Another dumpsite found as Penang declares war on plastic waste

A time lapse showing the same area between 2003 and 2019 as captured on Google Earth.

BUTTERWORTH: What is believed to be another illegal dumpsite has been found on a large tract of land next to the Perai river here, with heavy undergrowth indicating that it may have gone undetected for some time.

Located off Jalan Bagan 1, it appears similar to the dumpsite in Sungai Petani, Kedah, where tonnes of plastic waste were recently discovered.

Its position off the main road means that it is far from public view. Parts of the area are charred, a possible sign that they were set ablaze only recently.

All manner of waste can be found along the dirt track leading to the site, from construction debris and plastic scraps to discarded prayer items.

Prayer items, including stacks of unused joss sticks, on the dirt track near Jalan Bagan 1, Butterworth.

Not far from the dumpsite, which appears to be abandoned, is a huge clearing surrounded by mangrove forests. It is believed that a section of the mangrove swamp had been cleared and turned into a holding point for construction waste.

Bagan Dalam assemblyman Satees Muniandy, who accompanied FMT to the site, said the mangrove forests appeared to be significantly reduced.

He said mangrove forests are important as they act as a sponge to absorb excess rain and any water that overflows when the riverbank bursts during thunderstorms.

Checks by FMT found that the land was given to a private developer by the Penang government for the purpose of “transferring earth” from another project in Seberang Jaya.

Bagan Dalam assemblyman Satees Muniandy showing construction waste amid the vegetation on the dumpsite.

The developer was given possession of the land on April 10, 2017, under the supervision of the North Seberang Perai district office.

FMT has contacted the land office for comments.

Satees, a former Seberang Perai Municipal Council (MPSP) councillor, said while the clearing appeared to be legal, the dumping of waste was not.

He said the council had issued notices to the landowner to clean up the dirt track but nothing had been done.

He added that many structures had been built on state land next to the dirt track without permission.

These include a Taoist temple, a shack that appeared to be a longhouse for foreign workers, and a collection point for items to be recycled.

Construction, plastic and electronic waste and rubbish strewn all over the dumpsite.

Satees said the sprouting of illegal dumpsites is no surprise as Butterworth is a port town and receives tonnes of unwanted waste from around the world.

He said major developments in town and the larger Perai area also contribute to the increasing amount of waste.

“My solution is simple: install solar-powered CCTV cameras in these areas. It worked when I installed one at an illegal dumping spot in Butterworth previously.

“This would deter people from dumping waste there, as they know they would be caught,” he said.

War against plastic waste

State Environment Committee chairman Phee Boon Poh said dumping grounds are often set ablaze by people who want to “harvest” metal bits from plastic waste, such as copper, for a quick profit.

The land clearing believed to be part of the mangrove forests near the dumpsite.

“We are going to have an all-out war against plastic waste. From now on, we are going to get all our 300 village community management councils to be our eyes and ears to report illegal dumping,” he told FMT.

Phee said the public can also email him at [email protected] to report illegal dumping, or exco colleague Jagdeep Singh Deo at [email protected].

“Just send us a picture and the location and we assure you we will take action.

“Those operating illegally will have their power and water supply cut. We will apply for a court order,” he said.

Phee added however that the government would continue to allow recycling factories that follow environmental regulations to operate.

“We have insisted that these factories only process up to 70% of their capacity. They must concentrate the rest of their efforts on helping their local communities recycle,” he said.

He said while the federal authorities allow the import of pre-consumer plastics, stiffer laws are needed on how containers are declared at ports.

Currently, customs declaration laws are lax and have led to exploitation by unscrupulous importers, he said. Understaffed customs personnel also make it impossible to check every container.

Phee also said the penalties for “false” and “wrong” declarations of goods are too low.

In the case of a “wrong” declaration – when an importer is found to have wrongly declared the goods in a container or containers which have never left the port – the penalty is a fine of RM5,000.

In the case of a “false” declaration – when a container is caught leaving the customs checkpoint or a port with falsely declared goods – the penalty is a fine of RM50,000.

At the full council meeting last week, MPSP revealed that there were 404 plastic recycling factories on the mainland alone.

It said the parliamentary areas with the highest number of such factories are Batu Kawan (239) followed by Bukit Mertajam (59), Nibong Tebal (34), Tasek Gelugor (25), Bagan (23), Kepala Batas (13) and Permatang Pauh (11).

Of the 404 factories, 390 are licensed while the rest are illegal.