Once again we are witness to another shortsighted policy decision, this time involving the building of a new sanitary landfill at Jeram, Kuala Selangor by the Selangor state government. The Consumers Association of Penang is baffled that the Selangor state government has fast- tracked the construction of this landfill bypassing prior approval needed with an Environmental Impact Assessment report. The Selangor government's explanation for its hasty decision is the 'pressing need' to avert a waste disposal crisis in the Klang valley.
At a time when developed countries are focusing efforts on researching alternative and sustainable methods of waste disposal due to expanding populations and large pressures on limited land resources, the action by the Selangor government to open a new landfill which will occupy precious land space smacks of shortsightedness and a lack of long-term planning.
Increasingly, developed nations have begun to adopt 'zero waste' as a management strategy for waste disposal and as an alternative to existing and traditional waste disposal methods such as landfills and incineration. By embracing the 'zero waste' management strategy and adopting the 'cradle to grave' philosophy, manufacturers must be made responsible for the whole life cycle of their products so things are recyclable and made to last. If anything, traditional waste disposal methods such as landfills and incineration should be measures of last resort and eventually phased out.
Due to the highly polluting effects of both these existing methods, intensive research is being carried out to explore other waste disposal options which emphasise the protection and conservation of the environment across land, air and water. The EU Landfill Directive sets specific targets for the reduction of biodegradable waste sent to landfills as 75% of the 1995 level by 2010, 50% of the 1995 level by 2013 and 35% of the 1995 level by 2020. The UK's Waste Strategy 2000 sets the following targets for local authorities:
- Recycle or compost at least 25% of household waste by 2005
The strategy also set the following target for municipal waste:
- Recover value from 45% by 2010, at least 30% through recycling or composting;
European laws are, in fact, forcing the UK government to send less waste to landfill and the landfill tax is rising to deter businesses and local authorities from landfilling waste which could be recycled. It is suggested that the money raised from landfill tax be used to provide every home in the UK with a doorstep collection for recycling and composting. Already Switzerland, the Netherlands and Germany recycle about 60 percent of their waste.
As a nation amongst other nations, we face a critical point on this planet on the need to make a conscious decision on how we utilise precious resources. We seem to lock ourselves to the need for increasing the numbers of landfills instead of changing our attitudes, technologies, practices and actions to focus on avoiding waste and using our resources better.
In stating that the landfill would not be opened if the government agencies had not approved it, the Selangor Infrastructure Committee Chairperson Abdul Fatah Iskandar has placed responsibility for this hasty decision right on the doorstep of some of the agencies involved ie, the Kuala Selangor municipal council, the land office of Kuala Selangor, the irrigation and drainage department and the public works department.
It is clear that once again, the local authorities have chosen the easiest option which is a short- term strategy with long-term implications. This clearly demonstrates the urgent need in Malaysia for comprehensive legislation with specific targets much in the spirit of the EU Landfill Directive. The Selangor government's explanation that 'time is short and there is a pressing need for new landfills' is insufficient and unpalatable in view of the environmental challenges and implications. This decision must be better and fully explained.