Malaysia: What a load of rubbish!

YUEN MEIKENG The Star 6 Nov 16;

WHAT goes around, comes around. And the ugly Malaysian habit of flushing garbage down the toilet has raised a stink which has come back to taunt us.

Malaysians continue to toss all kinds of rubbish into the sewerage system – either by flushing them down the toilet, through bathroom and kitchen sinks or dumping bigger items into manholes.

But this reeks and wreaks havoc when the rubbish clogs up the sewerage system, causing wastewater to overflow at public manholes on roads or even backflow into our toilets at home.

And things have become murkier, with Indah Water Konsortium Sdn Bhd (IWK) revealing that cases of blockages in public sewerage pipes have been steadily increasing over the past five years, together with the cost to clear them up.

Last year alone, there were a total of 18,683 cases of blockages in public sewerage pipes – an average of about 51 incidents daily.

This is an increase from the average of 50 cases a day or 18,526 incidents in 2014.

Some 11,310 cases have been recorded between January and July this year.

With the cost of about RM1,400 needed to clear each blockage, the total sum to solve all cases last year amounted to a whopping RM26.2mil – a spike from the RM25.9mil in 2014.

Examples of garbage dumped by Malaysians into the sewerage system are food scraps, plastic items, pieces of wood, clothes and bizarrely, furniture and animal carcasses too.

IWK chief executive officer Datuk Abdul Kadir Mohd Din adds that officers have also found boulders, footballs, umbrellas and bicycles too, which enter the system when irresponsible people throw such items into manholes.

“What saddens me is if the system chokes, it is you who suffers,” he tells Sunday Star in an interview recently.

Abdul Kadir explains that when blockages happen, waste water backs up, overflows at manholes and can even blackflow into nearby homes.

He says while people are now more aware about the importance of a proper sewage treatment system, they have yet to realise their bad habits will damage it and pollute the environment.

“Most people have this common misconception – they equate sewerage pipes to garbage bins where they can dispose of all kinds of trash.

“Many consumers and restaurant operators tend to dispose of food scraps including leftover cooking oil and grease, which will end up in the sewerage pipes.

“Over time, these pipes will be blocked, leading to an overflow at public manholes,” Abdul Kadir explains.

Apart from the stench, such an overflow poses a health hazard as wastewater contains harmful organisms that spread water-borne diseases.

He says the trash flushed down the sewerage pipes will also end up in filters at sewage treatment plants.

“Sewage treatment plants are designed to receive only domestic wastewater such as dirty water from toilets, bathrooms and laundries.

“They are not properly equipped to manage other wastes such as trash, food scraps, chemical and industrial waste or dirty oil remnants,” he stresses.

Common types of garbage Malaysians throw into the system are plastic utensils, tissue paper, pieces of wood, attire, food-based waste, kitchen waste, bottles, plastic wrappers and so on.

“The more odd items include pieces of furniture, carcasses, used lubricant oils, electronic gadgets and chicken slaughter waste,” Abdul Kadir adds.

On a more morbid note, he admits there are still occasional cases of people dumping human baby foetuses through the sewer but could not provide exact data.

It was reported in 2013 that IWK had found dead foetuses in its treatment plants, some with umbilical cords attached.

The amount of trash dumped into the system had also increased from 60,000 tonnes in 2013 to over 70,000 tonnes (the volume of 30 Olympic-sized swimming pools) in 2014.

Currently, sewage treatment plants nationwide treat five million cubic metres of wastewater daily, a volume that can fill 2,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

But while the problem of people dumping trash into the system persists, IWK finds it difficult to take action against those responsible.

“This is because it is difficult to detect and verify such sources of pollution,” says Abdul Kadir.

Under Section 61 of the Water Services Industry Act 2006, no person is allowed to dump any harmful substances or matter that is likely to damage public sewage treatment works or interfere with the free flow of its contents.

Those found guilty of such an offence can be fined up to RM100,000 or jailed up to one year or both.

Nevertheless, Abdul Kadir points out that IWK has carried out many activities to help increase public awareness about the importance of IWK’s roles in treating wastewater, protecting public health and preserving the environment.

If it isn’t bad enough that blockages in the system incur extra maintenance costs, IWK also says its profit is insufficient to cover operational costs as the tariff charged for its services is “too low.”

“Our sewerage tariff is one of the lowest in the region,” Abdul Kadir highlights.

Fortunately, he points out that most Malaysians are willing to pay up, with the bill collection rate for last year being 87.3%, as opposed to the 12.7% of users who have yet to settle their bills.

On plans to improve IWK’s facilities, she says that as of May this year, IWK has a total of 6,475 sewage treatment plants nationwide, of which 4,956 need to be upgraded.

A consultancy study for upgrading sewerage treatment plants is currently being carried out under the 11th Malaysia Plan.

On measures to reduce the number of blockages, former Energy, Green Technology and Water Ministry secretary-general Datuk Loo Took Gee, who recently retired, says laws like the Water Services Industry Act 2006 are already in place to deter people from throwing trash down the sewage system.

“But there is a need to strengthen its enforcement in line with the ministry’s efforts to promote a green environment,” she says.

However, Loo also states that penalising the people cannot be the sole solution as the lack of civic consciousness must be addressed with education.

“If you want a good and clean environment, it starts at home. People need to be more mindful of the facilities developed for them and not contribute to the damage to the system,” she says.

She adds that the ministry is embarking on several programmes with local governments to promote cleanliness including highlighting the importance of an efficient sewerage system.

However, as regulators, the National Water Services Commission (SPAN) admits it is difficult to catch individuals who dump garbage into the system as the law requires evidence of the person committing the act.

SPAN CEO Datuk Mohd Ridhuan Ismail says if the culprits regularly commit the act, the commission will be able to catch them but this may not always be the case.

“We also have to prove that the accused have caused the damage to the system. Therefore, it is more effective to have continuous education to change such behaviour,” he says.

Mohd Ridhuan also points out that there have been cases of parties dumping truckloads of illegal materials down manholes.

“The public can report to us and IWK about such incidents of illegal dumping,” he says.

'Report litterbugs'
The Star 16 Nov 16;

CASES of littering and rubbish dumping, especially into drains and rivers, should be reported to the authorities by using today’s technology such as handphones.

WWF-Malaysia Executive Director and CEO Datuk Dr Dionysius Sharma proposes that the reporting system on such cases be improved, with the usage of applications and other forms of technology, which enables online, rapid and real-time complaints to be filed.

“Budgets should be allocated to the relevant enforcement authorities to develop and implement the use of efficient technology and systems to improve enforcement efforts,” he says.

He also calls on the Government to review current fines and penalties provided by relevant laws and regulations to effectively deter littering and rubbish dumping.

While local governments have their own regulations on littering, indiscriminately throwing garbage in public is outlined as an offence under Section 47 of the Street, Drainage and Building Act 1974.

Under the Act, any person who deposits or throws rubbish in a public place can be fined a maximum of RM500.

If the person is convicted a second time or for subsequent offences, the maximum fine is doubled to RM1,000.

Dr Dionysius points out that the main contributing factor in the irresponsible dumping of rubbish is the poor civic-mindedness, attitude and culture among Malaysians.

He says the inadequate enforcement to curb such behaviour also contributes to the problem.

“Rubbish flushed down toilets find their way into septic tanks in residential areas which then become stuck and will not be able to function well.

“The maintenance and repair of septic tanks involve high costs. Often times, city municipalities will have to deal with taking up the costs for the repair work,” he adds.

Dr Dionysius also urges the Government to work and encourage businesses to become more efficient within their operations in using water resources and managing waste and effluents to prevent pollution.

“Several options could be explored to promote this such as by giving incentives for tax exemptions, rebates or schemes that award certification and labelling for industries that practise good waste management in their operations,” he suggests.

Malaysian Nature Society president Henry Goh concurs that the attitude of Malaysians is wanting when it comes to cleanliness and protecting their environment.

“Malaysians have some way to go with keeping open spaces as clean as they would their own home compound.

“Examples of this are the numerous beaches, trails, waterfalls and public parks where regular ‘gotong-royong’ clean-ups are carried out by non-governmental organisations (NGOs), resident associations and concerned individuals to remove unsightly rubbish left by park users and picnickers,” he says.

Goh laments that the public has yet to reach a level of civic-consciousness to dispose rubbish the proper way.

“Educating the public is key. Such cleanliness campaigns could start in schools where students are inculcated with good habits, which they will hopefully carry with them to adulthood,” he says.He adds that the Government could use multimedia platforms to impart the importance of proper rubbish disposal.

“NGOs could also play an important role in disseminating information and conducting public awareness campaigns.

“The public and private sectors should work closely together to bring about this important change in the public’s mindset. Imposing bigger fines is not a permanent solution,” Goh says.

Meanwhile, some agree that the ordinary man on the street in Malaysia still has far to go when it comes to being civic-minded.

A postgraduate student known only as May says Malaysians are generally “slightly below average” when it comes to their awareness about keeping public places clean.

Using public toilets as an example, the 28-year-old says used sanitary pads are sometimes left on top of the disposal bin instead of being thrown inside.

“When someone else sees such rubbish or used pads dumped in the open, they will just do the same without much thought.

“Perhaps such people think this way: ‘If others do it, I shall do it. If others don’t care, why should I care?’ ” May says.

She also shares that some workers at her previous place of employment were found by the facilities management to have dumped odd items into the office toilet.

“Weird stuff were thrown inside the toilet bowl including rings and condoms,” she says.

Josephine Li, a 31-year-old bank officer, concurs that most Malaysians are not civic-minded or educated enough to know what happens after they flush the toilet.

“They think it’s some magic gateway where you can throw anything in,” she says, adding that the oddest item she has seen thrown inside a public toilet is a pair of boxer shorts.

Li also laments that some Malaysians have the impression that it is someone’s else’s job to keep the surroundings and environment clean.

“I know some people who have no qualms about throwing trash like tissue pieces or paper in the drain and on the road when they get out of their car.

“But ironically, they complain when they see dirty streets and surroundings,” she says, adding that perhaps it is time for Malaysia to impose strict fines for littering like Singapore to get such Malaysians to kick the habit.

Millions wasted to unclog sewerage pipes blocked from consumers’ rubbish, says IWK
YUEN MEIKENG The Star 6 Nov 16;

PETALING JAYA: Millions of ringgit are going down the drain to unclog public sewerage pipes. This is because Malaysians continue to dump rubbish into the system.

As blockages become more frequent, the cost to clear up the trash has also steadily increased over the past five years, from RM23.639mil in 2011 to RM26.156mil last year.

The total number of blockages jumped by 10.6% from 16,885 cases in 2011 to 18,683 last year, Indah Water Konsortium (IWK) Sdn Bhd revealed to Sunday Star.

Such blockages happen when users throw items into the system that are not domestic waste, said IWK chief executive officer Datuk Abdul Kadir Mohd Din.

“We have had large and odd items like boulders, concrete, footballs, umbrellas and bicycles.

“These bigger items are dumped into the system through public manholes but the system isn’t designed to accept such things,” he said in an interview recently.

Abdul Kadir said the oil and grease that enter the system would solidify when they come into contact with the pipes which are colder underground, causing pipes to become blocked and restrict the flow of wastewater.

“When the system chokes, the wastewater will overflow at manholes. It can also cause backflow to nearby houses.

“People then complain that IWK didn’t maintain the system when the root cause was the trash dumping by consumers,” he said.

Abdul Kadir added that IWK spends a huge amount of money to clear the blockages and in certain cases, pipes have to be broken, incurring higher costs.

It was reported that there were a total of 11,310 cases recorded so far between January to July this year.

On cases of people dumping dead baby foetuses into the system, Abdul Kadir said such incidents still occur but IWK does not have exact data on it.

“Sadly, it still happens. Sometimes, they are flushed down the toilet or in some cases, people open up manholes.

“They believe it is easy to do this because they want to clear any evidence,” he said, adding that IWK employees will report to the police if such incidents happen.

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