Malaysia's illegal dumping sites pose a big challenge

Shortly after the authorities found chemical waste dumped in an oil palm estate in Bukit Teh (above) in Penang, a sprawling illegal plastic dump site was discovered nearby.
Shortly after the authorities found chemical waste dumped in an oil palm estate in Bukit Teh (above) in Penang, a sprawling illegal plastic dump site was discovered nearby.PHOTO: THE STAR/ ASIA NEWS NETWORK

Plastic waste site as big as six football fields found in Penang as nation battles widespread problem

BUKIT MERTAJAM (Penang) • From the north to the south of Peninsular Malaysia, there seems to be no end to the discovery of illegal dump sites.

Although Penang was the first state to implement the "no single-use plastic" initiative, it has a lot more environmental battles to take on, with illegal disposal of waste becoming a hot-button issue of late.

Soon after the report of chemical waste being dumped in an oil palm estate in Bukit Teh, an illegal plastic dump site the size of six football fields has been discovered in nearby Machang Bubok.

During a visit to the site on Tuesday, The Star saw mounds of shredded plastic almost two storeys high.

Excavators and forklifts were at work unloading more of such waste from trucks.

It is believed that the marshland was previously an illegal sand quarry that had been shut down many years ago.

Besides plastic waste, items such as discarded furniture and construction debris have filled up the pools of water there.

 
 
 

In one corner of the dump site, thick black smoke could be seen billowing into the air from the open burning of waste.

The illegal plastic dump site is near the oil palm estate where several barrels of waste chemicals were earlier discovered by the local authorities.

DANGEROUS FOR ALL

When proper protective measures are not in place, neighbouring communities will not be the only ones affected. Workers at the dump site too will be exposed to dangerous and unjust working conditions. This puts lives at risk. This can be very hazardous to young children as well as adults.

SAHABAT ALAM MALAYSIA PRESIDENT S.M. MOHAMED IDRIS, who says the burning of plastic releases persistent organic pollutants, toxic emissions and greenhouse gases.

A check with the Seberang Perai Municipal Council confirmed that no permits had been issued for dump sites at the two locations.

Machang Bubok assemblyman Lee Khai Loon said he had filed several reports with the Department of Environment over the last three years after receiving complaints from the public.

However, the dumping activities had only increased.

"There must be sufficient enforcement to stop all these acts, only then can we start cleaning up and rehabilitate the place," he said.

Mr S.M. Mohamed Idris, president of environmental group Sahabat Alam Malaysia, said the burning of plastic releases persistent organic pollutants, toxic emissions and greenhouse gases.

"When proper protective measures are not in place, neighbouring communities will not be the only ones affected.

"Workers at the dump site too will be exposed to dangerous and unjust working conditions.

"This puts lives at risk. This can be very hazardous to young children as well as adults," he said.

 
 
 

It was earlier reported that illegal plastic waste factories, mostly in Selangor, are moving to locations in other states, including Kuantan in Pahang, Pasir Gudang in Johor, Chemor in Perak, and Lukut in Negeri Sembilan.

Data from the Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Ministry shows that so far, Selangor has the highest number of such premises shut down - 78 illegal factories.

Last July, the ministry announced a freeze on plastic waste import permits following serious cases of pollution in Kuala Langat, Selangor, from illegal factories processing imported plastic waste.

China banned plastic imports last year, which led to a number of Chinese companies relocating their operations to Malaysia.

The value of imported plastic waste increased from RM274 million (S$91 million) in 2016 to RM490 million the following year.

Meanwhile Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Minister Yeo Bee Yin said yesterday that satellite data shows Pasir Gudang has about 46 potential illegal dumping locations.

This was one of the findings by the scientific committee formed to look into the toxic chemical spill at Sungai Kim Kim on March 7 that affected more than 3,000 people and forced over 100 schools in the Pasir Gudang area to close.

THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 21, 2019, with the headline 'Malaysia's illegal dumping sites pose a big challenge'. Print Edition | Subscribe