PETALING JAYA : As much as 88,000 tonnes of floating waste has been fished out of the Klang River since 2019, taking the waterway out of the dreaded list of being among the 50 most polluted rivers in the world.
The process, carried out by two Dutch-made garbage-collection watercraft, generated waste which could fill more than 470 Boeing 747 aircraft, or 3,500 RapidKL buses.
Since then, daily waste collected has reduced significantly. The river’s water quality has also improved, going from being entirely unusable to sufficiently suitable as drink for livestock.
However, that is as good as it can get for now, said Syaiful Azmen Nordin, managing director of Landasan Lumayan Sdn Bhd, the company responsible for bringing in the two solar-powered rubbish clearing machines.
“Realistically, looking at the profile of the river, we cannot be so ambitious because the Klang River is considered an urban river with 25 industries (operating) along the entire stretch and a (neighbouring) population of roughly 3 million.”
These factors result in a continuous flow of waste into the river, causing contamination and necessitating the use of the “Interceptor” machines, supplied by The Ocean Cleanup (TOC), a Dutch NGO.
“The good thing about TOC (is) they are not just looking at river cleaning. They are always looking at the full value chain in river and waste management. We started with the river cleaning but now, we are looking into managing the sources of pollution which are the tributaries.”
The other issue faced by waste management organisations around the world is that not all the rubbish removed from the river can be recycled.
“We have managed to minimise waste removal from the river. Now, we have to minimise how much of that waste is going to the landfill,” said Syaiful Azmen.
Further upstream, along a stretch of the Klang River in Taman Melawati, a team of volunteers facing similar issues has found more hands-on solutions.
The Alliance of River Three is the brainchild of Kennedy Michael, an award-winning environmentalist and river rehabilitation specialist who got into river cleaning by chance.
Acquaintances had initially wanted his marine conservation skills for a river revitalisation project they were conducting along the Klang River, which he said gave him a “rude awakening”.
“I did not see any impact (from their efforts), you know. (The river was) still dirty. The trail was inaccessible, (they) did not actually have a plan and they did not actually do anything. Once a year they would go ‘gotong-royong’ and then it is forgotten.
“That’s when we created the River Three river CPR programme,” he told FMT.
This programme has seen more than 5,000 volunteers over the past five years participate in cleaning up the portion of the river that flows through Taman Melawati River Three Park.
Kennedy said they have worked for 270 straight weeks, “which means no holidays, no public holidays, no breaks, no excuses, rain or shine or whatever. That is our commitment.”
The cleaned-up section of the river has gone from a murky brown colour to almost clear, with the group collecting all manner of waste in the process.
“An old motorcycle frame, refrigerator, mattress, furniture, pillows, plastic bags now and then, cigarette butts,” said Kennedy, listing some of the waste items extracted from the river.
He said while the river has cleared considerably there are still improvements to be made to the way it is managed and maintained.
As water is a critical resource, Kennedy said it has been important for the group to ensure it was not reliant on government funding, which may not come in consistently.
“(People) need water on a daily basis. So you cannot say, ‘Oh, I don’t have enough allocations, money or funding, so I won’t keep the rivers clean.’”
The next phase of the Alliance of River Three is to “exit” from river cleaning activities by 2030.
“When I say ‘exit’, I mean that we transition to the next phase (by) developing the community,” said Kennedy.
However, as effective as clean-up efforts may be, the ultimate solution lies in better upstream waste management.
As Syaiful put it: “Ideally we do not need the Interceptor. You know why? Because we should not actually be doing river cleaning. Rivers do not generate waste so where is it coming from?
“The waste is coming from us,” he said, adding that a change in attitudes towards waste disposal is necessary.