Did you know that about 23,000 tonnes of waste is produced in Malaysia every single day?
If that doesn't sound disturbing enough to you, here’s a little bit of context – 23,000 tonnes is about:
- a quarter of the total weight of KL Tower;
- the maximum take-off weight of 41 Malaysia Airlines Airbus A380s;
- the total weight of 92 MRT trains; and
- the kerb weight of 21,400 Proton Sagas.
Unfortunately, a vast majority of the waste we generate ends up on our roads. This shouldn't come as too much of a surprise to Malaysian litterbugs out there as the amount of trash on our roads is directly proportional to the countless of excuse that they give every time they choose to conveniently chuck their trash on our streets.
Our rivers and waters are not spared as well. In a recent study, the National Geographic cited Malaysia as one of the top eight countries generating the ocean's public waste.
What kind of garbage is that?!
So, given all of the above, here's what our laws have to say about littering... that will hopefully encourage our litterbug friends to clean up their act. We’ll start off with the laws first, followed by who’s actually responsible for enforcing these laws later in the article – it’s actually not as straightforward as you might think.
Here’s where you can’t litter in Malaysia – on public property
Although we strongly advise you not to litter anywhere, here are some specific places where littering is prohibited by law on public property:
Penalty: Fine of up to RM100,000 or a maximum period of imprisonment of 5 years or both.
The primary law on pollution in Malaysia is the EQA 1974. The key pieces of law regarding littering are sections 24, 25 and 29 of the EQA 1974 which covers the discharge of unauthorised or harmful wastes to land/soil and water. The sanctions for breaches of environmental laws under the EQA 1974 are in the form of a fine or jail terms. We even have our own Environmental Court to decide solely on environmental cases including offences under the EQA 1974.
Penalty: Fine of up to RM10,000 or a maximum period of imprisonment of 3 years or both.
In summary, this law covers situations where any person throws or deposits rubbish in any public place.
Penalty: RM 500 (Fine is doubled to RM1,000 for repeat offenders)
On top of that, there is also the Anti-Littering By-Laws applied under the jurisdiction of the respective city/municipal/district councils in Malaysia. The compound that can be imposed varies depending on each jurisdiction. Say you live in Subang Jaya, the maximum fine that can be handed out is RM1,000 for littering. However, for on-the-spot littering offences, offenders will only be fined RM10. Yep, you heard that right, RM10. That is cheaper than the average daily parking rate in the Klang Valley.
Penalty: Fine not exceeding RM100,000 or a maximum jail term of 1 year or both.
Penalty: Fine not exceeding RM100,000 or a maximum jail term of 5 years or both.
Penalty: Fine not exceeding RM500,000 or a maximum jail term of 5 years or both.
For the purposes of this provision, inland waters includes’reservoir, pond, lake, river, stream, canal, drain, spring or well’ whereas Malaysian waters means any ’territorial waters’. As heavy as the jail term for littering in inland waters and Malaysian waters might look on paper, you will be surprise to know that since this Act came into force on 15 April 1975, no one has been put behind bars for contaminating waters in Malaysia.
Where you can’t litter in Malaysia – on private land
Penalty: The amount of fine that can be imposed is subject to the management corporation.
Again, the death of S Sathiswaran should serve as a reminder to all of us that it’s not cool to throw things out of your window from a high-rise residential building as this is not only an issue about cleanliness, but a safety issue as well. You can read more about that incident in our article.
Penalty: Fine not exceeding RM1,000 or a maximum jail term of 6 months.
This one refers generally to all owners who keep their house in an unmaintained state whether due to rampant littering or any other unhygienic practice. In this case, the local authority of your area not only has the right to punish you with a fine, but they can even issue you with an abatement order. In short, an abatement order is a notice served on owners of properties, warning them to stop the act of nuisance.
We can put things into perspective by using this example:
You have very filthy neighbours. Not only do they dump their rubbish in their compound, they also fail to clean them up. Every time you walk pass their house compound, a sizeable pile of rubbish and litter can be seen at their site. Soon you realise, that has attracted other animals like rats while the containers have gathered water, attracting mosquitoes. You tried talking to your neighbours to clean up their compound, but they always turn a deaf ear to you. Now you seriously think that their house has turned into a potential breeding ground for mosquitoes. What can you do?
In this situation you should make a complaint to your Majlis Perbandaran. There are few things that your local authority they can do to your neighbour:
Section 82 of the LGA 1976:
- Firstly, the local authority will serve a notice to the owners to clean up their premises within the time specified in the notice.
- If a notice has been served and the owner fails to respond to the notice or fulfill the requirements of a notice, legal action will be taken. In this case, the owner of a property can be fined of up to RM1,000 or imprisoned for a period of 6 months or both. For serious cases, an abatement order can be issued on the owner to stop or remove the act of nuisance.
- If the owner of an abandoned property can’t be found, the local authority can enter the property to clean the house immediately and recover all expenses incurred from the owner later.
- A running fine of RM100 per day can be imposed if there is a default in compliance with an abatement order.
- As last resort, the local authority can serve a closing order on the owner to close down the property and forfeit the property from the owner.
Who is responsible for enforcing environmental laws?
Enforcement of littering laws can be a little convoluted, so we’ll start with an non-littering example that some of you may have experienced before:
You’re somewhere in Melaka and you decide to double-park alongside another car, thinking that you shouldn’t take too long. When you return half an hour later, you find a summons on your car windscreen issued by the Majlis Perbandaran Melaka (“MPM") for illegal parking. Then, on the drive back to Kuala Lumpur, you’re so lost in thought for being fined that you drive past an AES Camera in excess of the speed limit. For this, you receive a speeding summons from the Jabatan Pengangkutan Jalan ("JPJ") a month later.
But, do you actually know why these summonses are issued by two different authorities i.e. MPM and JPJ?
In Malaysia, the administrative set-up is organised into a three-tier system of government:
- Federal Government – Government of the entire country formed by the ruling party;
- State Government – Head of Government ruling the 13 states in Malaysia; and
- Local Government – includes City Councils (Majlis Bandaraya), Municipal Councils (Majlis Perbandaran) or District Councils (Majlis Daerah).
In order to ensure a smooth division of law-making powers, the mother of our laws, the Federal Constitution divides the powers to make laws between the federal and state levels under three different lists:
- Federal List (List I) states the matters that fall within the power of the Government.
- The State List (List II) contains the areas where state governments can make laws
- Concurrent List (List III) lists the matters that both the Federal and State Government may enact laws on.
At the local level on the other hand, Item 4, List II of the Federal Constitution states that local governments fall under the State List as it is within the purview of state governments. Laws passed by the Federal Government are knows as ‘Acts’ whereas ‘By-laws’ refer to laws enacted by local authorities.
So in the above scenario, both the JPJ and the MPM can issue you with a summons because they have concurrent powers to make laws on the management of traffic as it is a matter that falls under the Concurrent List of the Ninth Schedule of the Federal Constitution. If you want to know more about our Federal Constitution, you can read it here:
[READ MORE: Where does Malaysia get its laws from?]
In the context of this article, environment is a law with respect to "public health, sanitation and the prevention of diseases”, an entry under Item 7 in the Concurrent List. Therefore, similarly, the federal, state and local governments have powers to enact and enforce laws on environment related policies. So if you are found guilty under environmental laws, the Jabatan Alam Sekitar at Federal level, or the Majlis Perbandaran of your local authority will issue you with a fine or punish you.
As a general note, certain Federal laws may also consolidate all the laws and empower local governments to enforce them. The clearest example of that will be the Local Government Act 1976 and Street, Drainage and Building Act 1974. More on these two Acts below.
Now that you know who can enforce and enact laws on littering, let's take a look at the laws covering litter in Malaysia.
Littering is a crime, litter-ally
For littering in Malaysia, a person can be found guilty under:
- Criminal law (based on fault and no-fault responsibility as well as nuisance under statute law); and
- Civil law (based on nuisance under the law of torts).
First, let's see how you can be in criminal trouble for littering.
A common sight in Malaysia….littering of garbage in front of a ‘Do Not Litter’ sign. Image from tofukicks.com
With regard to nuisance caused by littering specifically, if you have been keeping up with the news lately, you would have known about the news regarding a 15-year old boy who was killed by a chair thrown from a flat that struck him. This is a classic example of when littering can amount to nuisance. Now, let's take a look at what nuisance actually means under our Penal Code:
Section 268 of the Penal Code ("PA”):
“A person is guilty of a public nuisance, who does any act, or is guilty of an illegal omission, which causes any common injury, danger, or annoyance to the public, or to the people in general who dwell or occupy property in the vicinity, or which must necessarily cause injury, obstruction, danger, or annoyance to persons who may have occasion to use any public right.”
Long story short, nuisance is defined as an act or thing that causes annoyance or inconvenience to a member of the public. Section 290 of the PA goes on to say that anyone found guilty for causing public nuisance can be punished with a fine of up to RM400. But if this doesn’t bother you too much, repeat offenders can punished with a maximum period of imprisonment of 6 months with a fine or both.
At state and district levels, section 86 of the Street, Drainage and Building Act 1974 (“SDBA 1974") states that any act that is injurious or causes danger to health on any premises, building or watercourse constitutes as a nuisance. If a nuisance is caused, the SDBA 1974 empowers the State Authority to issue a notice on the person causing the nuisance to stop the act. Failure to do stop the act of nuisance will result in a fine of up to RM500.
Further, the Local Government Act 1976 (”LGA 1976") also contains laws on environmental criminal nuisance. Section 69 talks about nuisance in the case of water pollution within a local authority area whereby anyone found guilty of dumping rubbish in any water-course can be fined of up to RM2,000 or punished with a maximum period of imprisonment of 1 year.
Image from imgflip.com
A strict liability offence for littering is under section 25(2)(b) of the Environmental Quality Act 1974 (“EQA 1974”) which concerns discharging waste into inland waters:
Because the provision uses the words ”or through his negligence”, it shows that even accidental discharging of wastes into inland waters is covered as an offence – aka a strict liability offence.
But how can you be held responsible for a crime if you didn’t know it was a crime? Well, read on to find out or skip to the next section where we’ll cover specific places where littering is prohibited by law.
The foundation of criminal law is that there are two parts to a crime:
- Actus Rea; and
- Mens Rea.
The first thing that comes to mind when you see these two terms is, what on earth are they? If you have been following us, you would have known that it’s not a Harry Potter spell. So, what is it?
[TRY THIS QUIZ: Latin law term or Harry Potter spell?]
‘Actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea’ literally means an act does not make a person guilty unless his mind is also guilty. The Actus Rea refers to the physical act causing the crime (‘guilty act’) whereas the Mens Rea proves that you are at fault for committing a crime (‘guilty mind’) because you have knowledge or intention to do so. So let’s say you’re found guilty for discarding a cigarette butt on a street, the Actus Rea is the act of throwing the cigarette butt. The Mens Rea here would be you knowing that you threw away the cigarette butt on the street.
These two elements are applied across the board for most of the criminal offences, including environmental related crime.
The exception to that is a category under criminal law known as ‘strict liability’ offences. For strict liability offences, the Mens Rea element need not be proved. In other words, any person can be found guilty under ‘strict liability’ even though they are technically not at fault because they are not aware of any wrongdoing. So, going back to the example earlier, IF it is a strict liability offence, even accidental dropping of a cigarette butt will be within an offence.
Although there aren’t many strict liability offences on littering or under environmental law for that matter, an amendment is under way to create more strict liability offences.
And you can also sue!
You can even sue someone for littering under the tort of private nuisance. The law of nuisance is an ancient tort designed to ensure that you have the right to use your land in whatever way you wish without being interfered. An interference with this right only becomes unlawful when there is an ”unreasonable interference with the use or enjoyment of a land”.
We will not go into the specifics of it. For a more in depth discussion on private nuisance, you can read it here:
As oppose to nuisance under criminal law, to form private nuisance under torts, there must be actual damage to your property. An example of how you can sue someone for littering is for flood damage. So for instance, if you found out that a nearby factory is responsible for the flood that damaged your property, by illegally dumping wastes into a nearby river, you can potentially sue the factory. The amount of money you can recover is usually measured based on the difference in the value of your property, before and after the act of nuisance.
However, in most cases, seeking recovery of money is usually the the final resort to compensate oneself after a damage has been done. If you think that a factory nearby you can cause a future flood, you can apply for an injunction instead. An injunction is an order of court, stopping the continuance of a wrongful act. If you’re successful in applying for an injunction, that factory that has been dumping wastes illegally into your nearby river, has to completely stop the act of doing so.
Or….. we could just stop littering?
If you notice any litter around your area, you can report it to the local authority of your area. For more serious littering issues, you can direct your complaint to the Jabatan Alam Sekitar by contacting their complaints line at 03-88891972. It may be easy to say that complaining won’t help because nothing will be done, but nothing will be done regardless if the authorities aren’t notified of the problem.
Solving the litter problem in our country requires a collective effort from all of us by firstly, deciding not to litter and advising others not to litter. Although the relevant authorities have their role and obligations, you can start by taking your own action.