Widespread illegal dumping sites in Malaysia pose challenge for authorities

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BUKIT MERTAJAM, PENANG (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - From the north to the south of Peninsular Malaysia, there seems to be no end to the discovery of illegal dumpsites.

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 issue of late.

Just three days after the report of chemical waste dumped in an oil palm estate in Bukit Teh here, an illegal plastic dumpsite the size of six football fields has been uncovered in nearby Machang Bubok.

During a visit to the site on Tuesday (March 19), 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 dumpsite, thick black smoke could be seen billowing into the air from open burning of waste.

The illegal plastic dumpsite is about 100m from the oil palm estate where several barrels of waste chemicals were discovered by the authorities three days ago.

A check with the Seberang Prai Municipal Council confirmed that no permits had been issued for dumpsites 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, he added, the dumping activities only increased.

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

Sahabat Alam Malaysia president S.M. Mohamed Idris 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 dumpsite 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 Negri 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 at 78, followed by Perak (16), Kedah (15), Negri Sembilan (12) and Penang (10).

In July last year, the ministry announced the freezing of plastic waste import permits following serious incidents of pollution in Kuala Langat, Selangor, from illegal factories processing imported plastic waste.

China banned plastic imports in 2018, which led to a number of Chinese companies relocating their operations to Malaysia, with some setting up shop in the country as soon as the Chinese government announced in 2017 its intention to impose the ban.

According to official statistics, the value of imported plastic waste increased from RM274 million (S$90.7 million) in 2016 to RM490 million the following year.

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