Close to 800 kilograms of Plastic Waste removed in community initiative to clean up Pulau Gazumbo
A community-led cleanup in the Middle Bank, a critical marine ecosystem rich in biodiversity, is among the first of many initiatives organised by Penang Green Council and recognised by leading international environmental organisation, EARTHDAY.ORG, to lay a foundation for continuous cleanups in Penang.
On 26 February 2022, their first initiative commenced at Pulau Gazumbo, and received encouraging response thanks to a landmark collaboration between civil society, government agencies, education institutes, NGOs, and private business. The combined effort cleared away more than 768 kilograms of litter affecting natural ecosystems surrounding the island, with almost 50% being plastic bottles alone and 10% of them being discarded fishing nets. Pulau Gazumbo has one of the largest seagrass meadows along the Straits of Malacca and has been heavily polluted due to the high tide phenomenon that washed ashore the plastic bags and bottles from Penang Island. Marine litter composition in Malaysia comprises 42% beverage bottles and 33% plastic bags, with the remainder being all other manners of plastic waste, and the marine litter on Pulau Gazumbo is a textbook example, according to Prof Dato Dr Aileen Tan, the Director of CEMACS USM.
This cleanup is also instrumental to the future plans of Pulau Gazumbo, following the recent announcement by Chief Minister of Penang, YAB Chow Kon Yeow of the conservation initiative of Pulau Gazumbo as a Middle Bank Marine Sanctuary (MBMS) during the launch of Phase 2: Accelerating Penang2030. However, the organisers emphasise that this cleanup cannot be one-off or be relied on as the only solution. An estimated one garbage truck of plastic is dumped into the oceans every single minute. Thus, bolder policies are necessary to curb plastic waste such as rethinking single-use models. Initiated in the grassroots, this community-led effort by members of the Penang Swimming Club aims to establish a model for impactful cleanups, covering waste audits, community awareness and education, and waste recovery. “We chose the partners carefully for this cleanup. State support to ensure safety and continuity; and proper recycling partners to divert as much of the waste collected from landfill. We hope community and volunteer-led efforts like these inspire further action from government to businesses and households,” says Scott Ong and Yeoh Tze Ni, the organising team from Penang Swimming Club.
The cleanup at Pulau Gazumbo was successful due to the contribution and effort made by Penang State Government, Penang Green Council, Penang Economic Planning Unit (BPEN), Penang Institute, Penang Island City Council (MBPP), Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), Penang Department of Fisheries (DOF), Penang Swimming Club, Centre for Marine & Coastal Studies (CEMACS), Fire and Rescue Department Malaysia (JBPM), Nature Classroom, Henghiap Industries and Dynamic Privilege Penang. The initiative has also attracted international support from EARTHDAY.ORG, highlighted as part of The Great Global Cleanup campaign with their EARTHDAY.ORG Ambassador, Climate Action advocate, Melissa Tan, collaborating on the event.
“Cleanups like these are just the beginning. We need to move from awareness into action, and it comes down to preventing waste at its source. Coordinated efforts like these leveraging on the strengths of every stakeholder shows how we can do more together. I look forward to being involved in more projects like this and continue building on the momentum locally,” says EARTHDAY.ORG Ambassador, Melissa Tan who continually challenges citizens and businesses to adopt simple and practical sustainability practices. Karuna Singh, Regional Director Asia of EARTHDAY.ORG adds, “Our grateful thanks to each of the organisations, your efforts are true reflections on the global Earth Day theme ‘Invest In Our Planet’. Let us all – businesses, governments and citizens – answer this ‘Call to Action’ as today, a clean and healthy planet is not an option – it’s a necessity.”
Following the result of the cleanup, Penang Green Council will continue to drive efforts to promote waste segregation at source and reduce the usage of single-use plastics in the community to achieve the vision of a Trash-Free Penang. Reducing is the main key action that we need to take now.
Josephine Tan, The General Manager of Penang Green Council says, “This is our way forward; we cannot leave behind a world beyond repair to our future generations. The responsibility lies on each one of us, so take the ownership and act now! One small action of ours today will heavily shape how tomorrow will be.”