Monday, September 28, 2009


Rubbish from apartments on Jalan Ampang, Selangor.

One of the things that really gets me hopping mad is the amount of garbage littering the country. No matter where you go, there’s always rubbish lying around. When I lived in Ampang Jaya in the early 90s there was a stinking rubbish skip at the end of my road which rarely got emptied. I went back there recently to see how the area had changed and could hardly get my bearings. Many of the old houses have been replaced by apartment buildings, there’s even a school on the field where the local kids used to play. Pretty much everything is different, except for the garbage skip that hasn’t moved and it's still overflowing with foulness.

More rubbish at Jalan Ampang apartments, shame on you MPAJ!

When I moved to Kuala Kubu Bharu in the mid 90s, it was the same. Open skips in various locations around town attracting flies, dogs, cats and chickens that rummage through the skip spreading the evil stuff all over the side of the road.

In 2005 I moved to Puchong where the garbage was actually collected three times a week but the area was still littered with rubbish. One day I saw a lady throw a bag of garbage onto a green area right outside her own house. When I asked her why she didn’t put it in her bin she told me to mind my own business. Okay! But in my opinion, if she’s dumping her waste in a common area, it is my business.

Now I live in a small village whose stunning natural beauty attracts a lot of visitors, especially at weekends and public holidays. But the majority of these people leave more than their footprints behind. Styrofoam food boxes, plastic bottles and bags, discarded soft drink cans even used diapers are all left littering the village and the nearby river…and this river supplies KL with drinking water.

So now I’m on a personal mission to try and help clean up wherever I find myself in whatever way I can. Sometimes I pick up a piece of garbage that someone's just thrown down in the street and hand it back to them with an innocent, “Excuse me, I think you dropped this” Most people I’ve done this to think I’m a nutcase, I can tell by the look on their faces, but most do take their litter back – though I guess most of them probably just throw it back onto the ground once I’m out of sight.

My slightly neurotic concern about garbage isn't entirely without foundation. Consider this:

Malaysians generate about 20,000 tons of household garbage a day, and a staggering third of that comes from the Klang Valley. That's more than 6 tons a day just from K.L. and surrounding areas. That's a lot of garbage. In fact, a mathematical friend of mine calculated that 6 tons of garbage would cover the whole of the Dataran Merdeka, when spread out and if it was placed in one tall pile it would replace the Twin Towers as the country's tallest building. Imagine the fuss if we did dispose of our garbage in our cities? Yet few seem to care about huge tracts of land outside the cities which are being turned into festering dumps that ooze toxic leachate into the water system, produce copious amounts of the greenhouse gas, methane, and attract mosquitos, flies, rats and other types of odious 2, 4 and 6 legged creatures.

Kerubung landfill, Melaka

According to
Alam Flora, who hold the country's biggest garbage collection concession, only 5 percent of this garbage is recycled despite the fact that the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (KPKT) have a policy to Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle (3 Rs)

What happened to those thousands of posters the ministry printed to promote the 3Rs? One showed a young mother nursing her baby on a landfill and another featured a children's playground built on top of a mound of rubbish. I don't remember seeing them in the public domain and when I tried to find them online from the ministry's website I failed. They were powerful images that would certainly make people stop and think, and surely raising public awareness would be a great first step to take towards solving the garbage problem. It would also be in-line with the spirit of Local Agenda 21 which aims to forge partnerships between local authorities, the private sector and the community in order to plan and care for their environment.

Nice place to have tea perhaps?

Local Agenda 21 is a significant part of
the Global Action Plan Towards Development for the 21st Century that the Malaysian government agreed to abide by, way back in 1992, at the Earth Summit in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. Even though the collection, disposal and treatment of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) falls under the aegis of Local Agenda 21, the government went ahead and federalized MSW. This gives the responsible ministry, in this case the Housing and Local Government Ministry, the right to veto Municipal Council plans and essentially dictate what system they should adopt. This strange sleight of hand has led to situations where government approved concessionaires, who manage many of the landfills, have the power to hold the local authorities to randsom.

I was also under the impression that the reason Alam Flora got their concession was because their waste management strategy was in line with the ministry's commitment to the 3Rs and therefore Local Agenda 21. Yet, in spite of messages on their website extolling the virtues of the 3Rs, they are still dumping the majority of the waste they collect onto landfills and the government regularly approves land deals for new landfills. It stinks!

Alam Flora trucks at the Taman Beringin transfer station.

It's fair to argue that in the past landfills were the only solution, but today green technology that allows for better waste management is locally available. So why isn't the government using it? Why instead are they promoting incinerators, which certainly aren't green or cost effective? Incinerator technology is not only expensive and it also relies on fossil fuels to combust the garbage. It's also an unpopular choice, remember the fight against the Broga incinerator? Also, because the garbage isn't sorted before it's incinerated, the ash that remains often contains toxins and heavy metals from noxious stuff that was in the garbage such as batteries and pesticide containers. This means the ash has to be specially treated or stored at additional cost. 

At the moment less than half of the incinerators, that have been commissioned are in operation due to technical incompatibility problems with the type of waste they have to deal with. This is because Malaysian waste is often much wetter than the waste the technology was originally designed for and so it doesn't perform to the required standard and is frequently taken off line for maintenance causing even more expense.

Courtesy of

So what's going on? Why is the government flouting its own environmental legislation? In fact, Why are they even interested in the content of your dustbin in the first place? Surely this is a local, not a federal issue.

In 2008 Mariana Mohamed Osman, Syarifah Norazizan Syed A Rashid and Nobaya Ahmad conducted a study at University Putra Malaysia to determine why the government had failed to adopt Local Agenda 21 in practice. They found that the government's unwillingness to act was due to the following:

political reasons

lack of funding or competence

inefficiency due to poor infrastructure and service provision

unrealistic official standards

the lack of profit to be made...

What, profit from garbage? You betcha!

As the old English saying goes, "Where there's muck, there's brass." The collection and disposal of waste is big business. A total of RM5 billion was allocated for it under the 9th Malaysia Plan. But we have very little to show for all this money. One of Selangor's flagship projects is the Bukit Tagar sanitary landfill near Rawang which is operated by KUB Berjaya Enviro (KBE) This cost the taxpayers about RM400 million to build, including land acquisition. But we also need to factor in the additional cost to the Local Authorities (and therefore the people) of transporting waste to Bukit Tagar which is in addition to the normal tipping fee they pay. This means that it could cost between RM130 to RM150 per ton to send garbage to the Bukit Tagar landfill. With a national volume of 20,000 tins per day we're talking big business.

Aerial of Bukit Tagar landfill.

The 9th Malaysia Plan also allocated RM400 million to close and rehabilitate 16 landfills nationwide though, because of a lack of transparency, it's virtually impossible to find out who has received this allocation and what tangible improvement this expenditure has created. The Taman Beringin landfill site near Kepong is operated by Cypark at a cost so far of RM38 million but this was financed by DBKL (Kuala Lumpur City Council) it did not come out of the RM400 million allocated for such purposes and I believe the company is asking for more money.

When I visited the site recently I noticed Cypark had put in ventilation pipes to extract the methane as well as a building a leachate collection pond. They have landscaped the whole area with grass and trees. Some of the residents living right up on the boundary of the dumpsite said it was definitely a huge improvement on what had been there before. "Now it only smells bad in heavy rain," they told me. But on closer inspection around the periphery of the site (it's a restricted area) I could see that the layer of soil capping the dumpsite is very shallow and that garbage is still visible amongst the vegetation at ground level and I was told by a local resident that when it rains run-off flows off the dump and into the Municipal drains that border the site. Indeed on the day I visited, there were some students at the site measuring leachate flow, they weren't specific, but they did say there were problems.

So far the only real initiatives directed at developing a waste management system that is based on the 3Rs and genuine concern about the environment, have come from private venture companies. They invariably face many obstacles securing concessions due to the fact that they are potentially destabilizing the status quo. It all smacks of bad governance to me but there are some exceptions of course. The Kajang Municipality, for example, overcame the need to find the additional cost of transporting their garbage to Bukit Tagar by sending it to Recycle Energy Sdn. Bhd. instead. This privately funded project is a joint venture between Core Competencies Sdn. Bhd. and MMC. From their plant in Semenyih, they are currently recycling or re-using 80 percent of the 700 tons of rubbish per day they receive from Kajang and neighbouring areas for processing. But the really innovative part of this method is that it is producing renewable energy in the form of Refuse Derived Fuel which is being used to generate electricity for the national grid. Hey that's more like it!

So what can we do? Local Agenda 21 empowers the community to have a big say in the environment so it's down to each and everyone of us to start taking control, to become ecowarriorz in our own right and start asking questions and making sure we get the answers.

For my part I will keep monitoring the rubbish and will keep you updated.


Anonymous said...

Way to go Ecowarriorz, there is also rubbish in Parliament that needs serious monitoring.

Shalom, Admiral Tojo

Antares said...

The Admiral is quite right. However, most of the rubbish in parliament cannot be recycled or reused on account of its lethal toxicity. So the only way to dispose of it may be to drop it into the molten heart of an active volcano like Mount Doom.

Congratulations, Mary, on your first link from Malaysia Today! :-)

zewt said...

reduce, reuse, recyble? this country? malaysia? you gotta be kidding me...

Anonymous said...

I agree with the admirable Tojo, fortunately we already have some other, equally admirable, folk working on that dimension and hopefully it won't take too long before the leadership, and the people in some cases, shift into a more CONCERNED mode.

Thanks for the congrats. Antares, it feels good to be linked to such an august site.

And Zewt, the external world is only a reflection of our collective psyche, so if you sort yourself out and I sort myself out and others do the same, that's all it will take to clean the place positive my friend and positive things will happen.

Cruzeiro said...

I wouldn't bet on our fellas doing anything about it - they're more interested in fleecing the man on the street for some easy money ....

Look how popular water bottles are these days ..... no more recycleable glass bottles. Platic bags for packing - no more paper bags or shopping bag/basket .....

Ever considered what happens to the plastics used for packaging drugs in smaller plastics (as per the new law)? Meanwhile, the businessmen and politicians of course make their bucks from the increased costs of medicines (due to packaging) - with smaller packaging, more plastic tubes, bottles and hologram stickers for the landfills.....

Dense said...

A nicely researched report Mary. But that fact, the fact you are appalled by the desecration of one of the world's (should be) most beautiful countries and your name ... all give you away. You are not a Malaysian and never will be

Malaysia the nation which is desperately trying to hold on to its third world status.

Littering, like so many other problems that plague this country, can be directly traced back to the way Malaysian children are raised ( neglected?) by their parents. They grow up with the tidak apa attitude so common in this country ... the attitude where problems are someone else's problems.

Malaysians will blame everyone else but themselves. Right now its UMNO and its cronies, but you name it Malaysia will blame it. Singapore/Geo Bush/global warming/illegal immigrants/the Indians/the Chinese/ the Malays/ad infinitum

The reality is that Malaysia's problems are the problems of Malaysians.. the ordinary, everyday, tidak apa man/woman/child in the streets. And no amount of legislation will change a thing until Malaysians are willing to change

Terrassie Lau - the Rising Phoenix said...

I have been involved with the development of Biodegradable (compost under the sun, humid, soil, water bacteria ) carrier bags, shopping bags, cutlery, packaging bags, etc, and is now marketing them here in Malaysia. Each time I approach the huge departmental stores to use the biodegradable ones, they will tell me off saying the biodegradable ones are price higher. It is true that prices are higher for the biodegradable ones, but their social responsibilities is not there at all. Till now, I am still struggling with my business of selling biodegradable products save for a few responsible citizens. Many are not aware that one of the reason for the global climate change is caused by plastic bags, foams, etc,. The latest victims are the Phillipines. Not until it hits Malaysia, many will just shrug their shoulders off.


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Thank You