World Environment Day (WED) is a global platform for public outreach to encourage worldwide awareness and action for the protection of our environment. It is widely celebrated in over 100 countries on June 5 every year since it began in 1974. This year, the host country India is in its efforts to deal with plastic waste as the theme revolves around – Beat Plastic Pollution. “If you can’t reuse it, refuse it” is the actionable takeaway that comes along with the theme to combat one of the great environmental challenges of our time and invites us all to rethink our approach to designing, producing and using plastic products locally, nationally and globally to stem the rising tide of single-use plastics.
While plastic has many valuable uses, we have become over reliant on single-use or disposable plastic – with severe environmental consequences. These unsustainable patterns generate a vast amount of waste, much of it contributing to marine litter, which has choked our oceans and waterways. This is not just a problem for unfortunate sea turtles or the coastal communities that must deal with packaging waste washing up on their shores. The problem does not lay on India alone. It is a problem for all of us, everywhere. And, like most problems, this one provides an opportunity for Penang to rethink plastics when we first initiated the “No Free Plastic Bags” campaign in all supermarkets and hypermarkets in 2009. Consumers are required to pay a wage of 20 cents for each plastic bag purchased where the 20 cents charged is channelled to the state’s AES programme (Agenda Ekonomi Saksama) which plays a role in eradicating poverty in Penang. Putting charges on plastic bags is only a baby step in creating public awareness on proper waste management and reducing plastic waste. We have then formulated a Guideline on “No Free Plastic Bags Everyday” in 2017.
In a recent development on global waste, the world’s largest importer of waste -China, put a waste import ban on the 24 categories of solid waste including certain types of plastics, paper and textiles starting 2018, left half of the world such as the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union and Japan scrambling to find new dumping grounds. The ban would not only clean up China as a major polluter, but also a turning point to inspire a paradigm shift in the way waste is managed. The European Union unveiled plans for all plastic packaging in Europe to be recyclable by 2030 and phase out single-use plastic like paper cups, straws to tackle pollution.
I hope this is a wakeup call for our local governments, policymakers, investors, industry players and the members of public to tackle the “tidak apa” attitude” we have developed towards waste, properly manage our waste and focus on developing domestic recycling industries. We are aware of the lack of waste treatment and recycling facility when implementing the Waste Segregation At Source. Currently, we do not have buyers for certain recyclables such as glass, we have no access to facility for certain scheduled waste like used batteries and light tubes in a distance where transportation is economically viable. Under green economy, thousands of new high value jobs can be created in the waste sector.
We hope to work more closely with the federal government to bring the Waste Segregation at Source Policy in Penang and Malaysia to a greater height by improving solid waste management, waste collection system, recycling and treatment facilities and public cleansing works. The aim to increase both the local and national recycling rate can only be achieved when the waste and recyclables are collected properly and recyclable materials are not dumped into landfills. We hope that the Federal Government will look into nationwide Polluters Pay policies and impose products life-cycle management on manufacturers to reduce environmental impacts at end-of-life. By combining the efforts of the Federal government, I hope Penang can embrace green growth with new technologies and new sectors.
Penang will also stringent our environmental education and enforcement to make the implementation of Waste Segregation at Source (WSAS) a success. The only way to ensure Penang will not have incinerator in the next 60 years is with a successful WSAS by achieving 40% or more recycling rate by 2020.
The recent launch of Bridge of Hope brings us a step closer towards a low carbon and bicycle friendly state. The Bridge of Hope is the only spiral bicycle and pedestrian bridge in the country that was specially designed in the form of a circle for both cyclists and pedestrians in an area where there was limited space restrictions to cross the highway. We have also completed Penang Public Transport Master Plan in 2013 to improve connectivity through low carbon transportation and had created the Bike Lane Master Plan in 2011 which covers a total of 350km (island-179km, mainland-171km) in the state.
We had never allowed logging on permanent forest reserves and we are proud that Penang is the only state in Malaysia where not a single square inch has been touched. More than 271,000 new trees are planted in Penang since 2008. We will not dispute our commitment to protect and preserve our permanent forest reserves. We are in the process to list Penang Hill as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve under UNESCO’s Man and Biosphere Program. The Ulu Muda Forest Reserve, the crucial water catchment area of the northern region, providing more than 80% of Penang’s daily raw water, would be completely logged in 12 years if no action was taken to stop the deforestation rate. Now that voters have placed Penang, Kedah and the Federal governments on the same side of the political fence, it brings new hope for Ulu Muda to get more protection.
The Pakatan Harapan manifesto stated that we support the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). With the support and cooperation of the governmental agencies, civil society and people, Penang state government has been mainstreaming the vision of making Penang a “Cleaner, Greener, Safer, Healthier, and Happier” state. In response to global climate change issues and evolving paradigm shift of sustainable development, Penang Green Agenda is developing a coherent framework and roadmap based on the following shared visions:
· By 2030, Penang aspires to be the greenest state in Malaysia driven by a green economy, innovative governance with 4P partnerships (Public, private, people, professional) and sustainability-led development agenda.
· By 2050, Penang will be a high income, caring, inclusive, low carbon and resilient state that emphasises the integrity of its people and environment, including enriching and restoring the health of its rich cultural and natural ecosystems.
In the last 10 years, due to the lack of support from the federal government, we did not dare to dream big, we did not dare to have an ambitious vision. We hope that change of the political scenario will bring Penang to a greater height, not only on economic growth but also becoming the greenest state in Malaysia. In this year of transformation, we urge governments, industry, communities, and individuals to come together and explore sustainable alternatives, prioritise policies, measures and solutions for long-term improvement of our environment, economy and society. Let us become better stewards of our planet.
Chow Kon Yeow