Garbage separation drive turning out to be a wasted effort?

Rubbish bins turned upside down in the garbage area of a condominium in Kuala Lumpur.

PETALING JAYA: Public apathy coupled with the indifference of the authorities has raised questions on the success of the mandatory waste separation, more than three years after it was announced in September 2015.

The public was initially given a grace period of six months, with enforcement slated to take effect in June 2016.

But many don’t seem to care. And neither, it appears, do the authorities.

Yasmin Rasyid, from environmental group EcoKnights, says one of the problems lies with the garbage collectors.

“Among the feedback we received was that garbage collectors aren’t doing their part. When they collect garbage, they mix everything up.

“So those who separate their waste see this as a wasted effort on their part.”

She said there was also a “big gap” in terms of education, age and awareness.

Citing her own neighbourhood, Taman Tun Dr Ismail, as an example, Yasmin said many were receptive to the idea of separating their garbage.

“But the pick-up rate for waste segregation is pretty low in other areas.

“We are still working on understanding what separates those willing to segregate their waste and those who are not interested,” Yasmin told FMT.

The waste separation rule was formulated in 2014 under the Solid Waste Management and Public Cleansing Management Act 2007, and enforced in September 2015.

The move would have affected millions of households in Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya, Pahang, Johor, Melaka, Negri Sembilan, Perlis and Kedah.

But Yasmin, who founded EcoKnights in 2005, said some members of the public lacked the proper tools, such as recycling bins.

“At the federal level, they have not sorted this out.”

She said in Petaling Jaya, the city council (MBPJ) started a pilot programme where each household was provided with a separate bin to place their recyclable waste.

“The community has grown used to the idea. Maybe some people need proper bins to encourage them to separate their waste, but in actual fact, it is a no-brainer. You just separate reusable waste from non-reusable waste.

“The latest complaint we received was that the bin is too small. But it does not matter how big the bin is, as long as you separate the waste — that is what matters,” she said.

The project referred to by Yasmin was introduced by MBPJ in 2017 in Section 11, Petaling Jaya. Residents were required to place recyclable waste in large, clear plastic bags to be collected by MBPJ once a week.

New plastic bags were placed in letterboxes for the following week’s collection.

It was reported that prior to that, Section 20 or Damansara Kim was the first to participate in such a project.

Having pioneered the waste separation effort in her neighbourhood, Yasmin said she was hopeful that post-May 9, the federal government would have a more centralised method of handling waste.

Turning waste into something useful

One of the reasons why landfills continue to be a “popular” way of disposing of trash is the limited availability of avenues to turn recycled waste into something useful.

“We found that trash collected by gross pollutant traps is sent straight to the landfills. And I have people knocking on my door telling me that they can create all sorts of usable objects out of such waste.

“But the problem is, no one is interested in cleaning up this trash. To some, these are precious resources, but because the majority of people don’t have the capacity to wash and shred them into reusable components, they end up in landfills.

“This is the missing link. I am trying to find interested parties — startups and those with technology — to treat such waste.

“Right now, we have an abundance of ‘resources’ but we don’t have an efficient way of processing them,” she said.

Yasmin said it was time for the local authorities to take enforcement seriously.

“They need to engage with the guys who have the technology to process waste. We, as NGOs, can handle the communication, awareness and engagement. The local government should come in with enforcement.

“It takes one generation to make these changes work. In the past, we had very good waste programmes; I grew up with some good ones.”

She said the public was often confused with new programmes whenever a new minister took over.

“What we need is a blueprint to keep the country clean and citizens more responsible.

“We have some of the best policies in place. But who is keeping track of their effectiveness?”

Sharing her experience on the usage of recycling bins, Mariam Ahmad, a housewife, who lives in an apartment in Gombak, said there were bins which were designated for waste separation on each floor of the condominium block, but these were not being used.

Garbage collectors often lump segregated items together. (Bernama pic)

“We separate our waste as much as we can.

“But one day, I noticed that the recycling bins were turned upside down. I turned them over so I could put my separated trash into the bins. But a few days later, I saw the bins turned upside down again.

“It was then that I realised that these bins were not being put to use by the condo management,” she said.

Another resident, Jacob John, from Wangsa Maju, said he had been separating his household waste, but found it difficult to dispose of the reusable waste.

“No permanent location has been provided by the government since they made the announcement. We don’t know where to dispose of waste which we have separated.

“There is a centre operated by the local community, but I think they cannot handle the amount of waste being channelled to their bins.

“Most of the time, I see waste overflowing from these bins, or just left outside of the bins. It creates a mess over time.”

He said the garbage collectors also would not separate the reusable items.

“They all end up together with the non-reusable waste.

“The previous garbage truck operators used to separate trash at a nearby open space. But this batch of operators don’t seem to be doing that,” he said.

Student Gabrielle Fong agreed that the majority of Malaysians still found waste separation a “foreign” idea.

“The bins are there, but people are still confused as to what type of waste goes into which bin.

“Some just cannot be bothered. Maybe they fail to understand that what they pollute will end up harming them one day.

“I think there is still much that can be done in terms of awareness.

“The government needs to keep this separation-of-waste programme going if they are really serious about reducing waste at landfills,” she said.