ON Oct 25, this newspaper carried a Reuters story that dubbed Malaysia a dumping ground of choice for global plastic waste. Millions of Malaysian hearts must have ached.
If this was not enough, the waste was dumped in Pulau Indah, which means “beautiful island”. The irony was not lost on us. Just as we were trying to nurse our way out of this foul pang, we are hit with the plastic scourge again.
This time, plastic waste at illegal recycling factories in Jenjarom. We frontpaged the picture of the plastic waste yesterday, because we know it depicts the scale of the scourge even a thousands words cannot express.
And because, too, the scourge makes the words strain, crack and break in a Eliotesque way.
Sadly, the plastic waste problem is not limited to Selangor. Shut down the illegal factories in one state, they will reappear elsewhere. Almost overnight.
Enforcement is an issue, obviously. Otherwise, how do we explain their erstwhile illegal operations. We can’t do without enforcement, it seems.
From illegal parking to corruption, we need frequent policing. Be that as it may, there is a larger, more dangerous problem that resides elsewhere.
It is in the kind of business we promote. Why import the world’s rubbish to be recycled here? Why turn the country into a landfill for the rest of the world?
Do we not have enough haze to pollute the air? Plastic processing comes with pollution risks, however well you do it.
Oh no, do not come to us with your SOPs. We have heard that before. What’s more, they do not quite address the toxic fumes released by burning plastic waste that cannot be recycled.
Not addressed, too, is the plastic waste that gets dumped in landfills, poisoning the soil and water sources.
We recognise there are two views. One is business-centric. Milton Friedman-like (who infamously said the only social responsibility of a business is to make profit), they are all for the money.
Show me the money and we will approve it, they seem to say. Such a view, if pursued without due care, will endanger the wellbeing of the people, and the nation.
For what is a nation without its people? Plus, all the money made out of such businesses will be more than wiped out by the health bill that the national coffers may have to foot. Such a view should not be supported.
The other, quite rightly we must say, places people before profit. Such a view is against turning Malaysia into a trash can for developed nations.
And a humongous one at that. Picture this. Just in seven months of last year, Malaysia imported 754,707 tonnes of plastic waste.
That is the weight of a thousand double-decked skybridge that joins the sky lobbies of Petronas Twin Towers. Or the weight of 82 Eiffel towers.
Admittedly, this is a discordant comparison — juxtaposing the beauty and the beast — but the aim is to show the heavy load on the nation’s shoulders.
In the language of risk-reward analysis, the RM3.2 billion that we purportedly earn a year from plastic waste recycling pales into insignificance when we count the cost to the people and environment.
Time to stop the rubbish.