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Tanjung Aru heroes collect more than 13,000kg of rubbish

11th January, 2019

IN A CONTINUOUS weekly cleanup held over six months, rubbish weighing a total 13,700kg was collected at the Tanjung Aru village – one of the hotspots in Sabah for sunset chasers. Who would have expected that underneath the area’s spectacular view lies heaps of trash, some up to six-feet deep.

On Feb 10 last year, 30 members of Sabah Environmental Friendly Association (MASESA) together with 200 volunteers joined forces to clean up the village for the first time by simply picking up rubbish. For starters, they had to knock on every door to call on villagers to take part in the programme.

Despite the unenthusiastic response, the idea that rubbish is valuable later enticed some of the villagers especially youngsters who eventually made returns every week over the next six months.

How is rubbish valuable? We recycle them.

“Every week, we would prepare a list of attendance to keep record of those who participated in that particular week. I would then do a briefing about rubbish – the recyclable and non-recyclable items.

“After a short one to two hours of picking up trash, we would weigh and separate them before selling the recyclable items to a company that buys them. The money collected would later be given in the next cleanup to those who took part in the previous week.

“Through the practice, we tried to educate children to know the value of rubbish and to develop the mindset that they are responsible in cleaning their own areas and that they could benefit from it as well,” said MASESA president Ainie Jamin.

In the first two weeks, the rubbish collected had to be sorted again by the recycle company but after the third week, the process went better as villagers had learned and were able to separate the waste themselves.

The programme started to receive good feedback, collecting 800 to 1,000 kg of trash every week.

Some children even went to each house to collect boxes, cooking oil and shampoo bottles a day before the cleanup, said Ainie.

“On the third week, a few other non-governmental organisations (NGO) approached us including Pro-CAKNA who provided health checks to villagers which caught their attention especially the older ones.

“This was a positive move because obviously we could not expect them to pick up trash. So in a way, they also benefitted from the programme,” she said.

Established in 2017, MASESA aims to foster environmental understanding and values among Sabahans as well as to raise awareness on the importance of preservation and conservation, primarily focusing on cleanups and recycling.

According to Ainie, Tanjung Aru was chosen as their first location given the village’s horrendous condition whilst situated near the city centre.

“We could not put all the blame on the villagers because they claimed that some of the waste was washed ashore by the ocean but I told them that they could start by keeping their own compound clean.

“We hope to beautify the area just like one in Keningau where they used recyclable items to decorate their village,” she enthused.

Cleaning works in Tanjung Aru, however, said Ainie, are a long journey ahead given the need for heavy machines to excavate deep-seated rubbish in the village.

Speaking of waste management, she stated that Sabah lacks a recycling house such as the Alam Flora recycling centres in the peninsula where people can sell recyclable items instead of disposing them.

The setting up of such centres would not only instil recycling practice among the people but at the same time reduce waste. Throughout the six-month programme, she said, the sorted rubbish had to be placed at certain villagers’ houses while waiting to be collected by the companies they worked with due to the lack of a designated centre.

“If every district has at least three recycling centres, we believe it will do a lot for our waste management and people will realise the value of recyclable items.

“It will also provide better convenience for people and subsequently foster the act of recycling among them.

“We recently paid a courtesy call to the Putatan MP, Awang Husaini Sahari, and told him about this matter in which he assured would be directed to the City Hall,” said Ainie.

Since its inception, a number of charity programmes for fire victims and orphans had been conducted by MASESA apart from organising the World Cleanup Day on Sept 15 in Petagas which gathered more than 350 villagers from five villages in the area.

This year, the environmental association is looking into organising a ‘One Village One Product’ programme and a compost fertiliser initiative while hoping to set up a premise for office and recycle workshops.

Ainie disclosed that the team is in the midst of working with Kraftangan Malaysia to promote upcycling – transforming waste materials or recyclable items into new products.

Under the ‘One Village One Product’ programme, the plan is to run upcycling workshops in selected villages before hosting an Open Day after six months where villagers would sell their products.

“Many people are still unaware of these items’ values – bags could be made out of the 3 in 1 instant coffee packaging, polystyrene could be used to create pillows while mineral bottles could be turned into so many things.

“Even used cooking oil – that people usually just throw down the drains – could be made into wax to create candles; these are all opportunities that villagers could tap into to generate income.

“This is what we hope to establish through the ‘One Village One Product’ programme where each village would focus on one upcycled product and have them exhibited and sold during the open day,” she said.

At the time being, the team is collecting materials for the activity that will see Tanjung Aru and Petagas as its first two locations. They are targeting to kick-start the project by March.

Meanwhile, to fund its operations, MASESA is seeking to collaborate with the City Hall to allow them collect by-products and waste from vegetables and the like to be processed into compost fertilisers.

Not limiting its focus on cleanups and recycling, the association also takes measures to promote conservation while at the same time, spare a moment to give back to the people.

“We are planning to contribute five to six trees this Chinese New Year to orphanages and old folks’ houses to be planted in their compounds in addition to our regular charity programmes.

“This is our way to promote conservation besides doing our part to help these people,” said the president.

Ultimately, the team – currently consisting of 70 members – hopes to raise awareness on the importance of saving the environment and to educate every individual that keeping their surrounding clean is their own responsibility.

Dreaming of a day where ‘gotong-royong’ is no longer necessary, Ainie asserted that no one should indulge in the privilege of having outsiders clean their compounds; everyone is accountable to their own trash that can simply be picked up and separated. By doing that, they could get returns. “Remember, trash is gold,” she quipped.

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