A Taste for Waste

loading Gary Teoh showing the rotary composting drum at the composting centre in Auto-City.

Seberang Perai is going very green, thanks to public-private partnerships and passionate communities.

It’s no secret that the Seberang Perai Municipal Council (MPSP) has stepped up its greening efforts. Helming the Ecocommunity Unit at MPSP is Chew Eng Seng, an avid environmentalist who has initiated and overseen many green projects and training for schools, communities, industries and individuals.

Among Chew’s projects are the recycling projects in Taman Pandan in the north, and upcycling projects in Kampung Permatang Nibong in the central district. Both projects are generously supported by Gary Teoh and his wife, Bee Lee, who founded Auto-City in Juru.

Thirteen years ago, Auto-City began as a one-stop banking, retail and F&B development. It has since transformed into an environmentally friendly complex through Teoh and Bee Lee’s vision. “Our idea is to show we can develop a sustainable and healthy environment by integrating modern development with nature and green practices, or ‘modern nature’,” says Teoh, who coined the term. “The encouragement given by the local government is starting to show results.”

Auto-City is moving towards zero waste, and with hard work, dedication and cooperation from all the tenants within the development, Teoh and Bee Lee believe this can be achieved. “The restaurants at Auto-City have given their fullest cooperation by disposing their food waste at our composting centre.

“Every day, kitchen waste is delivered to the centre where our workers will then carry out procedures for the fermentation process to take place. Once people own up to their responsibilities towards nature, the rest will follow,” says Teoh.

There are four rotary composter drums, a sieving machine and a dryer at Auto-City. After the compost is ready, they are either used immediately or packed into gunny sacks for keeping. Teoh reveals that the kitchen waste from Auto-City amounts to 150kg per day, or 4.5 tonnes per month, but is reduced by about 80% after the fermentation process.

A Taste for Waste

Recycling centre at Auto-City.

“The compost is used for our landscaping projects by the canal and all around the premises, and for our vegetable plots and fruit trees. We also donate them to the local council to beautify their plants,” says Teoh.

Wastewater from the tenants is also filtered and then used to water plants and flush toilets. “First, solid matter is filtered out. Then, microbes treat the waste water and remove all odour, oil, chemicals and bacteria. We have been watering our plants using naturally treated water.

“It took us half a year of research and trial and error to come up with this system. Our cheap, low-maintenance and effective methods can be recreated in rural areas to minimise wastage and reduce the use of resources,” he says.

Auto-City is the recipient of several green awards and frequently receives visitors from environmental organisations, including participants from the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) for turning a swamp into a green development.

Complementing the modern facilities available at its premises is a comprehensive green ecological system, which includes green offices, green farming, composting, wastewater filtration, as well as a liveable habitat for butterflies, dragonflies and bees.

Taking Recycling Seriously

Taman Pandan in Butterworth is a guarded three-block apartment comprising 357 housing units. With MPSP’s encouragement, the Taman Pandan Management Committee agreed to take their green efforts one step further and turn organic waste into compost using a rotating machine. Under the supervision of Loh Poh Chen, dubbed the “Recycling Queen,” Taman Pandan has become a model for others.

To date, Loh has arranged more than 400 talks and workshops to schools and other green programmes, thus emphasising the need to spread awareness through campaigning and the enforcement of existing laws. “We have been segregating our waste since 2002, when the local council launched the Local Action 21 (LA21) programme to encourage communities to recycle and do composting.

“All waste is segregated according to categories such as paper, plastic, aluminium tin, styrofoam, e-waste, used batteries, glass, florescent tubes, empty drink boxes, used cooking oil, organic waste, and old clothes and toys. We also have 20 plots of vegetable patches where participating residents plant their own vegetables,” says Loh.

Recyclable bags produced at the Taman Pandan recycling centre.

Loh explaining the process of composting.

“We collect about 800kg of recyclable materials monthly, and a lorry from Fo En recycling centre in Kulim comes to collect on a weekly basis. Drinking cartons are made of layers of paper, plastic and aluminium and cannot be recycled as raw paper, so these are collected separately.

“Used cooking oil is given to an ‘aunty’ who then sells them to soap-makers. We also turn recyclable materials such as detergent bottles into flower pot holders that are shaped like a swan, and turn packaging foils into reusable bags,” she adds.

Loh and her team were using conventional methods for composting until three years ago, when they received a rotating machine from Teoh. The machine resulted from Teoh’s personal interest in researching for a sustainable composting method.

A Taste for Waste

Vegetable plots at Kampung Permatang Nibong.

Presently, the machine is sheltered next to the recycling centre. A helper comes in everyday to turn the compost and transfer the mixture into the machine. The machine produces 200kg of compost monthly which is then sold at RM3 per kg. “The rotating machine is very cost-effective, and our monthly electricity bill does not exceed RM30,” Loh says.

Teoh’s method involves mixing the organic waste with cocopeat and then leaving the mixture in the rotating machine for six days. Once this process is completed, the compost is transferred to a sorting machine to filter the compost. This last step is almost not necessary – by the end of six days, the compost is fine and ready to use.

Kampung Permatang Nibong

With a total of 500 houses, Kampung Permatang Nibong prides itself as being the first and only Malay village to carry out green practices, with half of its villagers participating.

A Taste for Waste

Vegetable plots at Kampung Permatang Nibong.

Husband and wife Abdul Rahman Saad and Fauziah Hasan manage Korporasi Lestari Alam Sekitar Seberang Perai, a solarpowered upcycling centre (courtesy of First Solar Malaysia). Housed in a refurbished container, the centre, which is also known as Bengkel Kreatif (Creative Workshop), is equipped with three sewing machines made available to housewives who take turns to create handmade women’s accessories such as handbags, earrings, brooches and bangles.

All these items are for sale: “All proceeds from the handicraft go to the co-op. The highest dividend that was distributed to our members was 15%; that is much more than what the banks offer,” says Fauziah.

The project started three years ago when MPSP shortlisted the village as a potential project partner to implement green practices under LA21. Teoh invited trainers from the Kilus Foundation in the Philippines, an NGO that advocates saving and beautifying the earth and empowering women through handicraft skills, to train the villagers to upcycle waste materials.

“We also collect drink cartons and use the aluminium foil to layer the roofs. Proceeds from the recycling centre go to the mosque,” says Abdul Rahman, who is also a committee member of the mosque. “Every two months, we sell the recycled items and get about RM300.”

A short distance away, vegetable patches dot the view. Eighteen participating residents plant home-grown vegetables to barter trade with each other. Each household is allotted two patches, and the vegetables are watered with harvested rain water from a tank that can hold up to 1,000 gallons.

The residents also compost their organic waste: “We mix the kitchen waste together with sawdust and decayed grass; the ratio is one part organic matter, one part sawdust. The sawdust is obtained from mushroom farms after it is discarded. We use this as it is not treated with chemicals,” says Abdul Rahman.

Another noteworthy green activity carried out at the village is the use of biogas. Biogas uses organic waste to attain energy through a machine sponsored by Teoh. “This biogas digester has the capability to generate one cubic metre of gas which can last up to two hours daily. It consumes 2kg of organic waste to achieve that volume,” says Abdul Rahman.

Without doubt, through the combined efforts of the villagers, Kampung Permatang Nibong is the greenest village in Seberang Perai. And on the whole, the municipality shows that not just the environment, but also communities, can benefit through public-private partnerships and shared responsibilities.

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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