, 2009
Sunday, December 20, 2009
Saturday, December 19, 2009
Has anyone noticed how we seem to be surrounded by rubbish these days? Is this an attempt to get into the Guinness Book of Records as the most filthy country or what? I recently overheard two tourists grumbling about the amount of garbage they’d seen during their holiday and I got the impression that they wouldn’t be spending anymore of their hard-earned foreign currency on future holidays to Malaysia.
Discarded plastic, Styrofoam boxes and empty drink cans litter the highways and byways the length and breadth of the country, so it’s not only the tourists who are affected. It’s now even becoming quite common to see garbage being dropped from moving cars. It would appear that these litter louts give no apparent thought to the environment or the safety of other road users. Just imagine what mayhem could ensue from a carelessly discarded fast food paper napkin flying onto another car’s windscreen. Because they drop their rubbish at high speed there’s no opportunity to pick it up and hand it back to them with a sweet, “I think you dropped something” - a tactic I do use with messy pedestrians. Another thing that bothers me is to see children playing in and around garbage - a classic scenario for sakit purut if ever I saw one.
I think a lot of people have become desensitized to the problem. Let’s face it, if you pass by garbage on your way to the bus stop everyday after a while you don’t see it anymore – it becomes a normal part of the environment. And, if there are no rubbish bins provided on the street, then dropping that ice cream wrapper on the pavement becomes second nature.
I got very excited a couple of years ago when the recycling rhetoric was in full swing. I waited and waited for the recycling bins to arrive in my housing area and the mounds of bottles and cans grew and grew until they threatened to takeover my kitchen. Four years later I was still waiting.
In the beginning there were a few recycling centres in PJ, but that’s not much help if, like me, you live on the other side of town and don’t have a car. So, much as it aggrieved me to do it, I eventually threw my collection into the neighbourhood skip – there isn’t any house-to-house garbage collection in my part of Ampang Jaya either. At least bottles and cans are too heavy for the chickens to scatter around the neighbourhood, which is more than can be said for a lot of other stuff that’s thrown into that receptacle!
I’m a great believer in compost so all my organic waste goes into making rich fertile humus for my poor old sandy soil. Eliminating organic waste from my garbage bin has not only substantially reduced the bulk of my rubbish, but the plants love it too. Unfortunately some of my neighbours don’t! The main fear is that snakes (especially cobras) will incubate their eggs in the compost heap and their offspring will invade their homes. I can honestly say that I’ve never seen a sign of a snake of any kind in my compost heap; I should imagine that the heat inside the mound would render the eggs hard-boiled in a matter of hours.
My immediate next-door neighbours obviously think I’m too lazy to walk to the skip with my rubbish, preferring to leave it in the garden. What seems to have escaped their attention, as they follow my imagined slothful example and throw their garbage over the fence, is that my stuff’s all ORGANIC. However, when it comes to plastics I must admit I’m stumped to know what to do. And what about all the other junk? The broken computer, the old TV, the dead toaster, old batteries…the list is endless; all non-biodegradable and some actually toxic.
Of course it would be easy to just blame the local authorities for not being more pro-active, but we create the garbage so we should start taking responsibility for it too. Apart from setting up individual or communal compost heaps and getting involved in gotong royongs we can also try and reduce the amount of garbage we accumulate by not buying over-packaged items and re-using supermarket shopping bags. In fact we can have endless fun creating inventive ways to recycle trash.
German artist HA Schult is a one-man recycling centre. Since 1996 he's made thousands of people out of household waste. His trash people have been installed all over the world; from the Pyramids at Giza to the top of the Great Wall of China.
I’m always surprised that recycling hasn’t taken-off in a big way. Apart from the friendly neighbourhood paper lama guys there’s nothing else happening (at least in my area) Rubbish is big business – glass, various metals, plastics, in fact a whole range of waste products can be reused in one form or another. This trash is worth money. Money is literally been thrown down the drain!
And speaking of drains, did you know that many of them act as highways for household detergents, cooking and motor oils, heavy metals and a whole range of household effluent? This all adds up to some pretty exotic and lethal cocktails going into the rivers and sea. The Sepang river is now a black, fetid, stinking ooze. Dead! Go check it out if you don’t believe me but be warned, you’ll need a gas mask! Better still, next time you fly to Singapore book a window seat and take a look at the rivers discharging into the Straits of Melaka. Yellow got, brown got and even black got, but clear? Tak ada lah! There’s so much tanah melayu being dumped into the Straits, courtesy of developers and loggers, that it wouldn’t surprise me if, in twenty-something years time, wanna be illegal Indonesian migrants will be able to sprint across the newly appearing mudflats that appear at low tide.
If this isn’t enough to leave you gasping, go fill your lungs full of soot, smoke, wood dust and all the other noxious stuff that finds it’s way into the very air we breathe. Even when the haze gets really bad, the diehard belchers are still on the road and open burning of garbage and the forests continues with gay abandon. I can’t understand why some people only clean-up their act when threatened with prosecution. Do they have a different air supply than the rest of us? Unpleasant is the only way to describe the air in KL these days. Last year the pollution got so bad I really started to panic. I mean what can you do to escape bad air? Breathing isn’t optional, you can’t really choose not to do it. I was in Port Dickson for a party recently and was really looking forward to getting some fresh sea air into my over-burdened lungs. However, just as I hit Lukut I saw three separate plumes of black smoke spewing into the atmosphere from three different locations in PD. Things like this bring out the militancy in me. I knew the companies responsible; in fact I drove past them on my way to my friend’s house so I vowed never to buy any of their products ever again. Power to the consumer!
The other way to deal with such flagrant polluters is to report them to the Department of the Environment. They do take action but are so severely understaffed and under financed that they rely on you and me to be their eyes and ears to some extent. But most of all I hope that the greedy industrialists will realise there’s more to business than profit margins and start adopting a more responsible attitude towards the environment. I mean it isn’t as if the technology isn’t available because it is, but it’s usually expensive. Personally I’d be willing to pay a bit more for products if I knew they’d been manufactured in an environmentally friendly way and I guess a lot of other people would too.
The fact that a lot of big businesses are environmentally irresponsible is not only indicative of greed and poor enforcement of environmental laws, it’s also symptomatic of some of the rubbish that the people in power have in their heads. A lot of people have some very peculiar notions about the environment, which need to be dealt with. Some of these are due to genuine ignorance, but a lot is based on self-interested nonsense. A classic example of the sort of thing I’m referring to is the following extract from an interview with Datuk Amar James Wong, which appeared in the Sunday Star on August 11th 1996. The President of the Sarawak National Party, former State Environment Minister and Mr. Rimbunan Hijau (large timber conglomerate) told the nation: “I have written a book on logging. Logging doesn’t kill trees, shifting cultivation does. You can quote from my book.
What a load of rubbish!
See what I mean? Same old same old. I can't believe how naive I was about the DOE though. Since then I've decided that a more accurate translation of their acronym would be Destroyers of the Environment. Over the years I've reported various industries to the DOE for various environmental crimes but despite their claim that they give you feedback in 48 hours I've never heard a word from them, ever! In fact,since I wrote What a Load of Rubbish, almost 15 years ago, the DOE have allowed some very environmentally dodgy projects to materialise.
And what about the 3R campaign launched by the Housing and Local Government Ministry in the mid 90s that got me all excited in the first place? Ziltch! The only real efforts to reuse, reclaim and recycle have been coming from the private sector and they've been having a tough time getting any of the politicians, who make decisions about rubbish, to take their initiatives onboard. Alam Flora got a huge concession to collect garbage because their tender was based on the 3R concept - it's certainly splashed all over their website - but apart from a few recycling centres in obscure places and pilot schemes in Putrid Jaya and University Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) their trucks still collect thousands of tons of unsorted waste a day and dump the lot on landfills. Of course it's also possible they got the multi-gazillion contract for other reasons... Actually does anyone have a fix on how much they've been given so far? I spent a while trying to find out online but couldn't get a ball park figure.
When I was in Sydney earlier this year I was mega impressed by their way of managing municipal waste. Households have three bins: one for organics, one for reusables and one for other waste. The collection trucks use an automated arm to grab and empty the content of the bins into the appropriate section of the truck. Simple! So how come we don't have a system like this? And why, when there's so much talk about renewable energy, is there still so little investment and commitment from the local authorities and the relevant ministries in Waste to Energy technology. Come on you garbage guys wake up and smell the landfills! It's the 21st century so get with it!
Friday, December 18, 2009
But 24 hours later, after millions of petition signatures, hundreds of thousands of phone calls, and a massive outcry across the planet, a deal could be back on!
Leaders are frantically doing in hours what they've failed to do for years, but we're still far from a pact that will stop catastrophic global warming of 2 degrees -- and the talks could still collapse. We know our pressure is working, let's use these crucial final hours to ramp it up, and get a real deal, not a dressed-up weak agreement. Sign the staggering 13 million person petition below if you haven't yet.
The petition has become the centre of the global revolt against failure in Copenhagen. The names of petition signers are being read out by young people who have taken over spaces in the Copenhagen summit and in governments round the world, including the US State Department and the Canadian Prime Minister's office.
Amazingly, leaders themselves are appealing to the public for action. UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown made an impassioned appeal to 3000 Avaaz members on a global conference call on Wednesday, calling for an historic 48 hour internet based campaign from citizens around the world, calling our impact crucial. Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu also appealed to the world at one of 3000 vigils organized by our movement, proclaiming "We marched in South Africa and apartheid fell, we marched in Berlin and the wall fell, we marched on Copenhagen and we WILL get a real deal".
History is being made in Copenhagen, but so far, it's not being made by leaders, but by us, millions of people round the world who are directly engaging, hour by hour, like never before, in the fight to save our planet. The pressure is working, let's ramp it up.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Tomorrow, the world's leaders arrive for an unprecedented 60 hours of direct negotiations. Experts agree that without a tidal wave of public pressure for a deal, the summit will not stop catastrophic global warming of 2 degrees.
Click below to sign the petition for a real deal in Copenhagen -- the campaign already has a staggering 10 million supporters - let's make it the largest petition in history in the next 72 hours! Every single name is actually being read out at the summit -- sign on at the link below and forward this email to everyone!
An Avaaz team is meeting daily with negotiators inside the summit who will organize a spectacular petition delivery to world leaders as they arrive, building a giant wall of boxes of names and reading out the names of every person who signs. With the largest petition in history, leaders will have no doubt that the whole world is watching.
Millions watched the Avaaz vigil inside the summit on TV yesterday, where Archbishop Desmond Tutu told hundreds of delegates and assembled children:
“We marched in Berlin, and the wall fell.Copenhagen is seeking the biggest mandate in history to stop the greatest threat humanity has ever faced. History will be made in the next few days. How will our children remember this moment? Let's tell them we did all we could.
"We marched for South Africa, and apartheid fell.
"We marched at Copenhagen -- and we WILL get a Real Deal.”
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Monday, December 7, 2009
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
WMAM very kindly allowed me in for free accepting that bloggers are part of the media too these days. So a big thank you to them for that.
Unfortunately I missed the opening address, and the keynote speech, arriving just in time for the first speaker of the day from UKM who talked about using artificial intelligence (AI) enhanced automation to separate recycled containers from the garbage instead of the so-called scavengers who currently do this odious and unhealthy job.
As he talked about his prototype it was obvious that it will be a long time before this type of innovation will be able to have a significant impact on solving the issue at hand namely: the use of green technology in waste management to eliminate the production of greenhouse gases and to produce renewable energy. This will make a significant contribution to Malaysia’s effort to reduce global warming, as well as improving the environment.
Courtesy of Prof. Hassan Basri
The next speaker from UITM spoke about applying green technology to treat pollutants such as pharmaceutical and personal care products, endocrine modulating chemicals, nano materials and biological metabolites that are now finding their way into our water as a result of continuous and excessive use of improper disposal. His forte is developing bio-solvents to absorb heavy metals so they can be recovered from contaminated water. During the research they found considerable amounts of PAH in municipal sewage sludge. Similar research has been going on in Germany and Japan and there’s no doubt that this work is all valuable in the long term but it was all so theoretical yet again.
By lunchtime I was feeling slightly depressed by the lack of dynamism in the topics so far, another case of the “same old, same old.” I’m sure some great things will emerge from this research in the future but again, and I can’t over-stress this, we need to take action now! And while it was interesting to hear about these research projects, there wasn’t any mention of the people who are already using EM (effective microbes) and nano technology to clean-up effluent right now. I would have thought that a seminar organized by practitioners for practitioners would have had a practical rather than a theoretical focus. But there was still the afternoon session to look forward to.
The first speaker was from Alam Flora and she managed to raise my temperature, even though the room was very cold. Now as far as I know, one of the reasons that Alam Flora got the concession to collect garbage from Selangor, Kelantan Pahang, Terengganu and the Federal Territories of K.L. and Putra Jaya back in 1995 was because they were in line with the ministry’s 3R policy to reduce, reuse, recycle. So what have they been doing since then? Not much if this speaker’s presentation was anything to go by. The first part concentrated on different types of green technology and their various applications but when it came to the contribution Alam Flora was making it would appear nothing much has changed since they took over the concession almost 15 years ago.
Courtesy of Sarifah Yaccob
They have set up pilot recycling schemes in Putrajaya and on the UKM campus but apart from that a lot of the recycling that is taking place is being done by privately funded initiatives, not Alam Flora. She did, almost dismissively, mention that Recycle Energy are generating electricity from RDF (refuse derived fuel in Semenyih but it wasn’t clear that this was a private initiative. And anyway why is she talking about treatment when her company is responsible for collection? Why not tell us what innovations are taking place in that department. But it was when she talked about the school educational programmes that I began to warm up.
Courtesy of Sarifah Yaccob
Now here’s the thing. Why does Alam Flora need to do this when schools are already staffed by qualified teachers? Surely it wouldn’t be too difficult for this type of environmental awareness to be built into the curriculum, would it? This would free Alam Flora to do what we need them to do, namely: to provide us with the bags or containers to store our separated waste in, and to have a fleet of trucks that keep it separated on it’s way to the recycle centre.
The thing that really inflamed me was this ideas that it’s the public’s fault that more recycling isn’t going on. At present only 5% of our waste is being recycled but whose fault is that? This idea that we’re all too stupid to figure out how to recycle is incredibly insulting. I agree that there is a need for a public campaign to create more awareness about how we manage our waste but this isn’t Alam Flora’s role, is it?
I thought they were garbage collectors. And whilst the residents and other garbage producing inhabitants of Putrajaya are enjoying the illusion that all’s well on the garbage front, many of the rest of us don’t get our rubbish collected at all. I have to drive mine 10 kms to the nearest town and deposit it in an open communal skip by the roadside. In fact, since I came to live in Malaysia in 1988 I’ve only ever lived in 2 places that did have garbage collection and I don’t think my experience is uncommon.
This theme, that it’s the public’s fault, was repeated several times throughout the seminar by many of the speakers and participants, I felt like screaming. How on earth can we ever hope to start trying to solve our environmental problems when the so-called experts can’t seem to get beyond covering their own rear ends for a job badly done. What’s blatantly missing is commitment, not only from the public but from the waste concessionaires, and the government too. They know how much money has been ploughed into waste management and they can also see -when they step outside the rarified and sanitized zone of Putrajaya - that we haven’t made much progress in the last 20 years or so. The very fact that they are still talking about landfills when waste to energy technology is already up and running is, in itself, a measure of their lack of sincerity. So I’m left asking what’s going on? Why don’t people take pride in their work and decide to do a good job instead of a mediocre one?
The Alam Flora presentation was followed by a paper on converting waste to bio-fuels by a speaker from UTM who has been doing research into extracting bio-gas from waste. He said biotechnology was a useful strategy to adopt when treating sewage and palm oil waste but not efficient for solid waste.
Oxidation pond at Frangipani Hotel, Langkawi
Organic corn growing in the hotel's vegetable garden.
I was cheered up a little by the presenter from a hotel in Langkawi that is taking care of its own dirty business by composting their organic waste and treating their own wastewater. I had seen this presentation at the national waste seminar I attended in September so decided to do my bit to reduce my carbon footprint by leaving before the notorious KL jam.
Thursday, November 5, 2009
KG PERTAK 2315
At around 9.30 tonight a police van arrived in Kg. Pertak and the officers asked my neighbour, Antares, to accompany them to the police station. Apparently an Orang Asli man named Rapi has made another police report that Antares has been obstructing his work. He has obviously got a heavily invested interest in the road to nowhere going somewhere. This is the second time he's made such a report.
Antares agreed to follow them down to town in his own vehicle after they intimated that they would arrest him if he didn't agree.
Within minutes of Antares leaving three other police officers arrived outside my house. They wanted a chat about the minister's visit to the village tomorrow. Senator Murugiah is scheduled to pay a call on Antares tomorrow morning - he's apparently on a fact--finding tour after complaints about the illegality of the road to nowhere reached his desk.
The police officers took down my particulars and asked me what I knew about the ministers visit. I told them what I knew, which isn't much, and suggested to them that this was a complete waste of police time as it is very clearly a political issue. They didn't disagree!
Really what a load of nonsense...what is this country coming to when police come to your house at 10pm, especially over such a trite accusation - maybe they're scared of the sunlight! They were definitely scared of the dogs that Antares and I keep, kinda spoils their macho image that's for sure. It's hard to be intimidated by anyone who cowers at the sight of a K9.
I'm now waiting for Antares' return when I'm sure he'll let everyone know what's going on.
Friday, October 16, 2009
When I first encountered the Waste to Wealth concept in 2006 I was really excited because it seemed to me that this paradigm shift in the way we viewed garbage would have a much needed positive impact on the environment. However, apart from the slogan becoming a buzz phrase at seminars and conferences on solid waste management, there's been very little real progress in adopting this ideology. Today 95 percent of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) still ends up being dumped on one of the 289 landfills that scar the landscape, pollute the waterways and befoul the air. I call these heaving messes Jabbas after the fictitious character Jabba the Hutt from Star Wars. This is because, apart from looking a bit like a smelly garbage dump, the name Jabba has become synonymous with greed and corruption, and these are both qualities that I believe aptly describe waste management in this country. What other explanation could there be for not adopting the Waste to Wealth model?
Jabba the Hutt - the greasy, odious, insect-ridden character from Star Wars
synonymous with greed and corruption
Unfortunately this is not fictitious.
As far as I know the only local council that is treating garbage as a resource is Kajang. For the last 3 years, they have been sending 700 tons of household refuse a day to Recycle Energy Sdn. Bhd.in Semenyih, where 80 percent is reclaimed as recycled items or as fuel.
How it works
Instead of going to the landfill, the garbage trucks deliver their loads to the resource recovery plant where the garbage is cleaned, dried and sorted using biological, mechanical and manual processes. As well as reclaiming the usual, organics, plastics, paper, glass and metal objects, that have an immediate resale value, they also harvest high calorific value waste and convert it to refuse derived fuel (RDF) This fuel is used to generate all the electricity they need to run the plant and the daily surplus is sent to the national grid.
I've visited the Semenyih plant a few times over the last 3 years to see if they were really doing what they said they were going to. The last time I was there was at the beginning of September, the same day that the Energy, Green Technology and Water Minister, Datuk Peter Chin paid a visit. He was visibly impressed with what he saw and so was I.
Datuk Peter Chin, minister for Energy, Green Technology and Water on a recent visit to Recycle Energy Sdn. Bhd.
First of all, there's none of the stench that usually accompanies raw garbage - not even the slightest whiff and there weren't any flies either. The main reason Malaysian garbage is particularly smelly is because It's very wet. According to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, 47 percent of household waste is organic matter. Things like intestines, fish scales, prawn shells, and the like, as well as vegetable peelings and left over food. No wonder our garbage smells so bad! Once it arrives at the plant all this wet organic stuff is immediately separated from the rest of the garbage and sent for composting. The leachate extracted from this wet garbage is treated to class A water on site.
Then all the materials that can be immediately recycled such as metals, paper, plastics and glass, are pulled out until all that's left is the high calorific waste like plastic bags, cellophane wrappers and hygienic wipes, which constitute the RDF, and toxic stuff like batteries and empty pesticide containers which are sent to a sanitary landfill. Incidentally you might be interested to know that out of the total number of landfills in the whole country only three are sanitary.
AVERAGE COMPOSITION OF MUNICIPAL SOLID WASTE
ORGANIC WASTE - 47%
PAPER / CARDBOARD - 15%
PLASTI CS - 14%
METAL - 4%
GLASS / CERAMIC - 3%
TEXTILES - 3%
OTHERS - 14%
SOURCE: Malaysian Ministry of Housing and Local Government (KPKT)
Where does the wealth come from?
A resource recovery plant is much more cost effective to run than a landfill because in addition to the tipping fee they receive from the municipal council, the technology used provides a continuous income stream from the sale of RDF-generated electricity (currently 21 sen per kilowatt) as well as creating revenue from the recovered items that can be recycled (see table below). This additional revenue ensures the sustainability of this model of waste management and allows the operator to keep the tipping fee at an affordable level. Being self-sufficient in power and water also keeps operational costs down. Furthermore because this is a privately-funded model of waste management between MMC Berhad and Core Competencies Sdn. Bhd.it offers a potential RM2 billion saving to the government in terms of capital expenditure.
VALUE OF WASTE ITEMS
PE : RM 1.10 - 1.85/kg
PP : RM 1.25/kg
PS : RM 0.90/kg
HDPE resin : RM 1.70/kg
Iron Scrap : RM 0.70/kg
Aluminium can : RM 3.10/kg
Based on present market prices
For more information on plastic recycling click here
I'm convinced that this model of waste management is financially viable
and that if this approach was adopted nationwide it would immediately reduce the need for landfills by 80 percent and save money for all the stakeholders, namely: the government, the local councils and the householders. So why don't we adopt this ideology?
Over to you Jabba...