Pollution problem strikes Malaysia’s outlying islands

Kampung Bagan Sungai Lima, which means “fifth river village”, is a 30-minute ferry journey from Port Klang. Unlike its more renowned neighbor, Pulau Ketam, this island still emanates an old-world charm, rooted in its traditional fishing customs, dried shrimp production, small-scale tourism, and humble way of life.

Watch the video here.

However, at this idyllic island, there is a brewing pollution problem as an excessive amount of waste is indiscriminately disposed of. In a hidden dumping site behind the village, which stretches from the community hall into the heart of a mangrove swamp, there is a substantial amount of plastic waste, prayer altars, electronic parts, furniture and glasses, among others. 

The improper disposal of electronic waste is a pressing concern as toxic metals like lead, mercury, nickel and cadmium, are released into the environment, and pose significant risks to human health as well as aquatic animals and plants. Additionally, there were also signs of burning of trash along the pathway to the mangrove forest.

According to a survey by Utility Bidder, Malaysia is one of the top 10 countries that contribute to plastic pollution in the ocean. The case of Kampung Bagan Sungai Lima highlights the failure of the country’s waste management system and the lack of awareness of the urgency of the pollution problem among the villagers.

The population predominantly consists of Chinese (Hokkien) residents, with a small number of less than 500 indigenous locals and approximately 100 foreigners. In the village, which has been in existence for over a century, all the residential houses are constructed on stilts above mangrove swamps.

A discarded fan component was discovered in the mud of the mangrove area.

Two abandoned washing machines.

Open burning was detected along the pathway leading to the mangrove forest.

A paper recycling bin is placed at the jetty, ensuring easy accessibility.

Kampung Bagan Sungai Lima’s village head, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “I aspire to live in a clean environment and I think about that every day. “I’ve been called the garbage village head ever since I became the village head. Yeah, it’s not the most glamorous title, but someone has to take care of all that trash! 

“I reached out to the minister regarding the trash problem in our village. During our discussion, we explored the option of transporting our trash to a landfill on the mainland. However, the associated cost is incredibly high, and we (the residents of Kampung Bagan Sungai Lima) cannot afford it. 

“For now, burning waste is seen as the easiest way to deal with it, but we try to avoid burning unless it’s absolutely necessary. This knowledge was gained from the outreach program talk.”

The Kampung Bagan Sungai Lima case is a representation of a wider problem with the waste pollution problems of the outlying islands. According to Reef Check Malaysia, significant issues related to waste pollution and sewage have been identified on all 31 small, inhabited islands in the country. 

Each island presents its own distinct challenges in managing waste effectively. These challenges vary from island to island due to factors such as geography, population density, and available resources. Addressing these challenges requires a comprehensive understanding of each island’s specific needs and developing tailored strategies that align with their individual circumstances.

Local councils are responsible for managing solid waste, but they have long faced challenges due to insufficient infrastructure, technology, and expertise. The scarcity of available landfills exacerbates these issues. Due to the urgency and severity of the pollution problem, the national government needs to prioritize addressing this matter promptly and effectively.

“Despite my prolonged efforts, my attempt to set up recycling stations did not succeed as anticipated,” Kampung Bagan Sungai Lima’s village head said. “The residents were unable to effectively segregate their waste, and the use of non-see-through baskets further worsened the issue. As a result, they continued dumping their waste into the ocean. 

“Recently, we collaborated with several NGOs (non-governmental organizations) to establish dedicated recycling stations in specific areas of the island. These stations utilize wire mesh containers for waste disposal to ensure that the villagers dispose of their waste correctly.

“We also received an invitation to participate in a plastic awareness program organized by NGOs. This program offered valuable insights on waste segregation.

“I sincerely hope that all villagers will embrace responsible behavior and refrain from indiscriminate waste dumping.”

Watch the video here.

All photos credit: AnnJil Chong

Top photo: All kinds of waste, including electronic waste, are improperly disposed of in the mangrove area due to a failed waste management system. This waste is exposed during periods of low tide.

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