A Cleaner Penang Requires People Getting Their Hands Dirty

More ways to recycle and reduce waste are underway. But all will be for naught without commitment from individuals.

Aerobic composer unit at Bagan Ajam.

A precursor to a successful, sustainable and liveable city is good waste management. Knowing this, the Penang state government implemented the Waste Segregation at Source scheme in June 1 this year.

The results have been encouraging.

The scheme, filed under the Local Government Act 1976, was adopted by both the Penang Island City Council (MBPP) and Seberang Perai Municipal Council (MPSP). It follows the No Plastic Bag and No Styrofoam campaigns aimed at making the state cleaner and greener.

The scheme seeks to ensure that our landfills are sustainable – especially the one at Pulau Burung. Households in Penang produce 1,700-1,800 tonnes of waste daily, and this is transported to Pulau Burung. The first two phases of the landfill are already full and the current site, Phase 3, is spread over an area of 314 acres.

Larger items like construction waste and furniture are taken to the Jelutong landfill.

Going Green, One Step at a Time

At present, Penangites are required to segregate waste to a minimum of two streams: recyclable waste and general waste including organic waste. “The focus now is to educate the public on segregation at source,” says Oon Lai Kuan, the head of the state’s solid waste management unit.

According to Penang’s bylaws, waste can be categorised as public waste, residual waste, institutional waste, household waste, construction waste, commercial waste, industrial waste, garden waste and recyclable waste. The collection system is largely privatised on the island and operated by contractors on behalf of the island’s local authorities responsible for waste disposal. Collection coverage approaches 90% of households both on the island and on the mainland.

The Bagan Ajam composting plant.

In Seberang Perai, the council resolved in 2012 to take over the collection of waste from nonperforming contractors, and by July 2014 had fully taken over this responsibility. To date, there are 2,500 workers tasked with the job, and services are provided to residents three times a week for general waste, once a week for bulk waste, and Saturdays for recyclable waste in all 39 zones in Seberang Perai.

Food waste converters are placed at public markets to turn organic waste into enzymes.

Bio-Regen is the company that collects these enzymes then sells them to farmers and landscape companies as soil enhancers.

“We just sold a batch of soil enhancers to Indonesia. Even Singapore is adopting our food conversion system,” says Soh Yew Aun, Director of Bio-Regen. The Bio-Regen food converter machine is made in Penang and can be found in 20 locations around the state. It includes eight markets, seven schools, two high-rise apartments and one food court.

As for bottles, South Zest collects them and crushes them before sending them off to Thailand for further use. “We expect to collect 30 tonnes of bottles per month,” says Jasper Ooi, company director.

Other bodies that are actively promoting recycling include the Penang Green Council (PGC) and the Tzu Chi Recycling Centre. PGC is a non-profit governmental organisation that, among its many other green programmes, organises e-waste collection at various locations so that households can dispose of their electronic waste. Tzu Chi, on the other hand, is a voluntary organisation that collects recyclable items and channels profits to their charity-based dialysis centre.

Rethinking Our Lifestyle
The engineers and architects need to rethink development, whether for the residential, commercial or manufacturing sector. The end results must be aimed towards sustainability and not only as an afterthought.

MPSP President Datuk Maimunah Mohd Sharif.


Apart from the usual “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” motto, MPSP President Datuk Maimunah Mohd Sharif introduced a fourth “R” – Rethink. “Rethink is not only about sustainable development and low-carbon footprints, it is about rethinking our way or life, starting with ourselves,” says Maimunah, naming the use of handkerchiefs instead of tissue paper as an example.

“We are only borrowing from the environment and we have a limited amount of resources which we must utilise carefully,” she adds. “First, we start with ourselves, then the community gets involved, then the movement grows outwards until it reaches everyone globally.

“Even when we shop, we should ask ourselves if we really need to purchase the item, or are we buying it just because it’s on sale? Do we need to take more food in the buffet line than necessary? Eventually, Rethink will reach the community, and then we ask ourselves, ‘Is this how we want to spend our budget?’ and ‘How do we, as a community, want this or that to happen?’

“Finally, when policies are drafted and implemented, policy makers will need to rethink from past experiences as to how these policies will affect everyone involved. We have to take responsibility for our own actions and take charge of our own surroundings,” she says.

A town planner by profession, Maimunah stresses the importance of reducing water, energy and paper usage, and incorporates her expertise into effectively getting the council to think along these lines when approving building plans. “The engineers and architects need to rethink development, whether for the residential, commercial or manufacturing sector. The end results must be aimed towards sustainability and not only as an afterthought. Facilities such as recycling, composting and water harvesting centres should be included in the design,” she says.

For her efforts, Maimunah received the Town Planner of Year Award from the Malaysian Institute of Town Planners in 2014.

Partnership is Key

Taking the cue from the Penang Women’s Development Corporation’s exercise in Gender Reform Budgeting, Maimunah administered a fourth “P” for Partnership after Public, Private and People when she realised that there was a need to have mutual consensus to successfully execute a plan. “We interviewed people through online surveys in four languages and had town hall meetings for a budget dialogue. Cleanliness was the priority and that was what the people wanted,” she says. “I learnt during my three months in Nagoya in 1997 on a programme sponsored by the United Nations that we often compartmentalise things the wrong way. We used to think in terms of sectors and industries when actually all these are just subsets of the environment. That experience was an eye-opener for me.”

Currently, MPSP has 57 recycling centres at the community level and 149 schools participating in recycling activities. Giving the example of the Bagan Ajam composting project, Maimunah reveals that the council provides a five-litre container to every household and a 20-litre unit to every apartment block with strata titles.

“So far, there are 20 such communities committed to this project, out of which nine projects are active,” says Chew Eng Seng, the eco-community unit chief of MPSP. “We also distributed flower pots to schools – 10 per school to 110 schools – with the collaboration of Guppy Plastic,” he adds. “On top of that, we have prepared over 14,000 ‘Kitar-Semula’ (Recycling) boxes to be distributed to these schools too.”

Larger items like construction waste and furniture are taken to the Jelutong landfill.

Other initiatives by MPSP include throwing microorganism mud balls into Sungai Junjung Mati, and recycling used cooking oil. “There is a machine to collect used cooking oil for conversion into biodiesel at RM1 per kilogramme,” says Chew.

Twenty greening programmes are included in the Local Action 21 (LA21). “I say ‘Local Action 21’ and not ‘Local Agenda 21’ as we need to put these thoughts into action and not merely let it collect dust as an agenda,” Maimunah quips. “All this is possible because of the 4Ps; we ask for commitment from the community and they give their best,” says Maimunah.

Global warming and climate change are happening right now, and small efforts, from household waste segregation at source to community partnerships are a way of doing our part to keep Penang cleaner, and greener.

Carolyn Khor is a pluviophile who enjoys a good book alongside an aromatic cup of coffee. A music teacher by profession, she was also a contributor to MSN, the Penang Green Council and many other online and print publications.



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