October 7, 2008

Local Councils Should Lead

By Mariam Mokhtar

I AGREE with your report that more emphasis should be placed on looking after our environment ("Time to take out the garbage" - NST, Oct 3).

The health risks that come with garbage are numerous. So public awareness of destruction to the environment should be heightened.

I am alarmed by your report which outlines what the Solid Waste and Public Cleansing Management Bill is supposed to do.

This bill should not force people to recycle or impose fines on them if they don't. This will not encourage people to recycle.

Malaysians are not known for their cleanliness. They throw plastic bags and used tissue paper out of their car windows. Some throw rubbish into the monsoon drain in front of their house rather than in their rubbish bin. The "not in my backyard" mentality persists.

What is lacking is education and leadership, and that is what this bill should encourage.

We can educate our young by getting schoolchildren involved in recycling and environmental awareness projects.

We can organise competitions that focus on recycling. Participation, creativity and rewards are good motivators for young minds.

We can continue this awareness and activity at home by recycling our garbage - separating plastic, paper and glass, reusing certain materials (for example, old carpets make good weed deterrents on flower beds, and envelopes can be reused) and composting our kitchen waste.

But what we need most is leadership. Local councils can perform this role with ease. It's a better alternative than depending on private enterprise or non-governmental organisations for direction.

Local councils can provide households with free bin bags for the collection of certain types of plastic or paper. Simple instructions on what products are to be placed separately in these bags could be printed on the outside.

The bin bags should be transparent so that waste collectors can see that the instructions have been adhered to, e.g. plastic materials have not been mixed with paper.

They can also organise the collection of these waste materials by arranging for special lorries to visit on set days of the week.

The councils could encourage households to compost kitchen refuse (for instance, vegetable peelings and fruit cores) by providing subsidised compost bins to interested households.

The compost is ready in a matter of months. It is a 100 per cent organic, highly useful, friable and ready for use.

The councils can also encourage households to leave garden waste such as cuttings and fallen leaves in large reusable heavy-duty garden refuse bags, again provided free to each household. Local councils can collect these garden trimmings every week or fortnightly to be turned into composting material on a large scale. It can be sold to the public at garden centres and nurseries.

The councils can also set up recycling centres for people to dump recyclable materials. These facilities should be within easy reach of town centres, and be equipped with many industrial-sized containers for people to deposit paper, plastic, old clothes, glass bottles, old computers, unwanted household items or even garden waste.

These facilities can be manned by a few people who can assist those who are unsure which container to dump their rubbish into.

Thinking about the environment is easy. It's the doing that is a bit more difficult.



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