PETALING JAYA: Many Malaysians still do not see littering as a problem. Indifferent to throwing cigarette butts in the drain or plastic wrappers out a car window, many consider it the job of garbage collectors to keep the streets clean.
But the truth is, actions have consequences, and every single bit of trash has an impact on the environment, even though many may not be able to see this impact on a bigger scale.
Backed by their shared love for adventure and in preserving the cleanliness of the environment, Hafizah, 47, and her husband, Roman Onillon, 40, recently embarked on a walking trip from Kuala Lumpur to Langkawi, picking up trash along the way.
The couple ended up collecting an average of 20kg of trash a day, and a staggering 400kg of trash by the end of their 22-day walking trip.
“Sadly, there was just too much plastic waste, especially water bottles and takeaway drinks packaging, in addition to diapers, straws and cigarette butts,” said Hafizah.
Aside from how unsightly heaps of trash look, stagnant water in and around the trash are ideal breeding grounds for mosquitos while the stench from rotting food and drink attracts rodents and cockroaches, posing a health risk to communities in the vicinity.
Drains clogged with trash have also been a contributing factor to a number of flash floods in the country recently. “Some of the drains we came across were filled to the brim with plastic bottles,” lamented Onillon.
According to the couple, the dirtiest area was Sungai Petani, whereas the Yan district in Kedah was the cleanest.
Walking from KL to Langkawi
Although disheartened by the amount of rubbish they saw along the way, overall, the couple had a memorable journey.
They said they were especially touched by the kind-heartedness of some of the locals who gave them food and drink.
“Some even offered to help us, as they thought we were hitchhikers or that we were lost,” said Hafizah, adding that many took videos of them collecting trash.
Naturally, the couple did worry from time to time about getting mugged. “But our fears were unfounded, as those who approached us were simply curious,” she said.
Despite carefully planning for their walking trip, the couple encountered their first hiccup on day two when Onillon sprained his ankle.
“The old road shoulders aren’t very wide, and so we had to walk on the grass. I sprained my ankle after stepping into a pothole,” he said, adding that after seeking treatment and resting for four days, the couple resumed their journey.
Yet another challenge was dealing with the hot and humid weather. “At times we’d just empty a bottle of water on our heads,” said Onillon, laughing.
Their only regret was not being able to spend enough time exploring all the interesting places they came across while on the road.
“There were all these places we didn’t know about,” said Onillon, adding that the Sungai Klah Hot Springs in Sungkai was the most memorable.
While there are laws against littering, in addition to various campaigns, there’s very little enforcement.
And although one can find many signboards that list the penalties that come with littering, it doesn’t stop people from flinging their trash right next to those very signs.
So, how can one tackle the issue of littering in Malaysia?
“Keep the trash that you have in your pockets or bags, and discard them when you get home,” said Hafizah.
Of course, the better option is to reduce waste in the first place, but that’s another story altogether.