Cemetery’s leftover fruits don’t go to waste

BY GAN PEI LING © The Star 3 April 2017

KUALA LUMPUR: To avoid wastage on Qing Ming, a cemetery here donates leftover edible fruits to orphanages and old folks homes.

Association of Kwong Tong Cemetery Management Kuala Lumpur’s administration manager Wey Jiun Horng said the effort was part of the cemetery’s green campaign during the annual Chinese tomb sweeping day.

“A lot of people don’t take back their offerings, so we collect the apples and oranges and give them away.

“The amount of leftovers is so huge that sometimes the homes have to reject the fruits we send over,” he said.

Wey added that the association also educated the public to recycle and cut down the amount of trash.

It successfully reduced waste generated during Qing Ming by 10% last year compared to 2015 and hoped to cut it down by 30% this year.

Wey said at least 150 tonnes of rubbish were left behind each Qing Ming, requiring at least 30 trucks to ferry them away.

“It takes at least three days for our contractors to clean up the cemetery after every weekend,” he said.

The 105.6ha Kwong Tong Cemetery was set up in 1895 and is home to about 100,000 tombs and two columbariums.

Yesterday, the roads leading up to the cemetery off Jalan Dewan Bahasa was clogged up as early as 8am with families coming in droves to honour their ancestors.

Packed with visitors: A bumper-to-bumper jam on one of the roads at Kwong Tong Cemetery in Kuala Lumpur as families throng the cemetery for Qing Ming. Some came as early as 6am to avoid the crowd. — ART CHEN/The Star

While Qing Ming falls on April 4 officially, Wey said people started coming to pay respects to their ancestors two weekends ago, and he expected the visits to continue until next weekend.

Su Ching Pung, 43, who came with his family to visit the tombs of his paternal grandparents, said they did not spend much on hell notes.

“It’s the thought that counts,” he said, adding that they offered chicken, pork, fish, rice and fruits this time.

Ng Kok Peng, 38, from Setapak, braved the traffic to pay respects to his late parents and two younger cousins.

He said his family members, 15 in total, brought along paper offerings worth between RM300 and RM400 to be offered to the deceased.

The items included bungalows, cars, motorcycles, and gold and silver hampers.

Over at the Sinhalese Buddhist cemetery off Jalan Loke Yew, Indian Buddhists also turned up to honour their loved ones.

Unlike the Chinese, their offerings were simpler, mostly just incense sticks and flowers.

From dumpsites to nature sanctuaries

by Gan Pei Ling / 16 July 2012 © The Nut Graph

THINK of a landfill. What comes to mind? First thing – probably the stink. Toxic leachate seeping out and contaminating waterways. Now, imagine a landfill so clean that people have picnics and take nature walks there. Impossible? Think again.

On a recent visit to Singapore after covering an international conference for National Geographic‘s energy blog, I visited the Republic’s only landfill. Located 30km from the  mainland, the Semakau landfill began in 1999 and has become a nature haven for bird-watchers, anglers and marine biologists, as well as astronomers.

“The environment is so clean that nature is able to survive and thrive [here],” senior manager Ivan Yap proudly told visitors during a tour on 4 July 2012. Indeed, 66 bird species and 17 fish species have been found in and around the landfill. Visitors can also marvel at exposed mangroves, coral reefs and starfish along the coastline during low tide.

As the island is free from light pollution, the Astronomical Society of Singapore carries out stargazing activities on it.

How did Singapore manage this? And what lessons can Malaysians learn from our neighbour to improve our waste-management system?

The landfill off the coast of Singapore

An engineering marvel

Due to land scarcity, Singapore closed its last landfill on the mainland in 1999 and spent S$610 million (approximately RM1.5 billion) to construct the Semakau landfill in the ocean.

The offshore landfill is made up of the Semakau Island, Sakeng Island and a 7km rock bund that encloses a part of the sea off the two islands. According to Yap, the rock bund is lined with impermeable membrane and marine clay, a material commonly found in the sea bed, to prevent any leachate from contaminating the sea. Monthly checks are done to ensure there is no leakage, he said.

Singapore has four incinerator plants and burns almost all its trash to reduce the volume of waste by at least 90%. It then ships the ash and non-incinerable waste, such as construction debris and treated sludge from factories, to the 350-hectare landfill.

“We don’t receive organic waste, that’s why the landfill doesn’t stink,” Yap explained.

The waste management system in Singapore at a glance

Nevertheless, the landfill’s general manager, Ong Chong Peng, said there are four dry cells and a small leachate treatment plant in case they have to receive food waste.

The landfill has received over 10 million tonnes of ash and waste since 1999 and is expected to last at least another 33 years.

Ong said the recycling rate in Singapore is around 59% and the country aims to shore it up to 65% by 2020 and 70% by 2030 to prolong the life of their only landfill.

Separate, burn then bury

Malaysia has been slow to adopt incinerators, with most of our states still relying entirely on landfills to bury our trash. Not all of our dumpsites are equipped with proper facilities to treat landfill gas and leachate.

We also don’t segregate our household waste. Our recycling rate is dismally low at about 11%. The federal government aims to increase this to only 40% by 2020. Paradoxically, it also aims to become an advanced nation capable of managing our resources efficiently by 2020. This would hardly be the case if we’re still wasting valuable resources and precious landfill space by dumping more than half of our recyclable items into landfills.

Our political leaders need to snap to their senses. We don’t have an infinite amount of land to bury our household waste, which is increasing at an annual rate of around two percent. The people in Selangor and Kuala Lumpur throw out an average of 7,375 tonnes of garbage – the equivalent of about 1,400 Borneo pygmy elephants – a day.

The federal government’s move to provide separate bins for organic waste is a good start.

The waste reception hall at Semakau landfill

We should be aggressively emulating not just Singapore but cities like Malmo in Sweden, which use their food waste to produce biogas to power the buses in their city.

Malmo also recycles close to 98% of its household waste. Their municipal waste company provides separate, clearly labelled bins for not just glass, paper, cardboard, metal and plastic, but for batteries as well.

If anything, Singapore and Malmo have demonstrated that it is possible to manage waste more creatively. Stinky, polluting landfills need not be the norm. Malaysia already has an increasingly eco-conscious populace, all we need now is political will.

Gan Pei Ling believes Malaysia is capable of outdoing Singapore and Sweden to become a more sustainable nation.

The plastic menace

by Gan Pei Ling / 20 July 2010 © The Nut Graph

“IT’s not sexy, that’s why nobody cares,” a friend comments on why few Malaysians are concerned about the problem of plastic waste even though it threatens the environment that sustains us. “It’s sexier to talk about renewable energy and green buildings than how we handle our trash,” the friend adds.

That is until some of our state and local governments took the initiative to launch No Plastic Bag Day campaigns. Penang was the first to launch the campaign in July 2009. Those without reusable bags have to pay 20 sen for a plastic bag when they shop on Mondays. In January 2010, the campaign was extended to include Tuesdays and Wednesdays. At the same time, Selangor launched its own No Plastic Bag Day campaign on Saturdays. Subsequently, the Miri and Sibu municipal councils in Sarawak, as well as Kota Kinabalu city hall and six other districts in Sabah announced similar campaigns.

How effective are these campaigns? Can they really help save the planet? And what can be done to make these campaigns more popular?

Campaigns’ effectiveness

The idea of banning plastic bags to reduce its use is not new. In 2002, Ireland imposed a 15 euro cent tax on plastic bags, and its use dropped over 90% within five months. In the same year, Bangladesh banned polyethylene bags in Dhaka as the bags were choking the drainage system and causing floods in the capital.

China banned plastic bags in 2008. A year later, it was reported that the country saved the equivalent of 1.6 million tonnes of oil and 40 billion bags. Other countries that have introduced additional charges or tax on plastic bags include Rwanda, Eritrea and Switzerland.

In Selangor, the use of plastic bags was reduced by five million in the first four months of its campaign. In Penang, the amount was one million bags over the same period.

(Pic by roberto / sxc.hu)

Despite such reductions in plastic bag use, Ireland’s scheme has been criticised for triggering a 400% increase in the purchase of bin liners and greater reliance on paper bags. Contrary to the popular belief that paper bags are more eco-friendly, they actually require more energy to manufacture and cause more pollution during production. This probably explains why Penang and Selangor did not compel or encourage retailers to replace plastic with paper bags.

Convincing the public

Asking consumers to sacrifice requires some doing, especially when Malaysians are so used to free plastic bags that some consumers mistake it as a “right”. Some consumer associations, for example, claimed that the 20 sen charge was decided without their consultation and was therefore unfair.

Perhaps as a public relations measure to help consumers make the switch, Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng announced that the state would use the funds collected from the plastic bag charges to eradicate hardcore poverty.

In Selangor, participating retailers are required to use the funds to conduct corporate social responsibility programmes. The Selangor government encourages these retailers to conduct programmes relating to the environment.

Perhaps one other way to compel consumers to change their lifestyle is to lead them to the Pacific Garbage Patch that stretches several hundred miles in the Pacific Ocean. The Pacific Garbage Patch is the largest of five plastic garbage patches in our oceans. For now, there is no way to clean up these garbage patches, scientists say.

As a result of our consumption and disposal of plastic, scientists estimate there are six times more plastic than plankton in the “continent”. Trapped by circulating ocean currents, the plastic we throw away are choking fishes and seabirds to death as the marine animals mistake them for food. Every year, more than 100,000 marine animals such as dolphins, whales and sea turtles are killed because of plastic bags.

Plastic waste found on the beach in Kuantan (Pic by Carolyn Lau and Ng Sek San)

If we don’t care about marine life, here’s another thought that should give us pause. Plastics absorb pollutants like polychlorinated biphenyls, otherwise known as cancer-causing PCBs, and pesticides.

“These particles are ingested by marine life and pass into our food chain. We all do it: we throw this stuff, this packaging, what I call dumb plastic, into the bin, and we think it has gone. But it comes back to us one way or another. Some of it ends up on our dinner plates,” British adventurer and environmentalist David de Rothschild tells The Guardian.

In 2009, Rothschild sailed to the patch in a vessel made entirely of plastics called Plastiki. The billionaire banking heir has definitely found a way to make the issue of plastic waste seem sexier.

Considering some of the gruesome facts surrounding plastic bags pollution, 20 sen per bag is a really small price to pay.

Other solutions

The Malaysian Plastic Manufacturers Association has proposed to the Penang government to give out free oxo-biodegradable plastic bags so that consumers can still enjoy free plastic bags on campaign days.

However, oxo-biodegradable plastic bags are not 100% degradable. They can only degrade in the presence of sunlight and oxygen. Those that end up in landfills would not degrade at all. Therefore, reusable bags are still the best option.

For certain, most of our plastic waste comes from packaging that is often unnecessary. Malaysian consumers cannot hope to rely solely on governments to resolve our plastic waste problem. After all, in a marketplace driven by profit, consumer demand and lifestyle are often much more powerful than government regulations.

As Leo Hickman writes in The Guardian on 11 Aug 2009: “[Plastic bags] are the ultimate symbol of our throwaway culture.”

No Plastic Bag Day campaigns are merely the first step towards stimulating the public to rethink the impact of our “use and throw” habit on the very environment that sustains us.

Gan Pei Ling believes reusable bags are the best solution to our plastic bag dilemma, but would like to remind readers to wash their reusable bags frequently in the interest of hygiene.

Related post: Plastic matters