UPM team with NGO activists and school children of Pulau Mabul at the opening ceremony of Green Into Cash programme
The increasing number of tourists to this island for diving activities, however, has led to the problem of mounting and piling garbage as well as critical water shortage as this beautiful island has no raw water resources, except for its own man-made wells of salted water.
A special programme by the Higher Education Ministry for its academicians at local universities has been laid out where the latter can carry out “Knowledge of Transfer Programme” (KTP), which is aimed at strengthening the distribution of all-round knowledge and improving the living condition of the people and industries in Malaysia.
In this respect, Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) as a research university that has received the highest government grant in the country, has utilized the KTP grant by combining the various expertise from its Faculty of Forestry, Design and Architecture Faculty and the Institute of Agricultural and Food Policy Studies (IKDPM) in introducing a sustainable Green Entrepreneurship Programme to turn trash into cash.
From there onwards, a group of UPM researchers and students have embarked on an innovative green initiative to turn garbage into cash by forming a business for tour operators in Pulau Mabul, Semporna, Sabah.
Under this programme, UPM highlights the importance of recycling activity of empty bottles and containers as well as composting fertilizers from waste food
UPM team of researchers from the Faculty of Forestry, Design and Architecture Faculty and the Institute of Agricultural and Food Policy Studies collecting rubbish thrown into the sea by tourists
Dr. Sridar points out the scarcity of main source of energy and clean water in Pulau Mabul, an island with a total number of three thousand residents, compounded by the high arrivals of tourists almost every week.
“Therefore, the utilization of such resources should be minimized. The problem of
piling trash is aggravated by Pulau Mabul tourism sector which is getting worrisome.
“UPM should create that awareness among residents and tour operators there by encouraging the adoption and use of green or environmental-friendly projects and the economic benefits of viable waste management practices and sustainable marine and coastal environment that they can gain.
“The ultimate goal is to utilize alternative resources and increase efficiency in the use of energy and manpower for tour operators,” said Dr. Sridar who is a lecturer at the Department of Recreation, Faculty of Forestry, UPM.
He further says that the programme has introduced an approach using the concept of permaculture, which is a creative design based on ethics and design principles, for use in the context of human-environment relations.
“This approach is important because it will help the organization to prepare for power generation,” he says.
The Ilham program is mooted from a study on Long-term Research Grant (LRGS) which has discovered high dependence of the community in Semporna for three main things – to clean up themselves, the raw sewage and waste – due to the lack of basic amenities in the area, and their mindset.
Uncle Chang’s Dive Lodge who contributed RM20,000 for the project for the first time in last January, handing over an additional contribution of RM12,000 to UPM team of researchers
Dean of Design and Architecture Faculty, Assoc. Prof. LAr, Dr. Osman Mohd. Tahir highlighting the concept of permaculture to school children of Pulau Mabul (1)
Assoc. Prof. Dr. Sridar Ramachandran who leads the research team (right) with Uncle Chang or Ang Kian Chong who owns Uncle Chang’s Dive Lodge
The LRGS study also discovers that tourism industry has the potential to overcome garbage problem in Semporna.
The company selected to be the local pioneer project for UPM is Borneo Jungle River Island Tours Sdn. Bhd. also known as ‘Uncle Chang’s Dive Lodge’ (UC’s Dive Lodge) run by Uncle Chang since 2006, one of 52 major tourism industry players in Semporna, Sabah.
Uncle Chang is committed towards preserving the environment best practices and sustainability through the use of minimum resources and the recruitment of local workforce to support the local community.
After 6 months into the program, Uncle Chang’s Dive Lodge has shown positive changes in its effort to be the pioneer for ‘greener and more eco-friendly’ tourism, simply because of its focus on management of organic waste through permaculture methods and management of non-organic waste through recycling.
In addition, this program, indirectly, also helps to create awareness in the community about the existence of sustainable and viable waste management practices for the sea and coastal areas.
Uncle Chang’s lodge produces about 3 kg to 5 kg of organic and non-organic waste where the garbage collector charges a fee of RM150 per day to bring the trash to the mainland in Semporna for disposal at a landfill.
However, there are cases where the barge simply dump rubbish into the sea as there is no monitoring, thus affecting the marine life and polluting the environment.
There is a dire need to manage the waste as it can affect the income of tour operators. Tourists prefer companies that are responsible in protecting the environment. Through this programme, it will not only reduce the operational cost but also enhance productivity and company’s rebranding equity.
Uncle Chang whose real name is Ang Kian Chong, becomes active in the green programme since the past few years as he wants to instil awareness on the importance of keeping the island clean.
Uncle Chang who has cordial relationship with the local population and often donates as well as providing jobs for the locals, feels fortunate to have met with UPM researchers in cleaning up the island.
“I have been working hard for years, trying to clean up the island but the response has been lacklustre as it is difficult to change the habit of the people here…they are so used to throwing rubbish indiscriminately, and partly so because of their educational background.
“So, I am now trying to change the mentality and attitude of my workers first, the majority of whom are Pulau Mabul villagers.
“I am grateful to UPM team who has been helping me a lot in terms of providing the technology, system and sharing information in our efforts to green both the services and my resort,” says Uncle Chang who has invested close to RM60,000 in stages to transform his resort to meet the criteria of the green concept.
At the pre-launch of UPM programme at UC’s Dive Lodge here on January 23 early this year, Uncle Chang’s Dive Lodge handed over RM20,000 to the UPM team, and at the launching of Go Green – Trash To Cash on May 8 recently, which was officiated by Sabah National Parks Director, Abdul Razak Ujoh, Uncle Chang contributed another RM12,000.
Also present at the event were Assoc. Prof. Dr. Zaiton Samdin, Dr. Shazali Johari and Dr. Puvaneswaran Kunasekaran, all from UPM.
At the launching event, ‘Uncle Chang’s Green Volunteer Club’ was set up to create that entrepreneurship and working cultures between the workers and the local community.
Chairman of Pulau Mabul Village Development and Security Committee (JKKK), Abdullah Ali says Pulau Mabul residents have expressed their appreciation towards UPM’s help to overcome the problem of rubbish in the island.
“Every day, we are plagued with tonnes of rubbish in this island. UPM has taught us how to recycle the rubbish. This idea is excellent because it has never crossed our mind how to recycle empty containers and bottles into something beneficial,” he said.
Pulau Mabul has no clean water supply nor water treatment plants because the island’s ground is formed by saltwater. Clean water has to be purchased and brought in from Semporna, involving a relatively high cost.
At the island, clean water is sold for RM3 for every 15 litre. Given UC’s Dive Lodge’s main activity is diving, washing of divers’ suits requires lots of freshwater. By collecting water from the air-conditioned units, UC’s Dive Lodge will always have a clean water supply, thus reducing the cost of having to buy clean water.
Clean water collected from the air-conditioned sets can also be used to water the plants. Such water is also safe for use to water the plants and trees. At UC’s Dive Lodge, for instance, as much as 1.5 litre of air conditioning water can be collected in just an hour. If 1.5 litre per hour is multiplied by 16 hours, 24 litre of water can be collected, and multiply by 21 units of air-conditioned installed at the resort, a total of 504 litre of water a day can be produced at UC’s Dive Lodge.
They also build a rainwater harvesting system with a special storage tank, which is capable of storing freshwater supply that can last a longer time.
The presence of UPM has changed the landscape and practices of resort workers and Uncle Chang himself who have turned the rubbish into something valuable.
All organic wastes collected such as vegetables and fruits will be collected to be turned into compost fertilizers. Composting food waste is nature’s way of recycling organic waste into fresh soil that can be used for the planting of flowers or vegetables, landscape and others.
The use of oil plastic bottles and mineral water bottles as containers helps to create a vegetable garden and floral arrangement decorations that beautify the resort’s surrounding.
Leftover and excess oil can be collected and turned into soaps. In addition, egg shells can be used for sowing of seeds.
Dr. Sridar who is also a specialist in the field of tourism marketing, says his team is also working on a special technology to convert organic materials collected from the resort into a form of energy.
It is estimated that about 21,600 kilowatt per hour (kWh) of energy can be produced from solid organic wastes collected from just Uncle Chang’s resort alone. If calculated, such a method can potentially save around 90.720 kWh of energy a year and cost of about RM35,500.
“For now, our focus in our research programme that will run for two years is the workers and the resort run by Uncle Chang.
“It is my hope that this cooperation will continue to prevail not only throughout the duration of the study research but also in the future and involving more tour operators so that they can work closely together and help overcome the problem of garbage, power and water in the island,” he says.