Neglecting to carefully monitor the recycling process in Malaysia can have a catastrophic impact on the lives of ordinary Malaysians, writes Mustafa K Anuar.
The setting up of a vigilante group by residents in Sungai Petani in Kedah to weed out illegal waste factories that have sprung up in their neighbourhood indicates a nagging anxiety about their democratic right to live in an environment that is safe and secure – and not one laced with hazardous waste and water and air pollution.
Prodded by this incessant worry, they even started a petition to put a stop to the existence of illegal waste factories that are suspected of endangering their overall wellbeing.
This, as we know, comes on the heels of the chemical waste pollution incident at Kim Kim River in Pasir Gudang, Johor, where 5,848 residents in the vicinity were treated for toxic fumes inhalation.
The unease of these residents is well appreciated and noted by other concerned Malaysians in the country as well, especially those who have come to know of recent discoveries of illegal waste factories and large dump sites elsewhere in the country.
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For example, the local authorities in Bukit Mertajam, Penang discovered quite recently a big illegal dumping ground for plastic waste the size of six football fields which can adversely affect neighbouring settlements.
In another case, Jenjarom, a little town about 20km South East of Port Klang in Selangor, has become a huge dumpsite for plastic waste that is imported from other parts of the world for processing, a fact that is also worrying local residents owing to its poisonous fumes, among other harmful elements.
There may possibly be other illegal waste factories and dumpsites in the country, which have not yet been uncovered by ordinary people or the relevant authorities. Last year, Malaysia received 754,000 tonnes of plastic waste, mainly from the UK, Germany, Japan and Australia, according to environmental organisation Greenpeace.
Malaysia, like a few of its neighbours in the region that deal in plastic waste, has experienced a spike in the intake of plastic waste from overseas after China, which until January last year was the biggest importer of plastic waste in the world, stopped buying most recycled waste.
In other words, we are importing that much plastic waste from abroad, apart from having to contend with local plastic waste and other types of hazardous waste churned out by our industries and consumers.
While processing the scheduled waste may be regarded as making good business sense, given that the country earns about RM30bn as reportedly revealed by Housing and Local Government Minister Zuraida Kamaruddin, it, however, leaves a bad taste in the mouth to know that Malaysia has become one of the dumping grounds for developed countries.
Worse, we are made to bear the odious consequences of the unsustainable lifestyles of these countries, which ironically want to keep their own backyard green and healthy.
Plastic pollution has increasingly become an acute environmental problem the world over. This business of importing plastic waste is also reminiscent of the country’s early years of industrialisation, when Malaysia welcomed polluting factories from abroad with our relatively less stringent pollution control, which was supposed to be an attractive selling point.
Worryingly, such a purportedly lucrative business has also prompted illegal recycling factories to get into the act to handle the excess plastic waste that bona fide factories cannot cope with.
Also of concern to us is the nature of the recycling process. It is said that plastic is not easy to be recycled, and even if it is recycled, it can be done for only a limited number of times. Furthermore, the recycling method is complex such that each variety of plastic requires a different recycling process.
Needless to say, negligence in observing scrupulously the intricacies involved in the recycling process in Malaysia can have a catastrophic impact on the lives of ordinary Malaysians, the environment and food security.
Against this backdrop, the authorities may want to tread carefully when tackling the idea of making big bucks out of recycling plastic waste (apart from other scheduled waste).
Malaysia might have to pay a high price for succumbing to the lure of plastic profits.