One thing I must commend the Malaysian government and in particular the Penang state government for is the efforts in saving the environment. In the three years since I have lived in Penang I have seen the destruction of the environment by developers. Coastal areas have been reclaimed for housing and rain forest hillsides have been cleared for luxury condominiums. But on the positive side I have seen the government and volunteers trying to save the environment.
On January 1 of this year the Penang government outlawed plastic bags. Plastic bags were given out everywhere, from the grocery stores and malls to food courts and hawker stands. Here take out drinks at food courts and coffee shops are not served in cups, but in small plastic bags. Empty plastic bags cover the landscape. Larger grocery stores and drug stores now do not liberally hand out plastic bags, but charge for them if you do not have a shopping bag. The money goes for charity or the environment. This will have a strong positive effect upon those who shop in upper end locations, but will have no effect on the rest of society.
A couple of times a year I see volunteers meeting very early on a Sunday morning to clean up the garbage and trash along the beach at Gurney Drive. I have read in the newspaper about other volunteers, including a cardiologist, cleaning up the rivers in the area. This community activism is doing wonders in cleaning up the environment.
The biggest problem facing the government and volunteer environmental agencies is educating the public, who are used to treating the rivers and coastal areas as garbage dumps. I remember last year visiting the beautiful island of Lankawi. I was disgusted to see all kinds of garbage just tossed along the beaches. Glass bottles. plastic bags of all sizes, Styrofoam food containers and aluminum cans were strewn from the waters edge to the grassy picnic areas. Close by were very few trash cans, which were empty. It was interesting to see that foreigners disposed of rubbish properly, but locals just dropped it along the way or tossed it into the ocean. They seemed to have no pride in their beautiful island.
Yesterday I was walking back home after having lunch, when I noticed a man walking in front of me, while eating his lunch from a takeout container. He finished most everything in the container, except for a large portion of rice. He simply dropped in on the pavement of the road we were walking on. Next he threw away the plastic bag containing his drink and then dropped a small plastic bags containing bones and other garbage onto the pavement. Since this was the road leading to my condo I felt it was within my rights to say something to this gentleman. I told him that he could have waited a minute to properly dispose of his garbage. He just looked at me and told me to mind my own business. Another time I was eating at a little seafood place on the beach. I observed a woman from one of the small stands bagging garbage, Styrofoam cups and plastic cutlery. I sort of felt good that she was doing her part for the ecology. Then she just took the big bag and threw it into the sea.
The majority of the people have to be educated as to the importance of keeping the environment clean. A since of pride has to be instilled in the people to protect the beauty of their home. One suggestion I can offer local governments is to make trash receptacles available, so people have someplace to dispose of their litter. Trash cans can be very rare in most of Penang. Penang is a developing country, but they are doing a great deal of work in protecting the environment, even compared to the developed countries of the West