Open burning ‘a culture’ in Brunei

OPEN burning is so common that it has become “a culture” in Brunei, despite repeated warnings and laws to deter people from burning their garbage.

Dk Haryanti Pg Hj Petra, environment officer and head of Belait branch at the Department of Environment, Parks and Recreation (JASTRE), said officers even get threatened when they advise offenders not to practise open burning.

Advisories were given to prevent open burning in all four districts, but the bad habit still occurs frequently, she told The Brunei Times.

The environmental officer said open burning has already become “part of Brunei’s culture”, and most of the open burning violators were senior citizens.

“It is understood that we live in a society where disposing crops and grass by burning is considered normal as our parents and their ancestors have been doing so for years to initiate their planting.

“But when the burning of rubbish that may contain plastic bottles and other harmful things happen, this is when it becomes an issue,” said Dk Haryanti.

According to New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services, the burning of residential trash often releases high levels of acid gases, heavy metals, carbon monoxide, dioxins and other toxins, some of which have the potential to cause cancer.

Brunei introduced laws on open burning in 1998 after haze blanketed the country. Under the Penal Code Amendment Order 1998, open burning offenders can get fined up to $100,000.

However, nobody has ever been prosecuted for open burning.

“It (The penalty) may seem unfair for small activities that create smoke so that’s why no one has ever been charged under the Order. Instead, we opt for advisory roles to help create awareness and lessen the bad habit,” said the environmental officer.

In addition, anyone found guilty of open burning activities that cause pollution or endanger human life or property may face an unlimited amount of fine and/or imprisonment of up to five years.

The environment officer said the department would take legal action when it came to open burning offenders in high risk areas such as factories.

She added that the department is currently working on enforcing a provision in the law that specifically applies to minor open burnning violators.

“For now, JASTRE is focused on creating more awareness about the ill-effects of open burning, rather than taking legal action. Legal action will be the last straw,” she said.

Firdaus Ismail, an environment proponent from non-profit organisation Green Brunei, believes that the inefficient and ineffective waste disposal system was to blame for people continuing to conduct open burning.

In 2008, the Centre for Strategic and Policy Studies said Brunei had generated the highest amount of waste among ASEAN countries with 189,000 tonnes of waste produced yearly.

The number meant that a person produces about 1.4 kg of average waste per day, which is second only to Singapore among Southeast Asian countries, it added.

When asked if there were enough waste disposal sites allocated at each kampong, Dk Haryanti said not all villages are fortunate enough to be given a proper dumping site.

“People who are not fortunate enough to be able to afford the door-to-door garbage services usually turn to open burning in their yard or even worse, they just leave their garbage by the side of the road,” she added.

Firdaus also believes that the mindset of the people needs to be changed if Brunei wants to take the matter seriously.

“Burning rubbish may seem to be the easiest and quickest way, but it’s doing more harm and people need to think about the long-term effects. This sort of mindset has to stop,” he said.

He went on to say that in other developed countries, a proper disposal system is set up, in which rubbish is segregated and recycled.

“It would be great to have a compost centre in each village where the public could send their organic waste such as wood and dry leaves that could then be transformed into fertilisers.

“Although there are some service companies that would take organic waste with minimal charges, some people just burn everything without knowing that food cans, boxes and plastic bags contain toxic that can harm people,” added Firdaus.

Siti Norhakimah Hj Kahar, a Public and Environmental Health Science student at University of Birmingham, said strong enforcement of policies is needed.

Information on what is or not acceptable in open burning should be consistently distributed through media so that people can be more aware of what is going on,” she said.

Siti Norhakimah added that it is difficult to combat open burning when there is insufficient information on open burning and inconsistent law enforcers.

“Perhaps appropriate agencies can regulate by actually giving fines so people will think twice before lighting that match,” she said.

A senior Universiti of Brunei Darussalam (UBD) lecturer in Environmental Studies said the selfish act of outdoor burning does not only harm oneself, but also harm the environment shared by everyone.

When asked what could be done to create awareness to lessen open burning activities, the lecturer who did not want to be named said it is too late to educate the elderly as they would not listen.

He suggested JASTRE to collaborate with other agencies, such as the Ministry of Religious Affairs, to raise awareness through Friday sermons.

“Outdoor burning is correlated to rubbish, and rubbish is associated with the general cleanliness and hygiene of a place. As a Muslim nation, it is very important to keep our country clean so perhaps if authorities such as MoRA can mention this issue at Friday sermons, it would help grab people’s attention on the matter and people will start doing something about it,” he added.

Source: The Brunei Times