“The siting of waste disposal facilities is not primarily a technical issue…it is always and everywhere a political one.” (Moore, 2011)
There is one damning implication in this single assertion – that less-than-objective political biases necessarily and ‘always’ steer and skew planning authorities’ facility allocation decisions ‘everywhere’. The fact that a disproportionate trend of waste disposal sites being located to poor or minority areas of residence, as uncovered by many in the study of environmental justice (Bullard, 1994), seems to back this view.
I’m not disputing explanations for this fact – marginal communities do possess a less powerful clout that mutes their protests. Yet trying to imagine a universal case of urban planners sitting around maps and identifying potential sites of minimal substantive resistance as primary locations for unpopular waste facilities is strangely laughable.
Is politics a cause behind waste disposal location decisions, or does the politics lie in the community’s response? The case of waste politics in Kepong, a fringe town in the city of Kuala Lumpur, may only just hint at the former, but it concretely demonstrates how waste issues can emerge as a flashpoint that unveils underlying tensions between the people and the state.
What happened? Why an incinerator? Why Kepong?
“There is already a waste transfer station in Taman Beringin, which is exceeding its 1,700 waste disposal capacity, handling as much as 2,400 tonnes a day.”
Statement by Urban Well-being, Housing and Local Government Minister, Datuk Abdul Rahman Dahlan
Malaysia has traditionally dealt with her waste via landfills – Kuala Lumpur’s urban waste is first compacted at the transfer station in Taman Beringin, before finding its final destination in Bukit Tagar Sanitary Landfill, a further 80km away. However, noting that Bukit Tagar was also edging urbanisation, authorities decided upon adopting a less land-intensive mode of waste management.
In July 2013, it was announced that a waste-to-energy (WTE) incineration plant would be built and implemented beside the existing solid waste transfer station in Taman Beringin, Kepong. This site exists in walking proximity to residential neighbourhoods and activity centers in Kepong (see map below).
As the sole Chinese-majority opposition stronghold in KL, it could very well be that Kepong was designated as the destination for KL’s trash due to its ethnopolitical (in)significance. However, whether this was simply a product of pure coincidence, or purposeful allocation, it is difficult to prove Moore’s assertion in this case.
Read more from my sources:
- Bavani, M. (2016) ‘Managing KL’s rubbish’. Retrieved 1st November 2017 from https://www.thestar.com.my/metro/community/2016/05/30/managing-kls-rubbish-residents-in-the-city-are-more-conscious-of-the-amount-of-waste-they-generate-a/#ItmXmctro8kMDATS.99.
- Bullard, R. D. (1994) Dumping in Dixie: Race, Class and Environmental Quality. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
- Chu, M. M. (2014) ‘Will a waste incinerator in Kepong do more harm than good?’. Retrieved 1st November 2017 from http://says.com/my/news/will-a-waste-incinerator-in-kepong-do-more-harm-than-good.
- Law, C. W. (2014) ‘Why KTI doesn’t support incinerators’. Retrieved 1st November from https://www.malaysiakini.com/letters/272972.
- Moore, S. A. (2012) ‘Global garbage: waste, trash trading, and local garbage politics’ in Peet, R., Robbins, P., & M. Watts (eds.) Global Political Ecology. London and New York: Routledge.
- Tariq, Q. (2013) ‘Taman Beringin incinerator will be safe’. Retrieved 1st November 2017 from https://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2013/11/16/taman-beringin-incinerator-will-be-safe/.
- Ong, K. M. (2014) ‘Recycling trash to feed Kepong incinerator?’. Retrieved 1st November from https://www.malaysiakini.com/news/259849.