LETTER | I never thought I would live to see such headlines in the news; that Malaysia has become “the world’s top dumping site for plastic waste”. It fills me with both pain and a deep sense of alarm.
How did we become the world’s biggest rubbish bin?
The trigger was a ban imposed by China on waste imports from the beginning of 2018 which created a disruption in the flow of more than seven million tonnes of plastic scrap a year. So, once China imposed a ban, obviously, this gargantuan amount of rubbish had to go somewhere else. I just never for a moment thought it would be us.
Are we really such beggars to so readily have heaped upon us the rubbish of the world? How have we stooped so low into turning our nation into a dumping ground? Where is our pride and dignity, our compassion and empathy for each other, if not for our motherland?
Malaysia has become an alternative dumping ground with indecent speed and hasty greed. Between January and July 2018, nearly half a million tonnes of plastic waste was imported from its 10 biggest source countries.
It is tragic that many Malaysians do not yet know the full horror of what is happening. This is because many of the dump sites are hidden away, some even in the midst of our precious jungles. Thousands of sacks of rubbish, filled with plastic, may already have been concealed by illegal smugglers in places that you and I cannot see.
Alarmingly, just like poisonous mushrooms, illegal plastic recycling factories have become numerous in our country. For there is plenty of money to be made. Despite people falling sick. Some may even have died, for all we know. After all, the term “respiratory illness” is a vague one, as we know from the death of 14 Orang Asli in the Bateq community this week. Who knows what they really died of? The dead do not tell stories unless their buried bodies are exhumed.
Are we going to wait for people to die from the inhalation of toxic materials from these factories? They remind me of a horror movie, particularly at night, when smoke curls in a sinister way from them. Who knows what they are burning?
Plastic which is unsuitable for recycling is then burnt, which releases toxic substances into the air. Or it could all end up dumped indiscriminately in a landfill, hence contaminating our soil, water, rivers and oceans.
Ask yourself – would you like to live near one of these landfills? Or near one of these factories? What is the government doing about this? “Malaysia Baru” is the new slogan which has been screamed at us from May 9 last year. But how much has the new government actually done? Malaysia’s Minister of Energy, Technology, Science, Climate Change and Environment, has acknowledged recently that the situation is getting worse, especially with more and more illegal plastic recycling factories. But acknowledging a problem is not enough.
The real question is: what is being done to combat the issue? The government may also be conflicted, as it is aware that waste management is a potentially lucrative business. But surely we must ask ourselves: do we have the technology to deal with it safely, and is it all worth it at the end of the day?
To me, this is an issue of national importance, and the government must do several things. The first, and most obvious: send all plastic waste back to the countries of origin. Second: do not issue any more permits or licences to any more companies for plastic waste disposal. Third: allocate more resources and the necessary manpower to clamp down on these illegal factories. At the moment, as soon as they are stopped from operating in one state, they just move their factories to another state.
Fourth: impose heavier penalties. Fifth: Really mean it when you say you will catch the crooks.
The authorities should remember that these are dangerous criminal activities that must be eradicated immediately. The recent chemical poisoning incident in Sungai Kim was a wake-up call for many of us. Severe environmental pollution occurred as a result of illegal dumping of hazardous chemical waste into the river, where the waters turned black and viscous, like a thick sauce. Noxious fumes were also emitted from the site, leading to toxins in the air and fumes that threatened the health of thousands.
The government must step up and take more drastic action to protect Malaysia. Not just for us, the people, but for our country. Do not degrade and humiliate our nation any more. We have not been beggars in the past and we should never stoop to be such in the present or in the future.
The answer is simple, really. We need to stop taking in plastic waste from developed countries because we just cannot cope with its disposal. Surely we can find other ways of creating wealth that will not be hazardous to our health and environment. After all, if even China has banned this import, why in the world are we taking it and killing ourselves and our country in the process?
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.