Plastics in the river

Throughout my research in rural communities the issue of waste kept on emerging, either through small fires with pungent smoke that burned in the village or through the visible evidence of plastic wrappers and debris floating in the river, washing up on the riverbanks or appearing on a forest trail. In much of rural Sarawak, people love single-wrapped sweets, noodles and plastic bags, but have no way of dispose of them in a sustainable way because the council does not collect waste here. With no grid electricity, treated water, mobile or landline phone and no paved roads it would seem a minor issue and yet it impacts on people’s health and the quality of the water the village depends on. IMG_2738 2.jpgLike Menti, many people in Sarawak like using plastic goods, but once they break and become rubbish there is no real way of disposing of them. 

The rapid development of road infrastructure in Sarawak, and in small rural communities around the world, has led to increased rates of consumption of consumer goods in rural areas (Hu 2014). This has meant an improvement in the standard of living for rural folks, but it has also led to an increased production of non-organic solid waste in communities where no waste removal services are available (He 2012). Villages are stuck with their rubbish, and have to find their own ways to dispose of it. Research in Brazil (Bernardes and Günther 2014), Nigeria (Butu and Mshelia 2014), Kenya (Wambuguh 2015), China (Li, Yao et al. 2011, Li, Zhang et al. 2013, Hu 2014, Wu, Zhang et al. 2014, Zeng, Niu et al. 2015), Mexico (Buenrostro, Bocco et al. 2001) and other countries in Latin America (Oakley and Jimenez 2012) suggests that the problem has ongoing relevance for communities across the developing world and affects many emerging economies.

Waste is an immense problem in Malaysia, too (Samsudin and Don 2013). In areas of rural Sarawak without removal services, waste disposal practices involve burning rubbish, burying it in front of the house, or throwing it into the river (Oakley and Jimenez 2012). These practices come with health risks and cause environmental damage (He 2012). Not only small communities are faced with this problem. According to Sarawak Forestry Corporation, waste disposal is one of the great problems of the Mulu National Park and Royal Mulu Resort. Mulu has no road access and so waste is transported to disposal sites by boat or by plane, which is costly.

If anyone reading this is interested in collaborating in a research on the topic, I would really like to put out a funding proposal to some philanthropic or academic body, it would be very worthwhile looking into different options because it’s a problem not only in Sarawak but around the world. There is also lots of community support, and community partners available for this in Sarawak!IMG_3514.JPGPeople keep their longhouses and village communities clean, but this often means that rubbish is thrown in the river or burnt instead, which leads to environmental problems.






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Zeng, C., et al. (2015). “A comprehensive overview of rural solid waste management in China.” Frontiers of Environmental Science & Engineering 9(6): 949-961.


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