Malaysia has quite a number of organizations and groups dedicated to cleaning up trash around the country.
These groups mostly consist of volunteers who dedicate a morning to pick up trash in public areas such as beaches, parks, riversides, or other recreational areas.
The group was 100-strong, with many volunteers including young children coming well-prepared with trash sticks and gloves.
It was my first trash-picking experience, and probably the most shocking thing to realize wasn’t the amount of trash, but how humans have been conditioned to not see trash.
Sure, there are obvious tell-tale signs of littering: usually the shiny junk-food plastic with vibrant colors.
But actually, a majority of the trash we picked up were blended into its surroundings and had to be ‘found’. They were hidden in the nook and crannies, stuck to tree roots, buried under dead leaves.
Cigarette butts became the color of mud, and transparent single-use plastics nestled itself into the ground. Bottle caps lodged themselves tightly in the dirt.
The trash was never ending.
Three of us covered the same area as another group, and still we managed to coax the earth to give up its trash. On our way back, passing by the same area, we noticed small bits of trash that we missed out on our first sweep: it was like the trash simply respawned when we went out of the map area.
There were layers of plastic trash that have been there for so long that it had become part of the terrain.
The plastic trash was so deeply embedded into the ground that we couldn’t remove it: the plastic had weakened from the sun and tore off into ribbons when we pulled at it.
At the end of the 3-hour period, a total of 260kg of trash was collected. Only about 12% of the collected trash were recyclables: 32kg in plastic bottles and aluminium cans.
Dr Valarmathy, the organizer from Beach Cleanup, started the group almost exactly three years ago and hold trash collection sessions every month.
According to her, almost every session of Beach Cleanup trash collection nets around 200-300kg per 100 volunteers.
Recycling centers are also unlikely to accept any materials that are dirty or soiled, because it makes recycling these items very difficult.
However, she has noted that these events do in fact have a positive impact.
We do repeat our collection in the same place. We have a database where we can compare the amount of trash collected. At each location, we can see that there’s less trash. But, there’s a long way to go before Malaysians will change their mentality.Dr Valarmathy Vaiyavari to TRP
Still, she urges Malaysians to reconsider their relationship with plastic, especially with single-use plastic.
Calvin, from MY Back to Nature, echoed her statements.
The hiking group also collaborates with other trash cleanup groups, and Calvin mentions that often they collect up to 300-500kg of trash, especially when the area is easily available to public.
Even when they hike in deep jungles, there is about 50-100kg of trash that can be collected.
Seeing all this collected trash actually keeps us going. We want to clean up nature. We want the most pleasant experience for ourselves and our community. So having all this trash collected gives us hope.Calvin to TRP
It’s everyone’s responsibility to keep their country clean. The best way to keep plastic out of our beautiful nature is to reduce our consumption and always make sure to take whatever trash you have with you and leave only footprints.
Anne is an advocate of sustainable living and the circular economy, and has managed to mum-nag the team into using reusable containers to tapau food. She is also a proud parent of 4 cats and 1 rabbit.