Recycle or pay the cost

THE recent verbal exchanges in the news between Minister of Urban Wellbeing, Housing and Local Government Datuk Abdul Rahman Dahlan and Serdang MP Dr Ong Kian Ming, on waste disposal are very interesting. Irrespective of one's view on the disposal of solid waste, it is good that the minister and the people's representative are stating their views clearly.

For those who have not read their views, the minister is for an incinerator in Kepong while Ong is against it.

Ong, of course, is not alone. The residents of Kepong are also against the building of an incinerator near their homes. They have been holding demonstrations and have formed the Kuala Lumpur Rejects Incinerator Action Committee (KL Tak Nak Insinerator – KTI). According to the residents, an incinerator will only cause more pollution in their area.

However, according to the minister, the technology used for incineration has improved to such an extent that no toxic gas will be released into the atmosphere. There are plans for KTI members to visit incinerators in Japan.

It is good for them to visit the sites in Japan. Unfortunately, what is happening in Japan may not be duplicated in Malaysia.

Even if it is true that incinerators in Japan do not emit poisonous gases, it is not a clear testimony that the use of incinerators in Malaysia will not cause pollution problems. The behaviour of Japanese and Malaysians are different.

Japanese do not discard waste indiscriminately. Unfortunately, too many Malaysians discard their solid waste everywhere. It is not because Malaysia does not have laws regarding the disposal of solid waste. There are just too many cases of non-compliance with the rules.

Furthermore, Japanese workers are fully committed to their jobs. Those involved in the disposal of solid waste do their best to ensure that there is no emission of poisonous gas or ash. More importantly, they take pride in their work, even if it is the collection of waste. A visit to the Kawasaki incinerator shows that it is very clean. Even their garbage trucks are very clean.

Until Malaysians improve their civic behaviour and the commitment of our solid waste disposal workers is as good as those in Japan, it is not right to use incinerators in Japan as examples in the disposal of solid waste.

It should also be noted that landfills also produce toxic products. If Malaysians are so concerned about public health generated by solid waste, the amount of waste sent to the landfills should be reduced.

Furthermore, the focus on incinerators has sidelined an important practice in solid waste management. This is the recycling of solid waste.

Recycling has been a neglected subject in Malaysia even though there are numerous advertisements and you can see waste bins for plastic, paper and cans in many towns and cities.

As Malaysians become richer, we generate more waste. It is estimated that we generate about 32,000 tonnes of solid waste each day.

Every household, firm and factory should be forced to separate their waste. Items that can be reused should be kept in different compartments in the bins.

In German cities, households are required to separate their waste according to category: glass, paper, plastic, metal and organic matter.

There is no house to house collection of used glass bottles. The residents have to bring their used bottles to collection bins at street corners. There are three different bins – one for brown bottles, one for green and the other for clear glass. Each used bottle has to be slotted into the huge bin one at a time. It is not possible to throw the bottles into the bins.

Despite the strict laws on the segregation of solid waste, Bonn does have an incinerator. It is not in a faraway place. It is only about a kilometre or two from city hall and is surrounded by the built environment.

Malaysia must recycle a large part of its solid waste so that the amount of waste being sent to landfills can be reduced.

Unfortunately, not all waste is sent to landfills. A substantial portion is thrown into drains and ultimately finds its way to rivers. Solid waste not only pollute the water, but also turn potentially useful and beautiful natural phenomena into ugly and dirty waterways.

The civic consciousness of Malaysians regarding the disposal of solid waste has not improved. Indeed, it is fair to believe that it has deteriorated.

It is useful to recall that the enactment of two laws in 2008, namely the Solid Waste and Public Cleansing Management Act and Solid Waste and Public Management Corporation Act has not led to cleaner towns and cities. It is clear that the taking over of solid waste management by the federal government from the local authorities was a big mistake.

Solid waste management should be the responsibility of the local authorities as they are closer to ratepayers and can effectively encourage them to be serious in adopting the recycling culture as a way of life.

Datuk Dr Goh Ban Lee is interested in urban governance, housing and urban planning. Comments: