PORT KLANG: Depressed by today’s paltry catch, fisherman Azza Azizan desperately searches for scrap metal at a nearby illegal plastic recycling site.
Aziz and the other fishermen along Sungai Chandong are catching far fewer fish than a year ago. They say fish are becoming scarcer every day.
They blame the rough-and-ready plastic recycling centres mushrooming nearby.
According to them, operators dispose of melted down plastic waste in the quickest and easiest way, by channeling it into the river.
“At low tide you can see and smell the black liquid oozing into the river,” he told FMT.
“We have complained to the Health Department and other authorities many times, but nobody is doing anything to stop it.”
The future for Sungai Chandong fishermen is bleak as long as these crude plants are permitted to operate and poison the river unhindered.
Environmental activist Tan See Han took FMT to see illegal plastic recycling sites in an abandoned industrial area in Sungai Chandong. The area was jam-packed with heaps of bulging sacks.
Tan said the sacks are full of plastic rubbish imported from developed countries.
“The sacks are emptied and the garbage is washed with chlorine to remove food scraps,” he said. “The chlorine ends up in the river.”
He estimates about 30% of the plastic cannot be recycled.
“Operators burn this and dump the toxic residue in the river.”
He is urging the local council to perform tests to check on the level of plastic pollution in the river as fish caught there may no longer be safe for human consumption.
The FMT reporter and camera team visiting the site with him felt nauseous almost immediately as the acrid smell of burning plastic permeated the area.
Tan said most illegal plants are set up in abandoned industrial areas, next to dense jungle, or up muddy roads difficult to access.
The owners pay illegal workers around RM45 a day to sort, wash and burn the plastics. Obviously, their health is in jeopardy too.
In January, Minister of Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Yeo Bee Yin carried out spot checks in Port Klang.
As a result, she said, action was taken against 64 illegal plastic recycling factories in Selangor, and 39 cases were taken to court.
She promised then that the government would hunt down other such illegal operators.
Tan said the government should instruct the Customs Department to stop the sacks of rubbish leaving the port.
“That is the source of the trouble. We should have strict enforcement there,” he said. “Constant checks by the local authorities would help solve the problem.”
He explained how even after the spot check by Yeo, more illegal factories are springing up all the time.
The need for alternative countries has increased since China banned nearly all plastic waste importing amid concerns that emissions from processing were harming their environment.
Many international scrap dealers now route their cargo to smaller recyclers in Malaysia, especially in towns near ports, said Tan.
Disposing of the plastic is highly profitable as operating costs are low. He claimed that operators can easily earn at least RM6,000 per tonne of imported plastic trash.
“In Malaysia we can’t even get our own recycling right, yet we’re allowing our countryside and rivers to be turned into garbage dumps filled with rich countries’ plastic,” he sighed.
We spotted more illegal operators in Port Klang.
Near the junction of Jalan Perajurit 2 and Lorong Ikan Bawal, a “recycling centre” the size of four football fields was filled with heaps of plastic waste and operating with impunity.
Tan said the site is illegal and the authorities have asked the operators to stop but they simply ignore all official requests.
He has lodged a police report as he has received threats from some of the illegal operators for constantly checking on them.
He is modest about his bravery in protecting the environment in the face of uncaring profiteers and their threats. He seems to value clean water more than his own safety.
“My only intention is to stop them from polluting the air and water.”
The fishermen of Sungai Chandong are hoping he succeeds.