Straws aren't the answer to fixing our natural disasters

DECEMBER 18 — I spent most of Sunday sleeping; it was cold and the sky was heavily overcast.

It was cold enough that I kept checking if I'd left the air conditioning on by mistake.

While I was tired and spent most of the day in bed, elsewhere there were Malaysians who didn't have that same luxury of finding shelter from the seemingly endless rain.

We've been through monsoons and floods for decades. You would think that we would be better prepared for natural disasters and yet, the news and pictures tell us “No.”

We are still incredibly reactive and demonstrate such a lack of preparedness in the face of everything from flash floods to serious floods, and any attempt to address it devolves into politics.

Instead, Malaysians are easily placated with token gestures when it comes to the environment ― straw and plastic bag bans but still we haven't managed to make Malaysians stop littering.

It's rather exasperating that we even have Netflix documentaries that show just how bad our waste disposal habits are.

Malaysians will often have rather awful rejoinders when they hear complaints about trash: “Oh it's those people” — handily blaming foreigners for the trash on our streets.

The problem here really is enforcement. Singaporeans needed huge fines to stop them from littering but I'm not sure if that would work in Malaysia.

It seems as though we hate enforcing these things. We like making all sorts of rules but actually getting them enforced is too much of a hassle and expense.

Malaysians really consider anything troublesome as “someone else's problem.”

Maybe we have to start with the problem of waste before it becomes unsolvable. In some countries, they have started to be strict about separating food waste from other types and even charging for disposal.

I needed to do a lot of Googling to find out that there is a free service to help me dispose of large goods such as broken TVs or washing machines.

There needs to be better communication about how to remove bulk waste especially for the poor.

It's hard for people with less money to get rid of old furniture ― not everyone can afford the couple of hundred you need to hire a truck to get rid of bulk waste.

That's when you see rotting chairs or mattresses by the road side and pieces of waste clogging up drains.

If we've successfully brainwashed so many people into buying metal straws (how about looking up how non-environmentally friendly making those straws is) I am sure we can educate Malaysians to be better with our trash.

Let's start by regulating waste bins ― it should be a crime to walk more than a few metres without seeing a dustbin in malls and on public walkways.

That's my wish for 2020: that Malaysians learn to be a lot less trashy about how they deal with trash. It's time we start learning from our neighbour about keeping our streets clean.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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