Thursday, November 13, 2008

Talking rubbish

The main rubbish bin in my home is kept in this small little corner in the laundry area of my apartment, right next to the kitchen. Usually, there is a proper bin there, but sometimes when my mum or dad get their hands on a humungous plastic bag, they use that to keep the trash instead.

So a couple of days ago, I go to get my dry laundry from the laundry area, and I take a look inside the big bag o' rubbish, which at that point was already quite full. And I see a couple of empty potato chip cans, used shampoo bottles and God knows what other things in there that really SHOULDN'T be in the rubbish bin. So I grab another bag and proceed to rummage through the big bag of rubbish to look for stuff like these:

Lo' and behold, resting within the crevices of the big bag o' rubbish were the two potato chip cans, two shampoo bottles, a plastic bottle, a big Vegood tetrapak box and smaller tetrapak drink box, 3 tin cans, an aluminium can and a round plastic container... plus a stack of A4 papers not seen in this pic coz' I put them together with my stack of all other unwanted papers. All in all, I believe I reduced the amount of junk in the bag of rubbish by at least one third. If I really want to, I could've hunted deeper into the bag for more junk, just that there was some weird smelling liquid in the bag and I decided my collection was sufficient for the time being.

Now at this point, if you are a typical Malaysian, you might be thinking that Carol has developed some strange junk-hoarding disorder and she go get some help now. If you are an extraordinary Malaysian who also hoards the same kind of junk, then you would know where I'm getting at here. All the stuff above that I took out of the big bag o' rubbish... papers, plastic, tins and tetrapaks... are all RECYCLABLES. This is the kind of stuff that you can take to a nearby recycling centre, where they melt it down or something like that so they can reuse the materials to make new paper stuff or plastic stuff or tin stuff, etc...

The average Malaysian is like my mum and dad, who throws every unwanted item into the big bag o' rubbish and then happily continue with their lives. The average Malaysian will go *yawn*..."So why should I care? Why waste my precious time and energy separating my recyclables and taking them all the way to a recycling centre when I have soooo many other things to do? Zzzzzz...."

Well, I'd like to think most of you well-learned folks would at least have heard something on the radio or read something telling you that Malaysian produce too much rubbish, bla bla bla, recycling is important, bla bla bla, green is the new pink, bla bla bla... but if you have truly been living under a coconut shell and are completely unaware of how all the junk you throw away affects the world around you... and ultimately, you, then here are my fun (but not-so-short) facts for today.

1) The average Malaysian produces 0.8 kg of waste a day. For Malaysian in KL, the number is almost double, at 1.5 kg a day. Apparently in the year of 2007, Malaysians achived the amazing feat of producing enough rubbish to fill up 42 Petronas Twin Towers. That's just ONE year. Fu-yoh, Malaysia boleh!!!

2) All our rubbish goes into landfills
. In case you don't know what a landfill is, it's an area of land designated for the sole purpose of dumping rubbish. 'Ideally' it should be a big hole in the ground so that once it's full of rubbish, it can be covered up with dirt and let to decompose. Sometimes when people are too lazy to dig a big hole, you get a big pile of rubbish like this:

I took this pic from one of the estates I went to visit recently. You can click on the pic to enjoy the full extent of my lovely panorama of rubbish. And this is just one estate. Imagine the sight of the landfill where the rubbish of KL residents goes! Brr...

Obviously, landfills take up land space. That means precious land area that can be used for housing, or for agricultural use, or just to be left as natural reserves are now just being used to store our rubbish. Just so you know, right now we also have this major thing called Global Warming going on, and because of this, glaciers in the North and South Poles are melting like M&M's in your mouth. This causes the sea level to rise and cover even more land area that can be used for housing or crops, etc... Meanwhile human beings are breeding almost like rabbits... our world's population was 6 billion in 1999... in 2008 it's already reached 6.7 billion. We need land to plant crops to feed all these people... but WE ARE RUNNING OUT OF LAND!!! This, by the way, is also a reason why I don't want to have kids. My apologies to my future hubby if you or your parents are the old fashioned type who must have kids to carry on the family name or whatever hogwash like that. Poorly managed landfills also produce methane. Methane is a greenhouse gas that when released to the atmosphere increases Global Warming. In fact, all of the greenhouses gases floating around, methane is most POWderful coz' it holds the most heat. In fact, Mr. Methane has 23 times the global warming potential of it's closest competitor, Mr. Carbon Dioxide. In landfills, however, most of the methane produced by the accumulated rubbish can't be released directly to the air coz', well, there's too much rubbish on top of the gas. So methane builds up inside landfills over time. And methane is also flammable. So guess what might happen at a landfill if some smart aleck comes along and tosses his cigarette butt on it? Landfill go BOOM.

That's a picture of a landfill fire and a very hapless fireman, by the way. Landfill fires have happened in Malaysian landfills, at Hulu Langat, Kepong, and God knows where else. Too bad I couldn't find a picture off those, so this will suffice.

3) Plastic, glass, tin and all these recyclable materials take ages to break down. I'm sure you know that by now. What you may not know is that
plastic does not biodegrade, it photodegrades. Meaning it doesn't break down to its constituents which are quite harmless, but instead just breaks into itty bitty toxic bits of plastic. These itty bitty bits of toxicness go into the land and water, get eaten by fish and other animals, which get eaten by bigger fish or animals, and meanwhile all the fish and animals, both big and small alike, get eaten by....(drumroll please....) US! Hence you or your kids end up getting lots of toxic bits of plastic accumulating in yourselves. That's probably not too good for health. That's just for plastic. I'm not too sure what happens to glass and metal... and I'm not too keen to find out right now.

Yesterday was was National Recycling Day in Malaysia. For all intents and purposes, I should have been able to go around to everyone I know and say "Happy Recycling!". Of course, that didn't happen, coz' for one, most people don't know it it was National Recycling Day in the first place, and second, most people don't recycle, and I would've just gotten lots of weird looks. Heck, I didn't even know it was National Recycling Day until my boss told me to attend this presentation on recycling that was being held at HQ in conjunction with this day. My company is starting to get big on the 3R's (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) and I'm part of the team working to make the project a success... but it's an uphill climb coz' it's never easy to change the mindsets of people. But after working on this and learning more of the facts, I learned that the problem is just getting REALLY bad.

So people, hopefully I've inspired (or scared) you enough to want to start sorting your trash from now on. And I just got to say this.... Happy Belated Recycling Day!