Beginning with Pulau Gaya, it would put an end to the perennial problem of floating wastes and debris along the State's islands and waterways and involve both the State Government and private sector in a smart partnership.
Dubbed "NOW project" (No More Plastic Wastes in Our Waters), it is designed and developed by Gaya Recycle Sdn Bhd, a Sabah-registered private company that promotes environmental awareness of recycling plastic wastes.
Its Director Marinah Harris, who has extensive experience abroad, including as a United Nations partner in several countries on environment-related issues, coined the acronym.
The Public-Private Partnership (PPP) initiative to clean up Sabah's tourism hotspots is a collaborative effort by Gaya Recycle, Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Environment, Kota Kinabalu City Hall (DBKK), Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS), Blue Life ecoservices Bhd, Environmental Action Centre (EAC), Environment Protection Department (EPD) and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) like Humana Child Aid Society and Daily Express.
State Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun is the Chairman, assisted by three Co-Chairmen - Permanent Secretary to the Ministry, Datuk Michael Emban, Director-General of DBKK, Datuk Yeo Boon Hai and Marinah herself.
The multidisciplinary Action Committee prompted Masidi to describe NOW as a Citizens' Movement for Cleanliness, to which prime mover Marinah responded, "Act Now, Save our Ocean. Stop Ocean Dumping of Solid Wastes on Marine Tourism Hotspots of Sabah."
The project consists of five components: - The Recycling Plant: In April this year, Gaya Recycle Sdn Bhd will establish a recycling plant at a chosen municipality as a pilot project.
Three locations - Semporna, Sandakan and Kota Kinabalu - have been identified for a potential pilot.
- Engagement of the Coastal Communities: The organisation of plastic waste collection will be undertaken by the non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in coordination with Gaya Recycle Sdn Bhd, the municipality and trained personnel. The community will be guided and trained by experts in collecting, sorting and preparing the goods as commodity for sale.
These commodities will be bought by the Joint Venture Company at the collection point.
- Waste to Commodity: The company will provide a supervisor who will be responsible for collecting and paying for the plastic wastes while the Municipality will provide the waste collection area with bins, and transportation from the bins to the plant within a 20km radius).
- Waste to Profit: These plastic wastes will be sorted, cleaned and processed by a plastic recycling plant and made into recycled polymers pellets and sold for profit.
- Sharing of Profits: The profits will be allocated for coastal conservation activities and for the coastal communities, 10pc each. Such activities would include a public awareness campaign through photography exhibition and art exhibition, using recycled materials, and scientific monitoring.
The fund for coastal communities will be used for activities such as environmental education, and provision of sanitation facilities.
Marinah said the project will not only provide a long-term marine conservation solution but will also put in place a sustainable income-generating mechanism to alleviate poverty as well as to ameliorate the impact of waste dumping on our coastlines and beaches.
The entire exercise entails using debris skimmer boats (around Pulau Gaya and later other islands) to collect floating or submerged marine litter and wastes on coastlines and beaches; using the Mother Boat to hold all the collected trash pending transportation by truck to the recycling plant.
In a nutshell, NOW is creating a model for sustainable reduction, collection, recycling and re-use of plastic wastes as resource, thus reducing the environmental impact of marine-borne wastes and ensuring the safety of beaches.
According to Marinah, Sabah Parks will provide the manpower for collection to be known as Clean Coast Rangers operating only from the boats.
Asked if there was a time frame, she said:
"We have to set milestones and the first one would be the first three months as decided upon. I would like to suggest an annual budget for three years.
Every year or half a year, let's have our accounts audited because transparency is very important.
"We are taking this as a pilot project and starting it in KK.
If it works out well, then hopefully, we will expand the idea to other parts of Sabah.
"NOW will mobilise communities into the fight against waste dumping onto reefs, beaches, coasts and into the ocean. There is no silver bullet for this longstanding problem. We require multiple dimensions and parallel solutions - education is one of them, peer pressure, public awareness campaign and what have you," she asserted.
Asked what inspired her to initiate NOW, Marinah said:
"Being born here, I used to swim in this beautiful ocean with seahorses and fishes around since we were kids. But now, when I go swimming, it's swimming among bottles and I am hit by plastic bottles.
"Usually, swimmers are attacked by sharks but here in Sabah, we are 'attacked' by plastic bottles."
She is confident that the joint effort would make an impact on people's lives.
"Definitely, we will make a big impact, a positive impact with a system to deal with garbage collection, recycling and generating profits.
This is an integrated, structured and coordinated approach.
"I am aware of the different strategic activities in the past to stop ocean dumping, but it was pointed out at our last meeting that the effort was never really integrated. Our project is a collaboration - if only one person, what can you do? Everybody has to do his or her part.
"I wouldn't start this (NOW) if I think it is not going to work.
If we all stick together as a team, it will work. We have a fantastic team from different departments and NGOs. I am sure we can succeed.
We already have a lot of capable groups out there such as UMS which is collecting and recycling their own garbage. UMS is part of the team, we can also learn from them," Marinah enthused.
The people must be made aware of NOW as a new approach, instead of being told that the problem is there and we can never solve it.
She continued: "If people start losing hope very early because you say this problem is unsolvable, then we will never solve it.
"That's why I think we need to instigate and catalyse a new movement and say - Here is the solution, we are ready for it as we have a partnership that is ready to work together."
Aware that the Government has not been successful in its numerous public cleanliness campaigns, Masidi did not think we could solve littering in a one-way straight approach.
"When you are dealing with habits, it's something that is very difficult to change. Basically, our problem is our habit because we don't feel guilty in discarding rubbish indiscriminately," he contended.