What We’re Reading on World Environment Day

World Environment Day
A controversial exhibition confronts plastic waste pollution in Lisbon, Portugal. Photo: Martijn Baudoin / Unsplash

With regulatory action in place and role models such as zero waste advocate, Tengku Zatashah Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah making the news, tiffin in hand, at the Ramadan bazaars, awareness is up.

Regulatory action, as well as collaborative efforts from the private sector have propelled the awareness. The Housing and Local Government Ministry launched a campaign in the third quarter of 2018 against the usage of plastic bags using social media, digital and electronic platforms to raise awareness. Minister Zuraida Kamaruddin told media at a press event that the campaign would focus on shifting public attitude towards plastic bag usage through the communication, education and public awareness approach, while reverse vending machines, offering cash in exchange for recyclable plastics have been placed in various locations, beginning with the People’s Housing Project in Beringin.

Meanwhile a ban on plastic straws has been imposed in the Federal Territories, with total effect on January 1, 2020. However, Selangor has fast-tracked this to July 1 of this year. The campaign includes punitive measures on businesses to make good on the ban, however regulations include allowing restaurants to provide plastic straws if customers ask for them. Nevertheless compliance both from the private sector and the general public are evident. Selayang Municipal Council (MPS) councillor Anfaal Saari told the media that many restaurants had begun to phase out single-use plastic straws on their own initiative.

The use of alternatives may raise issues of its own. Dr Henry Chan, Conservation Director of WWF-Malaysia said in a statement issued by the WWF, “While the use of metal, bamboo, and paper straws opens another debate alongside the question of completely biodegradable materials, WWF-Malaysia believes this is a fantastic first step towards the sustainability of our environment. This ban is translated from concern and initiative by our Government, businesses, and members of the public.”

A passionate letter by Harinthavinal Balakrishnan, published by Malaysiakini argues however, that plastic is not quite the problem; discarded plastics poses an even bigger challenge. The situation is disheartening to say the least, with many reports of imported waste (not even our own) populating the news.

Greenpeace public and engagement campaigner Heng Kiah Chun said during the launch of their report ‘The Recycling Myth’ , “Malaysia has become the world’s rubbish bin.”

The report unveiled regulation violations in plastic waste disposal following news surrounding illegal plastic waste recycling factories mushrooming in Selangor, Johor and Penang.

In an article published on June 3, 2019, Time.com highlights: “…wealthier nations have long shipped their plastic waste to the developing world to be processed, but in recent months, some nations in Southeast Asia have begun sending the exports — much of it contaminated plastic and trash that is unrecyclable — back to where it came from.”

However, there has been pushback. CNN reports that in April, Malaysia became the second country to push back when it returned five containers to Spain. Time also reports, “Environment Minister Yeo Bee Yin said it would continue to send waste back, with plans to ship more than 3,000 tonnes of contaminated waste to the countries that exported them. Specifically, she said 100 tonnes of the waste would be sent back to Australia, including plastic bottles that she said were ‘full of maggots.'”

Illegally imported waste fraudulently marked as recyclable have also made its way to our shores. A report at the end of May states that 123 containers have been inspected through joint operations between several agencies, including the Department of Environment (DOE), the customs, the police, Port Klang Authority, and the Department of National Solid Waste Management, with containers violating regulations to be shipped back.

While statistics are hard to come by on plastic waste in Malaysia, with the most recent report dated 2010, an independent source is one of few revealing the 411 on plastic waste in the country.

Countries Polluting the Oceans the Most
Image source: Statista.com

Meanwhile a roadmap by the government charting strategies and action plans with reference to single-use plastics is in circulation.

Even as the battle against plastics continues, the theme for this year’s World Environment Day deals with the theme #BeatAirPollution. In India a handful of pop stars have released a song in celebration, while the state of Meghalaya aims to plant 1.5 million trees on June 5.

World Environment Day 2019 will be hosted by China, rather apt, seeing as the country has held the record for highest carbon footprint since 2004.