Did you know that by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the sea?
Certainly plastic has made our lives easier through its longevity and convenience, but the way plastic waste is handled in our country is also endangering our planet.
According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF-Malaysia), post-consumer plastic waste in this country is estimated at more than 1 million tons.
A New Straits Times report states that Malaysia dumps over 30,000 tons of plastic waste into the sea each year.
In contrast, several media reports mentioned that Germany is a leader in waste management, recycling 70 percent of all waste generated. The country has achieved this through its waste policy, and companies are held responsible for whether or not their packaging is recyclable.
The Malaysia Plastics Sustainability Roadmap 2021-2030, which comprehensively regulates the production, consumption, recycling and waste management of plastics, was introduced by the Ministry of Environment and Water in 2021.
But with the trend of the public still relying on single-use plastic, will this policy bear fruit?
The New Sarawak Tribune spoke with Carlson Tawi, Environmental Head @ Education and Special Project Officer of Worming Up, about their plastic upcycling initiatives.
ABOVE WORMING UP
WormingUp is an accredited, tax-exempt, International Organization for Standard (ISO 14001) certified company based in Kuching.
The standard aims to clarify best practices for organizations seeking to reduce their environmental footprint through the implementation of an effective environmental management system (EMS).
The company was founded in 2015 by Jeff Wee, who brought together a group of young people from Borneo who are interested in environmental issues and passionate about preserving valuable organic resources.
The purpose of founding WormingUp is to advocate for environmental management and action, especially sustainable waste management.
WormingUp’s initiatives, for which about 20 people work, include environmental awareness lectures and a plastic-free community project and Precious Plastic initiatives.
WormingUp launched its Plastic Free Community project in September 2021, which is also one of the Precious Plastic initiatives.
Precious Plastic is an international initiative to reduce plastic and has found its way into the local community.
The initiative aims to reduce plastic consumption in the community and is mainly implemented by Kampung Muk Ayun, Kampung Sting and Kampung Nyegol communities, located in Upper Bengoh Dam, Padawan. Kampung Sungai Buluh in Asajaya has also started to adopt this project.
In selecting the three sites, Carlson said the three villages in the Upper Bengoh Dam area do not have access to garbage collection services.
The participating communities will first be made aware of environmental protection and given a plastic academy.
According to Carlson, the communities will also learn to separate their plastic waste according to the different categories, as different plastic products have different categories.
Each category has its own properties such as melting temperature, density, hardness and many others.
“The separated plastics are collected from individual households and sent to the plastic waste management center for further processing.
“The shredded plastic is further processed into products using the plastic injector,” he said.
The Upper Bengoh Dam communities engage in ecotourism and use plastic to make key chains, coasters and many other products.
Inspired by their culture, the local communities have also made refrigerator magnets in the shape of a “sape” (a local musical instrument of the orang-ulu communities), made of high-density polyethylene (HDPE) in different colors.
“Once the communities are experts, they could learn to make plastic tiles and other products that can be used in their lives.
“We want to highlight the elements of our local culture in our upcycled plastic products that can be part of our tourism product made by the locals themselves through our plastic academy initiative,” he added.
EMPHASISING ON PLASTIC WASTE
As mentioned earlier, the three villages do not have access to garbage collection or disposal services, so according to Carlson, each household disposes of its own waste.
“For organic waste, they feed chickens, dogs and cats, or even plants.
“The communities also recycle aluminium cans, while burying glass bottles and food cans in the ground.
“Plastic waste is either burned or simply disposed of. We all know that when it is incinerated, it turns into microplastics that become airborne and eventually pollute the soil and water bodies,” he said, stressing the importance of running a green academy at Upper Bengoh Dam.
Carlson added that once the plastic initiative becomes part of the daily norm, WormingUp could also introduce opportunities to upcycle glass bottles and food cans in the future.
REDUCING SINGLE-USE PLASTIC
On the topic of single-use plastic, Carlson suggested that local governments could implement a “No Plastic Weekend” where all vendors would discourage the public from purchasing single-use plastic bags.
“When buying single-use plastic bags, the public is charged a higher price than the RM0.20 for plastic bags.
“This could discourage the public from spending extra ringgit to buy single-use plastic bags that will eventually end up in garbage garbage cans.
As for retailers, Carlson said they can take back their plastic products as part of a plastic collection campaign that rewards retailers’ customers for supporting the campaign.
EFFICACY OF AWARENESS PROGRAMME
On the effectiveness of awareness programmes such as plastic reduction, Carlson said such programmes are important to educate the public about plastic awareness.
“However, without policies and enforcement, awareness remains a head knowledge,” he said.
That’s why, Carlson said, the WormingUp organisation wants to continue to advocate for environmental stewardship and educate and impact people’s lives in terms of environmental awareness.
In addition to educating the public, WormingUp also aims to educate local farmers about sustainable agriculture, where they use fewer chemicals.
IMPACT ON THE SOCIETY
After seven consecutive years and numerous awards and recognitions at the national and international level, it is undeniable that the organisation has impacted the lives of people here.
One of the organisation’s goals, in addition to continuing organic waste reduction, is to preserve the talented B40 community.
The organisation, which began in 2015 with just two people and three staff members, has doubled in size over the years and is now supported by many more talented individuals.
Educational talks, visits and education of vendors at wet markets and green events have also been conducted.
The organisation’s outstanding accomplishments include 2962 students participating in educational programmes and 75 volunteers participating in educational events.
Through WormingUp’s concerted efforts, visiting one wet market at a time, 420 merchants were also educated about food waste.
As a sign of their commitment to the underprivileged communities, about 200 meals were distributed and provided to the Kuching Urban Poor Society.
Also as part of this project, 318 employees from various organisations were successfully educated on proper waste disposal.
WHAT IS NEXT
The organisation is always open to any environmental and community projects that could improve environmental quality.
“This includes influencing local communities through capacity building and environmental awareness.
“WormingUp also hopes that once environmental or community projects are implemented, there will be sustainability in terms of responsible consumption and production.
“The community would continue to live a more environmentally conscious life,” Carlson said.
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