By Khor Hung Teik
In 1992, Malaysia signed the United Nations’ Earth Summit Rio Declaration on Environment and Development in Rio de Janerio. This gave rise to Agenda 21, a comprehensive plan of actions to be taken globally, nationally and locally by major actors. Some national and state governments have legislated or advised that local authorities take steps to implement the plan locally, as recommended in Chapter 28 of the document.
In formulating Penang’s environment framework, inputs from the Penang Blueprint prepared by the Socio-Economic & Environmental Research Institute (SERI), now known as Penang Institute, were adopted to include all the efforts the state government has undertaken since 2008.
Phee Boon Poh, state executive councillor for Health, Welfare, Caring Society and Environment said, “The Penang government’s environmental policy is to transform Penang’s economic, social and cultural development so as to improve the quality of life for its citizens through environmentally sound and sustainable principles. The Penang state government has already implemented some initiatives [without] waiting for the federal government to come up with policies.”
In order to achieve its environmental policy, the state government is adopting three strategies:
Strategy 1: Protection of the environment and reducing the impact of development
Plans under this strategy include a solid waste management framework and the Cleaner Greener Penang Initiative, a comprehensive plan that comes under the Penang Island Municipal Council’s (MPPP) Penang Island Cleanliness Master Plan.
Penang will also see the commencement of waste separation at the source in 2012, an upgraded Level 4 Sanitary Landfill (with leachate treatment that meets the Department of Environment’s stringent new standards) and a material recovery facility to recover resources from discards.
One of Phee’s ideas for a green state is the 100 Steps to Cleanliness programme that will place decorative 3R (Reduce, Reuse and Recycle) bins on the sides of major roads and at tourists spots. These solar-powered decorative bins are fully private-sponsored, and the council collects advertisement revenue from the operator. The main objective of such bins is to act as a constant reminder for people to segregate their waste.
Another initiate is the establishment of buyback centres. One example is a drive-through centre at Sunway Carnival in Seberang Perai, where the public can bring in their recyclables and get paid on the spot.
Other forms of buyback centres in Penang include Recycling Banks at Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Seri Balik Pulau and Sekolah Kebangsaan Balik Pulau, where school students “bank in” recyclables, which are recorded in a recycling bank book where points are accumulated and later translated into cash.
There are communities that also operate as buyback centres on a periodical basis. Communities separate and gather their recyclables, then sell them to a recycling agent. Used roadside banners are also being collected and sent to the hardcore poor and other underprivileged groups such as single mothers to be sewn into shopping bags for supplementary income. This practice has lessened the amount of discarded banners in the landfill, and banner-making companies have started to collect used banners.
Plans are afoot to collect used cooking oil and food waste from restaurants and wet markets for composting or turning into bio-fertilisers. A food processing machine has been placed in the Bayan Baru wet market to turn food waste into liquid fertiliser. Macalister Road in George Town and Kampung Benggali in Bagan have been earmarked as the most frequented areas for hawker food to collect used cooking oil.
Some projects have been hailed as successes. Phee said, “A good example is the introduction of No Free Plastic Bag Monday in 2009. It was extended from one day to three days due to encouraging public support. In 2011, it became No Free Plastic Bag Everyday for supermarkets and hypermarkets. This policy saw an immediate reduction in the use of plastic bags.” The successful No Free Plastic Bag Monday campaign was followed by the No Polystyrene at Local Council Hawker Centres campaign which came into force on January 1, 2011.
Used computers and peripherals are collected under the Dell-Sunshine-MPPP Programme. The Suiwah Group of Companies which operates the Sunshine chain of supermarkets has also allocated space and collects used computers on specified days. The MPPP has set up several centres at their sub-offices for the collection.
Phee added that for the collection of electric & electronic waste, the state has started talking to manufacturers and dealers to formulate a take-back policy, especially for end-of-life products. “It is better for them to be self-regulating than having it enforced on them.”
The state will also be looking into the collection of household hazardous waste (HHW). This programme was started some years back but lacked financial backing for safe disposal by local councils.
Strategy 2: Improve quality of life through environmental planning
This strategy includes cleaning rivers and waterways through effective microorganism (EM) mudball treatment, the greening of the inner city such as the Carnarvon Street Tree Planting projects undertaken by Think City, developing the Penang Botanic Gardens and revitalising the Relau Agriculture Station. The Penang Hill Corporation (PHC) also plans to develop Penang Hill into an eco-tourism destination.
“The state also plans to gazette 800ha of seafront area around Penang Island and Seberang Perai for mangrove planting,” said Phee. “Aside from 10,000 mangrove trees on the island’s coast, we also hope to plant another 10,000 along the mainland. The idea is to establish a city mangrove park that is easily accessible, that will also serve as bird sanctuary. Boardwalks will be built for anglers doing recreational fishing.”The MPPP, World Heritage Incorporated and the Penang Development Corporation are engaged in talks to revitalise the Prangin Canal area into a park.
Strategy 3: Adaptation for future environmental challenges and threats
The real challenge for Penang is in adapting to environmental changes rather than in doing mitigation work. The implications of the global environmental crisis on Penang have to be watched, to prevent ecosystem loss and biodiversity erosion as well as the depletion of natural resources.
To meet this challenge, Phee has instructed each district to establish Environment Resource Centres. These act as information dissemination and demonstration centres where interested parties can observe and learn practical approaches in reducing their eco-footprint. Presently, there are seven centres in Seberang Perai and one on Penang Island. A centre at Taman Desa Damai, Bukit Mertajam has now become a regional centre and has been adopted by CIMB Bank as a reference centre for greening communities.
Extreme climatic changes in different parts of the globe have serious implications for agriculture and the global food supply which may affect Penang’s food security. Malaysia is a net importer of food and the level of self-sufficiency is declining. Due to Penang’s vulnerability to food scarcity, a programme encouraging communities to grow their own vegetable has also been introduced.The Seberang Perai Municipal Council (MPSP) will be incorporating rainwater harvesting systems into the upgrading works of three wet markets in Seberang Perai.
Pig farmers in Penang have been urged by the state government to implement the closed house farming (CHF) system that has proven to be cleaner, more hygienic and environmental-friendly. Animal waste is turned into biodiesel or biogas with a zero discharge policy, meaning that waste water is not channelled into the waterways.
Farms in Kampung Selamat have adopted the CHF system and have shown positive effects. Those in Kampung Valdor, in a private initiative joint venture with a firm that specialises in treating pig waste, will be producing biogas as well as generating electricity. Turning pig farm waste into useable biogas will create a sustainable business model for Penang to reference as an iconic renewable energy solution.
Pig farms in Pinang Tunggal will also be receiving aid from the Ministry of Environment in Japan to cultivate chlorella (a single-celled green algae) as a probiotic for animal feed.
The state has also appointed France-based green energy specialist Bionersis to carry out the Landfill Gas Project at the Pulau Burung dumpsite near Nibong Tebal, which will generate between RM12mil and RM14mil in royalties over the next 12 years for the MPSP.
Eco-towns and eco-cities are a relatively new approach in town planning, and in achieving sustainable urban development. The Bayan Lepas Free Industrial Zone has been identified as a “brown field” (developed area) for the development of the eco-town concept in 2009, whilst Batu Kawan and an eco-village on Penang Hill are marked as “green fields” (undeveloped areas) in the coming years. The establishment of eco-towns is in line with Penang’s vision to become a green manufacturing hub in the region.
The way ahead
The state government has established the Penang Science Council to create an environment that generates passion for technical innovations that help environmental work. It has also set up the Penang Green Council to look into all matters pertaining to the environment and sustainability. There is also a proposal to establish a government-linked company (GLC) to manage public cleansing, solid waste collection, transfer and disposal.
“Penang hopes to meet future challenges that will be coming our way,” said Phee. “Either we adapt and overcome or we perish for not being able to change.”
Khor Hung Teik is a manager at the Penang Institute and has been tracking practical and workable green practices since 2000. He has also authored manuals on household composting and initiated several community composting projects in Penang.