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Litterbugs: No Spray Can Solve This Social Attitude 

While most people wouldn’t dare think of taking photos near garbage piles, Mr Ameer Roslan was busy posing in front of trash[1].

It’s possible that every holiday destination you visit will be dirty and destroyed like this picture if you guys continue to have a filthy attitude. – Ameer Roslan[1]

While most people don’t spend their vacations picking up other people’s trash, Hafizah Bachik and her husband, Roman Onillon picked up every bit of litter they saw during their walking trip to Langkawi on June 8th of last year.  The pair ended up collecting an average of 20 kg of trash a day, and a staggering 400 kg of trash by the end of their 22-day walking trip[2].

Sadly, there was just too much plastic waste, especially water bottles and takeaway drinks packaging, in addition to diapers, straws and cigarette butts. – Hafizah Bachik[2]

Before their trip to Langkawi, the couple was already collecting trash in every popular Malaysian locale they visited, from Morib beach to Cameron Highlands[3].

Source: The Star

We recently went to Morib Beach and it was really sad to see bottles, plastic waste, cigarette butts and face masks everywhere, even though there were many bins around. We even saw nappies in the playground. – Roman Onillon[3]

Ameer and the Onillons did this to raise awareness of the effects of littering because, sad to say, Malaysians have a littering attitude that permeates through the culture.

Like everywhere in the world, there are areas with a lot of litter and places that struggle to manage it. In some areas in Malaysia, we would come back to the same location (where we had already done a cleanup) the next day, and we would find new trash there. Again, it is a global issue, not just a Malaysian thing. – Rabiatul Adawiyah Mohd Yusoff, Programmes Administrative Assistant, Trash Hero World

A Bad Habit Becoming Worse

the current state of littering/waste disposal has not changed a bit, if it did the change is too small compared to the majority of the people who still litter. – Ts. Mohd Faisal Abdur Rani, Impactlution Program Director

According to former  Housing and Local Government Minister Zuraida Kamaruddin, about 60% of the 32 million Malaysian population still fail to throw their garbage into trash bins even though the facilities have been adequately provided for them[4].

This attitude came to the forefront during last year’s Merdeka parade when crowds came to see the event only to leave behind mountains of litter once the celebrations were over.

Source: The Star

At Pantai Bersih in Butterworth, Penang, a ‘monument’ to Malaysia’s litterbug culture can be found. Visitors who come to admire the beautiful sights end up leaving unsightly piles of trash. The problem has gotten so bad that the police regularly arrive to disperse these picnickers and issue fines[5].

And of course, there is the problem of used facemasks being indiscriminately thrown away, left forgotten on roads, parking lots and other places. These used facemasks will also be washed away in rain and down the drainage, eventually ending up in our rivers and oceans. It certainly doesn’t help that it takes about 450 years for an average single-use face mask to degrade, as it is made out of plastic and not paper, according to reports[6].

The Malaysian Mindset of Littering

Littering attitude depends on the socioeconomic of the set community and the existing culture in those communities. – Ts. Mohd Faisal Abdur Rani, GPM-b, Program Director Impactlution, Advisor, Pertubuhan Generasi Peduli Sampah Malaysia

Unfortunately, the claims that Malaysians have a littering attitude have a basis in reality. Most Malaysians find it far more convenient to just dispose of their rubbish where they stand. A mindset that continues to persist due to a lack of rubbish disposal bins in public areas and regular clearing of the few bins we have. Worse still is when children inherit this littering behaviour from their parents or grandparents[7]

Ts. Mohd Faisal Abdur Rani, the Program Director of Impactlution, notes that such attitudes are more prevalent in the Bottom 40 (B40) communities:

In the B40 community, generally, it is safe to say that due to the concern for survival, the empathy to not litter and for the environment is low as their pressing need is to make sure they can survive on a daily basis.

Another reason for the littering attitude is the mentality of “someone else’s problem”. Malaysians view the act of cleaning after themselves as beneath them, instead preferring to leave such tasks to the cleaners. Mohd Faisal points out that this attitude is far more common amongst the Top 20 (T20)[7]

Now the T20 communities are the hardest. A minority of them will do the right thing but the majority of them have this mindset that I call “the maid syndrome” where the issue of waste is never their problem but someone else’s. For example. ” oh there is a cleaner who will pick up, this waste issue is a local council problem I have paid my tax, etc…..” – Ts. Mohd Faisal Abdur Rani, GPM-b, Program Director Impactlution, Advisor, Pertubuhan Generasi Peduli Sampah Malaysia

A study on the social littering attitude amongst university students in Malaysia sheds further light on this issue. The study revealed that while awareness of the problem of littering is prevalent among Malaysian university students, they do not see it as a primary concern. Some think it’s perfectly acceptable to throw garbage on the side of an already filled-to-the-brim garbage can rather than find an empty one.

Unfortunately for those with a lackadaisical attitude towards littering has severe consequences.

The Problems With Littering

Flooding has been a major concern for us, especially with the devastating floods of 2021. And one of the contributors according to the Department of Irrigation and Drainage Kuala Lumpur (JPSKL) is trash blocking drainage in KL[8].

On December 21st 2021, the JPSKL took to their Facebook account to raise the issue of irresponsible littering that causes garbage to clog drains under the supervision of JPSKL[8].

Image credit: JPS WP Kuala Lumpur/Source: The Smart Local

In their Facebook post, JPSKL shared that litter is one factor in the increasing flash floods observed in the city. This is likely due to litter washing down drains and clogging them in heavy downpours, which may lead to massive flooding in neighbourhoods[8].

Along Jalan Ampang near KLCC, clogged drains resulted in flash floods which lasted for 30 minutes. – Kuala Lumpur Traffic Investigation Enforcement Department (JSPT) chief Assistant Commissioner Sarifudin Mohd Salleh[9]

The photos shared by JPSKL elucidated just how much garbage ended up in our rivers and drains. Mountains of waste and debris -comprising plastic bags, bottles, and more – surfaced after the flood waters slowly receded in affected areas, with much of it stuck in fences, and piled up on river banks and in waterways[8].

Attracting Undesirable Companions 

Besides causing floods, littering can also cause health problems as trash piles will attract disease-carrying vermin such as rats, cockroaches and mosquitoes[10].

It has been more than a year, but the problem continues. Some of the residents here have complained to [the Ipoh City Council] and it is very efficient in clearing the rubbish, but as soon as the workers leave, irresponsible people will come with more rubbish. – Ooi, a resident of First Garden[10]

Not only that but our food waste may also be attracting pythons and cobras to our residences!

We Malaysians are notorious for producing huge amounts of food waste which ends up in our garbage bins or landfills. In the month of Ramadan each year, as much as 270,000 tons of food ends up as trash. That amount could feed six times the country’s entire population. Needless to say, it can also feed plenty of animals like rats and other pests[11].

Rats, especially, are prevalent in our trash piles. And their presence also attracts snakes from reticulated pythons to spitting cobras. That is especially true in urban areas that border rural ones, where you stand a pretty good chance of encountering snakes now and then in your garden, backyard or even home[11].

Sometimes, I see old tires strewn in front of the shops, but most of the time, they are thrown in the back lane. We have been told to throw rubbish in the bins. I wonder why these people throw them on the road. – a shop-owner in Taman Chepor Indah[10]

Things only get worse when residents in high-rise apartments decide to throw their unwanted junk straight out of their apartment floor rather than taking the time to bring their garbage downstairs. And one such incident had tragically become fatal.

On January 15th 2018, 15-year-old S Sathiswaran was killed after being hit by an office chair thrown from an upper floor of the Seri Pantai People’s Housing Project in Pantai Dalam[12].

I told my son to buy an RM10 prepaid card at a sundry shop on the ground floor. My son emerged from the shop and told me the prepaid cards were sold out.

It was at that time that the office chair fell and struck my son’s head. – MS Kasthuribai, a cook and mother of S Sathiswaran[13]

Littering Environment

There is also the problem our littering causes for our rivers and oceans. Malaysia is already on the ranks as one of the biggest producers of plastic waste in the world. A 2019 study commissioned by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) reports that Malaysia has an annual per capita plastic use of 16.78 kg per person, much higher than China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam[14].

It has been reported that an average of 2,200 tonnes of rubbish are collected every month from the trash traps installed in rivers across our country.

Despite the river rehabilitation efforts over the past years, our waterways are still very polluted, causing loss of aquatic and marine life, degradation of our living environment and many other problems. – Lai Chee Hui, Penang[15]

More astonishingly, Malaysia had produced more than 0.94 million tonnes of mismanaged plastic waste per year by 2018, of which 0.14 to 0.37 million tonnes may have been washed into the oceans[16].

Littering makes things worse as the rain will wash the rubbish into drains which flow into rivers and finally into the sea. [In 2015], an article in the National Geographic cited Malaysia as one of the top eight countries generating the ocean’s plastic waste! – Lai Chee Hui, Penang[15]

All of these problems caused by littering should be a cause for concern. But are we truly fighting this issue?

Are We Doing Enough?

The government and NGOs have been doing their best to raise awareness on the issue of littering.

Currently, one can face an RM300 fine for littering from their vehicle. And Malaysian law strongly prohibits littering on public property. For example, Regulation 9, Third Schedule of the Strata Management (Maintenance and Management) Regulations 2015 states that:

“A proprietor shall not throw – or allow to fall, any refuse or rubbish of any description on the common property or any part thereof except in refuse bins maintained by him…”

The penalty for breaking this law is a fine whose amount is decided by the management corporation[17].

In reality and in my opinion, littering could never be reduced as the evidence we see from years of doing cleanups. Making a change in one area takes three generations of effort. While we have gained so much progress until 2019 in awareness after hard work from 2016, the pandemic has removed all the hard work and traction we built.

Now is the time we need to put back the hard work. They create more awareness and engagement to reach a point where we can make a dent in the message.
– Ts. Mohd Faisal Abdur Rani, GPM-b, Program Director Impactlution, Advisor, Pertubuhan Generasi Peduli Sampah Malaysia

Despite efforts to raise awareness of this issue and to curb it, the Malaysian government has still failed to cultivate a habit of disposing of waste properly.

Although many places in Malaysia have “no littering” signs, very few people actually abide by those signs. For most people, being told to clean up after themselves makes them feel like their being judged, and the mere act of doing so makes them feel humiliated. Thus, they decide not to dispose of their trash properly and leave the task to someone else[18].

In developed countries, people will keep their rubbish in their handbags or pockets before throwing them into trash bins. We want to adopt this culture of people looking for trash cans instead of the way around. – Zuraida Kamaruddin, former Housing and Local Government Minister, in a press conference about the launch of the 3R On Wheels programme in Ampang Jaya, 2019[4]

Simply put, most Malaysians don’t care much for recycling or properly disposing of waste, preferring to do what’s most convenient for them at the moment.

While each sector is doing all it can to spread awareness of littering through public service awareness, education, engagement, and cleanups, the number of us to change is still small and lacking to reach all levels of society.

We are doing all we can in our various roles as CSO, NGOs and government.  More work needs to be done not just in littering but in support of infrastructure to reduce waste in general. – Ts. Mohd Faisal Abdur Rani, GPM-b, Program Director Impactlution, Advisor, Pertubuhan Generasi Peduli Sampah Malaysia

Ultimately, while the government can enforce laws and raise awareness, it is up to the people to learn how to stop their littering habits, clean up after themselves and lend a collective hand to stopping the littering problem in our country.

The solution to littering will never be easy as it is against the core principle of us as humans to need to consume and want convenience. and when the solution is put out, the issue is capitalism and making as much profit rather than making prosperity.

Until all of us are willing to change and use our voice, anger, and courage to warn, advise, and ask people not to litter as it happens, then the situation will remain a status quo.

Most of us take a blind eye to the situation of just using social media to post and complain rather than take action. – Ts. Mohd Faisal Abdur Rani, GPM-b, Program Director Impactlution, Advisor, Pertubuhan Generasi Peduli Sampah Malaysia

Who Are The Changemakers Combatting This Problem?

Besides Ameer and the Onillons, there are other environmentally-minded changemakers and NGOs who are cleaning our streets and parks and raising awareness of the problems of littering.

Zero Waste Malaysia

Zero Waste Malaysia is a non-profit organisation aiming to build a waste-free and sustainable future for Malaysia. With over 40,000 community members joining them, Zero Waste Malaysia strives to make zero-waste living accessible in Malaysia by building educational content and inclusive resources.

Trash Hero Malaysia

The Malaysian branch of Trash Hero World is a global volunteer movement that has a growing grassroots network of chapters: unincorporated, community-based organisations, running its programmes. TTrash Hero’s mission is to educate and raise awareness of littering problems and encourage more people to take action and pick up their trash. It also motivates others to do the same.

Ecobricks Malaysia

Ecobricks Malaysia encourages people to avoid throwing away their plastic trash and instead upcycle them into ecobricks. In this process, empty plastic bottles are packed full of dry and durable used plastics and then manually set to sequester plastic and create reusable building blocks. Through this process, plastics are kept out of our environment and the people involved will gain a deeper awareness of the plastic waste issue.

Since its inception in 2016, Eco Bricks Malaysia has collected 10,800 Ecobricks which amounted to a total of 4,073.4 kg of single-use plastic waste being prevented from ending up in landfills.


EcoKnights is a non-governmental environmental organization established in 2005.

The organisation focuses on working with key stakeholders to drive and empower sustainable actions for a better planet. Building on its pillars of Outreach & Education, Rehabilitation, Restoration & Conservation, Sustainability Communication and Community, Youth & Volunteerism, EcoKnights works to clean up litter and raise awareness on the issue of littering amongst Malaysians.

The Litter Club

Litter Club is an organisation focused on environmental conservation. It drives positive change and creates awareness about litter and educates people about its impact on our environment and oceans.

Through a network of passionate and driven individuals across the Asia Pacific including Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, New Zealand and Australia, and multiple brands offering environmental empowerment solutions, the Litter Club seeks to find practical solutions and innovative ideas on how to tackle regional and global litter including beach clean-ups, team building and adopt-a-spot initiatives.

Explore our sources

  1. Malay Mail. (2019). Malaysian man takes selfies with trash to raise awareness on ill effects of littering. Link.
  2. S. Jay. (2022). Couple collects 400kg of trash on walk to Langkawi. FMT. Link.
  3. S. Jay. (2022). Couple to take road trip to Langkawi – on foot. FMT. Link.
  4. Bernama. (2019). Improper waste disposal, littering still a habit among Malaysians. The Sun Daily. Link.
  5. The Star. (2022). Littering without a thought. Link.
  6. The Star. (2021). Littering of facemasks in public areas a persistent problem. Link.
  7. M. Morden. (2022). The Worst Habit Malaysians Have: Littering. In Real Life. Link.
  8. J. Cho. (2021). JPSKL Says Garbage In Drains Is A Cause Of KL Flash Floods, Urges M’sians To Keep City Clean. The Smart Local. Link.
  9. R.N.R. Rahim. (2022). KL hit by flash floods, again. New Straits Times. Link.
  10. New Straits Times. (2017). Illegal dumpsites raise health and environmental concerns. Link.
  11. Clean Malaysia. (2016). Littering and Food Waste may bring us Unwelcome Visitors … like Snakes. Link.
  12. Bernama. (2018). Teen dies after hit by chair thrown from low-cost flat. FMT. Link.
  13. Bernama. (2018). Boy killed by falling chair at low-cost flats: Dad demands justice. FMT. Link.
  14. WWF Releases Report Proposing Effective Solution to Mitigate Plastic Pollution in Malaysia. (2020). WWF. Link.
  15. L. Chee Hui. (2016). Bad habits lead to polluted rivers. The Star. Link.
  16. H.L. Chen, T.K. Nath, S.C., Vernon Foo, C.G. & A.M. Lechner. (2021). The plastic waste problem in Malaysia: management, recycling and disposal of local and global plastic waste. SN Applied Sciences. Link.
  17. R. Singh. (2019). What does Malaysian law say about littering? AskLegal. Link.
  18. A. Ibrahim. (2022). Using signboards to curb littering is just rubbish. FMT. Link.

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