Issue 49-1-2019

Bimonthly Paper of Consumers Association of Penang

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Bimonthly Paper of Consumers Association of Penang

New research exposes a crisis in the global trade of “recyclable” plastics

Kuala Lumpur / Hong Kong / Berkeley, USA, 23 April 2019 — Water contamination, crop death, illness, and the open burning of plastic waste have all flooded into Southeast Asia along with the world’s “recycled” plastics, according to a report by GAIA (Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives) with data analysis on the global waste trade from Greenpeace East Asia.

“Plastic waste from industrialised countries is literally engulfing communities in Southeast Asia, transforming what were once clean and thriving places into toxic dumpsites. It is the height of injustice that countries and communities with less capacity and resources to deal with plastic pollution are being targeted as escape valves for the throwaway plastic generated by industrialised countries,” said Von Hernandez, the global coordinator of the Break Free from Plastic movement.

To measure changes to the flow of ‘recyclable’ plastic waste before and after China’s 2018 foreign waste import ban, Greenpeace East Asia collated import-export data from the 21 top exporters — with USA, UK, Germany, and Japan at the top —  and 21 top importers of plastics scraps.

Meanwhile, GAIA’s field investigations in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand detailed illegal recycling operations and crime syndicates, open burning, water contamination, crop death, and a rise of illness tied to environmental pollution that has led citizens to protest and governments to rush in restrictions to protect their borders, many following China’s lead with import bans.

Data indicates that Southeast Asia’s current plastics crisis is the pinnacle of a global experience, with waste piling up globally and domestically for all countries involved, even former exporters. Across the board, plastic waste exports dropped almost 50%, from 12.5 million tons in 2016 to 5.8 million tons in 2018 (available data from January to November 2018). Because plastic manufacturing is projected to rise, this drop in exports in part means ‘recyclable’ plastics will continue to stockpile or head for improper disposal at home. [Note 1]

But even the export of this waste doesn’t ensure proper disposal. Today, exports make their way into any country without adequate regulation to protect itself. North Sumengko, Indonesia, for example, turned into an international dumping ground almost overnight, and GAIA’s field investigation found trash piled two meters high, makeshift dumps, and open burning in the farming community.

This process will continue until decisive action is taken. After China’s import ban, waste flooded into Malaysia, Vietnam, and Thailand, who quickly set up import restrictions. Then, exports overflowed into Indonesia, India, and Turkey.

“Once one country regulates plastic waste imports, it floods into the next un-regulated destination. When that country regulates, the exports move to the next one. It’s a predatory system, but it’s also increasingly inefficient. Each new iteration shows more and more plastic going off grid — where we can’t see what’s done with it — and that’s unacceptable,” said Kate Lin, a senior campaigner with Greenpeace East Asia.

The Basel Convention will convene April 29 to May 10 in Switzerland to consider a proposal from Norway for greater transparency and accountability in the global trade of plastic waste. The proposal says exporters of plastic waste should receive permission from destination countries in advance — a system known as “prior informed consent” that is already in place for other types of hazardous waste.

“As wealthy nations dump their low-grade plastic trash onto country after country in the global south, the least the international community can do is safeguard a country’s right to know exactly what is being sent to their shores. However, ultimately, exporting countries need to deal with their plastic pollution problem at home instead of passing the burden onto other communities,” said Beau Baconguis, Regional Plastics Coordinator at GAIA Asia Pacific.

This plastics crisis also has a clear origin: corporations that mass produce plastic packaging to boost profits.

“Recycling systems can never keep up with plastic production, as only 9% of the plastics ever produced are recycled. The only solution to plastic pollution is producing less plastic. Heavy plastic users — mainly consumer goods companies like Nestlé and Unilever, but also supermarkets — need to reduce single-use plastics packaging and move towards refill and reuse system to get us out of this crisis,” said Lin.

Noting the massive environmental and social costs of plastic pollution, S.M. Mohamed Idris, President of the Consumers’ Association of Penang (CAP) and Friends of the Earth Malaysia (SAM) called for stricter implementation of the country’s restrictions on plastic waste import.

“The pollution, disease and economic burden of cleaning up will remain in our communities for decades. The rich countries must take responsibility for their own wastes at home.  We are not your dumping ground,” he said.

Note to editor:

Photos for press use can be found here. https://media.greenpeace.org/collection/27MZIFJWFLJC0

GAIA’s research is compiled on a dedicated microsite here. wastetradestories.org

Greenpeace East Asia’s data analysis can be found here. http://www.greenpeace.org/eastasia/Global/eastasia/publications/campaigns/toxics/GPEA%20Plastic%20waste%20trade%20-%20research%20briefing-v1.pdf

Note 1: Based on historical trends, global cumulative plastic waste generation is expected to reach over 25,000 million metric tons by 2050. Geyer, R. et al (2017) Production, use and fate of all plastics ever made. Science Advances Vol. 3, no. 7. https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/3/7/e1700782. Plastic waste generation has been increasing in key exporting countries like Germany (increase of 3.9% between 2015 and 2017) and USA (estimated to increase 12% in 2018 compared to 2015).

Media contacts:

Claire Arkin, Communications Coordinator, GAIA, claire@no-burn.org, +1 510 883 9490 ext: 111

Sherma Benosa, Communications Officer, GAIA Asia Pacific,  sherma@no-burn.org, +63 917 815 7570,

Mageswari Sangaralingam, Research Officer CAP/SAM, magesling@gmail.com, +60 12 878 2706

August Rick, International Communications Officer, Greenpeace East Asia, Beijing, august.rick@greenpeace.org, +86 155 2818 9404,

Greenpeace International Press Desk, pressdesk.int@greenpeace.org, phone: +31 (0) 20 718 2470 (available 24 hours)

 

Press Release23 April 2019

TIME TO PROTECT, NOT DESTROY

In conjunction with Earth Day April  22nd this year, Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) would like to highlight the fact that at least one-fifth of mammal species found in Malaysia is facing extinction.  That is according to a data provided by the World Bank in 2015, which revealed  that in 2014 as many as 70 species out of 336 mammals were in danger.  This special classification ranks Malaysia seventh in the world, while in Southeast Asia it is second only to Indonesia which counts 184 species at risk (the first in the world).

Malaysia  is the  most dangerous country in the world for species already at risk.   The continuous emergence of wildlife news in the media warrants serious attention from the government and the relevant authorities. From snaring, roadkills, elephant wreaking havoc on villagers and destroying crops, primates at risk, killing of sunbears to consumption of turtle eggs, sale of wildlife through social media and the list goes on.

Elephants are seriously endangered because of endless human encroachment into their habitats. Once rampages occur in a village they are characterised as rogue elephants for intrusion into human space, when rightfully, the land was originally theirs. In cases of villagers, farms and plantations closing in on wild habitats, wildlife is always the losers.

In September 2016 the loss of seven Borneon pygmy elephants in a mud pool near a logging site in Rinukutoff the Kalabakan-Keningau road in Tawau  is absolutely tragic. Their death is a huge blow to Sabah’s conservation efforts to conserve the 1,500 or so remaining jumbos in its forests.

Death stalked the elephants again when in January 2017 on New Year’s eve  two tuskers were discovered  dead in Kinabatangan believed to have been the work of people and poachers.  One dubbed  ‘Sabre’  for its crooked tusks was found  with  its tusks missing.  He was believed to have been  killed on November 21 2016.

In August 2017, a female pygmy elephant was found dead on a plantation just outside a forest reserve in the Kinabatangan area. The dead pachyderm was riddled with wounds from shotgun pellets and may have been shot for feasting on crops at a local plantation.

In the past seven years 22 baby elephants without their mothers have been rescued with half of these baby elephants dying as many cannot survive.  They have become orphans because their mothers may have become victims of crimes committed by farmers and plantation  workers.  In recent years baby elephants  have been found wandering around aimlessly without their mothers anywhere around.

Just recently  two more pygmy elephants died near a plantation area at Sukau and Tawau.

While the crippling blow that the palm oil industry has dealt to the orangutan species is monumental, the palm oil industry has the blood of other species on their hands as well. Recognizing the high demand and high profits that are associated with palm oil, the industry has stopped at little to produce as much of this commodity as possible. Sadly, this high pay-off for palm producers comes at a high cost to the environment and animal species where palm oil is grown.

Our tiger population has dwindled to less than 150 animals with the population surviving throughout the Central Forest Spine in Peninsula Malaysia.   As a commodity the tiger is shredded with vulture-like efficiency: skin, whiskers, penis, tail, bones and claws all parcelled up for open sale in markets throughout Asia.

Now that China is lifting the ban on rhino horns and tiger bones for use in traditional Chinese medicine even though they have no therapeutic value whatsoever, there will be devastating consequences for tigers globally.  With a legal market, China is creating a huge legal market  for poached animal parts.  This move could be a death sentence for both rhinos and tigers.  It  will inevitably stimulate demand and  the trafficking of such products.  This will also provide  ample opportunities for traffickers to launder their poached animal parts.

The carnage continues with turtles falling victims to the unscrupulous.  The butchering of 100 endangered sea turtles in October  2017 on an island off Semporna has drawn worldwide attention with the discovery of the carcasses of the reptiles.

An estimated 100 turtle skeletons were found scattered in the bushes near the beaches of Kg Pantau-Pantau, Kg Amboh-Ambohang, Kg Sampolan at Pulau Bum-Bum off Semporna. These were believed to be poaching activities carried out by the nomadic Palau or Bajau Laut (sea gypsies)  who come to the area occasionally.

Then again in October  2017, a group of islanders made  another gruesome discovery of 7 turtle carcasses with their stomachs exposed,  found floating in waters near Mabul Island.

Previous reports of the discovery of turtle carcasses have  been reported off Sabah waters in the past years.  Among them were:   the discovery of 60 turtle carcasses on Pulau Tiga in Kudat made public by a researcher-lecturer in March 2014.

Barely a month after that, the carcasses of four more sea turtles were found floating off Semporna, between Bum-Bum and Kulapuan islands within the Tun Sakaran Marine park by a Fisheries Department staff.

Sharing similar fate are shark species where viral shark photos showed   a number of sharks without fins on sale at  a wet market in Sandakan.  The  public concern is whether  such sharks that were caught without the fins fall under the endangered species.

Our very shy mammal – the pangolins –  is going the way of the dodo.  The  Trade Records Analysis of Flora and Fauna in Commerce (TRAFFIC)  warned of an impending disaster for our pangolins as over one million pangolins were poached in the last decade.  TRAFFIC reported that about 23 tons of pangolins were seized in air transport between 2009 and 2017 and in 2018, 40.8 tonnes of pangolin products were seized.  They are the top target for traffickers and poachers since they are perceived to be of medicinal value and their meat is a delicacy.  Despite seizures and tip offs, the poaching crisis continues unabated.

The real tragedy is that the few species mentioned above do not begin to tell the story.  The one things that all of these species have in common is that the cause of their extinction is human beings.   Human activity now impacts heavily everywhere and we are using a variety of sophisticated industrial technologies to destroy other life forms in vast numbers and this inevitably results in the extinction of some species.

In many cases these life forms are hunted to extinction as a result of some misguided  commercial imperative.  Whether it is for food (such as species of fish) raw materials (such as the ivory of elephant tusks) or some delusional belief in their aphrodisiac or medicinal qualities (such as the horn of a rhinoceros) they are killed with sophisticated technologies such as guns and fishing nets against which they have no evolutionary defense).  An example sea turtles.  All sea turtles are threatened due to the poaching and hunting of their  shells, meat and eggs.  It is the absurd belief that the eggs possess aphrodisiac elements.

Mainly two things that drive species over the edge are our systemic destruction of land habitat – forests, grasslands, wetlands, peatlands, mangroves in our endless effort to capture more wild places    for human use (whether it be residential, commercial, mining, farming or military) and our destruction of waterways and the ocean habitat.  There are now great floating garbage patches in several oceans of the world.

On an isolated limestone hill called Gunung Kanthan in the northwest of Peninsular Malaysia, it is the only known home to  a new species of snail  discovered. It is found in the corner of a limestone quarry run by global cement giant Lafarge.

Quarries that have yet to be blown apart to provide material for cement manufacture is a fertile place for species.  They are source to three new kinds of plant, a trapdoor spider, snail and new kind of Bent-toed Gecko. Given the very restricted known distributions of these species, all of them are presumed to be at critical risk of global extinction, and all face threat from further quarrying.

Relatively speaking, we pay a lot of attention to big and colourful species but the species that are not heard of or less exotic need to be valued too. Frogs, which among other invaluable services from a limited human perspective, eat malarial mosquitoes, yet now  mosquito populations are increasing as the frog populations declined.  Even  farmers  have had to  resort  to using  more chemicals in their fields to keep pests at bay, a job undertaken previously by hungry frogs.

Flying insects have really important ecological functions, for which their numbers matter a lot.  Flies, moths and butterflies are as important as bees for many flowering plants, including some crops.  They provide food for many animals, birds, bats, some mammals, fish, reptiles and amphibians.  Flies, beetles and wasps are also predators and decomposers, controlling pests and cleaning up the place.  But then there is no proper study carried out to determine the scale of the losses although destruction of wild areas and widespread use of pesticides and climate change are most likely factors.

Conservation NGOs have repeatedly warned that all these destructive activities have taken a serious toll on our wildlife yet little has been done in addressing the critical situation.

However not all our destruction is as visible as our vanishing rainforests and the iconic species that vanish with them.  Far more common is our destruction of the soil with organic based pollutants associated with industrial chemicals.  Thousands of synthetic  chemicals often in the form  of fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and other poisons destroy the soil    by reducing the nutrients and killing the microbes, in which we grow our food.  Such  poisons cause depletion of the soil and the poisons also kill many of the beneficial insects, such as bees  that play a part in plant pollination and growth.

Trade in wildlife is a growing criminal sophistication behind the current wildlife crime wave, with syndicates employing ruthless tactics to brutally slaughter rhinos, elephants  and other animals.

The problem is not only confined to Malaysia alone but is happening throughout Asean member countries.  The key priority to be addressed is whether there is some form of policy with a clear description of what actions will be taken and by whom, as well as firm commitments to ensure it can be implemented effectively.   With  wildlife  so threatened,  it is  important to appreciate what may soon be gone and be reminded of the importance of protecting it.

 

Letter to Editor, 20 April 2019

CAP and SAM welcome federal government’s clarification about Penang reclamation project

CAP and SAM are relieved to read the clarification by Federal Territories Minister Khalid Abdul Samad that the National Physical Planning Council (NPPC) has not approved the Penang South Reclamation (PSR) project.

We welcome very much the decision of the NPPC not to approve the reclamation project as yet but to give 18 conditions to the state government, and to ask the state to engage with local communities and ensure their needs are considered.

Yesterday we had expressed dismay about the statement by Penang Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow that the NPPC had approved the project with 18 “advices,”  after the NPPC meeting chaired by the Prime Minister

Now it seems the Chief Minister has jumped the gun and made a misleading statement about the approval by the federal government’s Physical Planning Council.

We very much welcome the clarification by Minister Khalid Samad that in fact “the council did not give any approval or make any decision on the project and instead itgave the state government 18 conditions.”

We also appreciate very much the Minister’s statement that “the state government was also advised to continue engaging with the local community and ensure their needs are given due consideration.”

CAP and SAM together with other NGOs have been very active in analysing the proposed reclamation project as well as other projects like PIL1, the undersea tunnel and paired roads, which together form the Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP).

We will continue to be active in getting our views known to the state and federal governments and agencies, and to engage with the authorities and the local communities.

We reiterate our view that the reclamation and other projects of the PTMP are very damaging to Penang and Malaysia in the financial, environmental, cultural, heritage and local community aspects.

There are much cheaper, better and environmentally sound ways of improving transport in Penang, instead of the RM46 billion monstrous project proposed by the state government.

We just cannot understand why the projects are so over-priced, and at a time when the country is trying to save money.  For example, the PIL1 highway project is estimated to cost RM8 billion for 20 km of road, or RM400 million per km.  This is far above the RM68 mil per km cost of the revised ECRL federal project and also much above many other highway and road projects in Malaysia.

Obviously the whole transport plan of the state government has to be reviewed from many aspects.

Meanwhile, we urge the Chief Minister not to make any further statements about the projects that are misleading.  In recent days he announced the reclamation project was approved by the federal-level National Physical Planning Council (when it was not), and that the Dept of Environment had approved the EIA for the PIL1 project (although later he admitted the EIA contained faulty information about hill-slopes with the mistakes caused by a computer), and that the MACC had closed a corruption probe against the main company involved in the undersea tunnel project.

Surely it is for these agencies to make any announcements, and not the CM to appear to be a spokesman for the National Physical Planning Council, the Dept of Environment or the MACC anti-corruption agency.

 

Press Statement, 19 April 2019

Go ahead for Penang South Reclamation Project is shocking

The Consumers Association Penang (CAP) and Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) are shocked and disturbed to learn that the controversial Penang South Reclamation (PSR) project has been given the go-ahead by the National Physical Planning Council (NPPC),with the imposition of 18points of advice (nasihat) to the Penang State Government.

We do not know how the PSR could be approved when there were huge financial, social and environmental concerns over the project, including its effects on the livelihoods of local fishermen who will be affected by the project.

Indeed, we cannot understand how the approval for the PSR is given, when the costs of the reclamation and the Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP) are massive, even compared to the ECRL.

For instance, it is estimated that the Pan-Island Link, which is a part of the PTMP, will cost RM 400 million per km of road compared to the RM 68 million per km of the revised ECRL project.

The huge costs for the PSR and the PTMP, which amount to RM 46 billion, have been inexplicable and outrageous and how any approval can be given under such circumstances is mind-boggling.

So many fundamental concerns have been raised by concerned citizens and NGOs and we do not know how these concerns have been addressed. Hence, we want the 18-point advice to the made public so that the public can understand what the conditions for approval were by the NPPC.

 

Press Release, 18 April 2019