Sunday, December 11, 2016

Recycling in Langkawi

It has been a wonderful Fall semester for me with the Global Field Program. The two classes I had to take this Fall required me to connect with the local community. (I suppose one of the communities in Pulau Langkawi. I am still not sure what the "true" definition of "community" or "local community" is, thanks to a very interesting discussion at the Vermilion Sea Field Station during the summer field trip of the Program.)

Since the theme of my master plan revolves around living sustainably in a UNESCO Geopark, a designation and commitment (obligation to some) that extends to the entire Langkawi archipelago, I thought it would be a good idea to investigate how solid waste is managed on the most inhabited island of the archipelago, Pulau Langkawi.

Basically, everything goes into a landfill next to a non-functioning incinerator. (At the posting of this blog entry, the incinerator has yet to be in operation since the publication of this news article.) Sometime in August this year, some people were sharing videos of a famous tourist attraction, Sungai (means 'river' in Bahasa Malaysia) Kilim, flowing black. Not sure if this is conclusive or not, but authorities started checking out the good ol' landfill and determined, from rapid water quality testings and visual observations (of how mismanaged the landfill is), that the cause is from the direct pollution from the landfill, or specifically an illegal extension of the landfill onto the river banks. (It still boggles me how Langkawi's member of Parliament deducted with confidence that prolonged point-source pollution has no effect on the aquatic/marine life just after maybe a couple of weeks of investigation.)

This one incident sparked the exposé of how poor the management of solid wastes (news article is in Bahasa Malaysia, please use Google's translation service) is on the island that is marketed as "Naturally Langkawi". And whatever happening in Pulau Langkawi is a microcosm of how solid waste is treated in the country.

A shot featured on the exposé mentioned above of Pulau Langkawi's landfill. What is not shown here is the piling up of rubbish right NEXT to the incinerator that is not in operation, a visual metaphorical middle finger from the local government to tax-paying Malaysians all over the country (or maybe just the state of Kedah). The picture in this article is a mash between two photos. 
And do not forget about the litterbug habit of the majority of Malaysians and their fascination of dumping their rubbish UNDER "no dumping rubbish here" signboards throughout the country, creating many, many illegal mini "landfills". This picture, although without the "no dumping rubbish here" signboard, is a forest cleared along a main road on Pulau Langkawi for NO REASON and have been turned into an illegal landfill. Good job, Langkawi, good frigging job.
So how now brown cow? Reducing the amount of rubbish you generate is the best way to not contribute to the filling up of landfills. Another way is to redirect the rubbish we have created from being disposed into landfills by recycling. Unfortunately, Malaysia is very behind in the recycling game, only recently making separation of the solid waste we make at home (some of you may be thinking your fecal matter is solid waste, that is considered to be sewage-lah) MANDATORY. In response to this mandate, Pulau Langkawi has started kerbside recycling - basically having a separate pick up time for the recyclables collected in households from the usual rubbish kerbside collection.
Unfortunately, this kerbside collection of recyclables is only available to about 16.5% of the households in the Langkawi Archipelago (about 3,250 households in Kuah town of Pulau Langkawi).

The rest of the archipelago, if wanting to do our civic duty to not continue to ruin our natural surroundings, have to proactively separate our wastes at home, collect enough, and then send them to recycling facilities. But try googling your hearts out and you will never find good directions to or reliable information on the recycling facilities on Pulau Langkawi. Which is why I decided to focus my Inquiry Action Project (IAP) and Community Engagement Lab (CEL) on recycling in Langkawi.

For this to happen, I got in contact with E-Idaman, the company in charge of collecting the solid waste in the municipality of Pulau Langkawi. It was a very pleasant learning experience. For my IAP, I decided to investigate the response of the 16.5% that HAVE to carry out separation at source at home. For my CEL, since searching for recycling facilities on the island is very troublesome (no reliable results on search engines), I decided to identify the different recycling facilities present on the island and mapped their locations to create an online resource for the public to use. (This map is also one of the "action" components resulted from the findings of my IAP. You can find the map here. Click on the different pins to learn more about the different recycling facilities.)

To summarise: I found a significant reduction in the weight of recyclables collected from the kerbside collection five months after "mandatory" separation at source began; a really minute number of households actually practice separation at source and the weight of recyclables collected is (not statistically) insignificant to the weight of solid wastes produced on the island (~ 50 kg of recyclables a month compared to ~ 120,000 kg in a day); though a small number of residents were interviewed, a majority of them told me that we have to recycle for the good of the environment and the biggest demotivator to recycle is "not having any waste that can be recycled"; the recycling facilities on the island is very concentrated towards the southern part, most of them in Kuah town, while no recycling facilities (nor kerbside collection program) exist in other parts of the island. You can find full details of my inquiry from my final reports (IAP, CEL). (After submitting them, I feel that my reports were poorly written, like this entry. I am sorry.)

A screenshot of the map I created for my class, which I now use to find the closest recycling facility in my vicinity.
An E-Idaman representative and I suspect that the interviewees that said they are not recycling (practicing separation at source) because they do not generate solid waste that are recyclable may not actually know what are considered to be recyclables, or what are collected to be recycled on the island. So with the help of my bestie, I decided to come up with a localised infograph of the solid waste that are to be recycled. (Another reason to do this, which I did not share in my final reports, is that not all of the recyclables listed on the government's website to get Malaysians to separate their waste at source are collected to be recycled on the island.)

Langkawi only accepts paper, plastic, and metal. The rest are not accepted at all, what a shame. I am still very disappointed when I found out that glass is NOT accepted at any recycling facilities, nor the kerbside collection service. What a waste, since the island produces quite a lot of glass waste being a duty free island (cheap liquor).

Kenneth's super awesome creation to help residents of Langkawi sort their rubbish properly to be recycled!
It is a shame that the government is not enforcing this mandatory separation at source in its entirety, as there are no plans to do this in the other households/parts of Langkawi and not warning nor fining any offenders of this law. (Households can be warned three times before getting fined by the relevant authorities which can reach up to RM1,000.00 for repeated offenders!) I think the enforcement of this mandate is a failure from the start because everything seemed really rush and the announcement was not "grand". And I believe it did not reach many Malaysians. (Only one news article in late 2014, separation at source started out in September 2015 with many Malaysians still not knowing what to do because of the lack of awareness campaigns, and not having a proper framework to monitor this practice even after almost two years before "enforcement".)

The bad planning and the (federal, state, local, whatever) government's inability to execute this law properly, make me question how on earth are law enforcers going to know which household is practicing separation at source and which is not? What if a household only practices separation at source once a month (sounds efficient)? So many shortcomings of a wonderful law to help battle the use of landfills to safeguard out natural resources. (Unless these leaders of state decide to sell forest land to businesses. Ugh, greedy people.)

I know the findings of my inquiry and mapping exercise are quite demotivating, but I hope the infograph and the map created for my assignments will be useful to anybody interested in recycling on Pulau Langkawi. I truly believe that we can live sustainably on Pulau Langkawi, and it can be as simple as sending your plastic bottles to be recycled.

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