We’ve all been pretty irritated by that one particular neighbour who keeps burning his trash outside, making your housing area all hazy and smoggy. Imagine heading out of your house and the first thing you could smell is the smoke from his burning pile of trash.
Unsurprisingly, with the rampant increase in cases reported whereby there were over 3000 cases in March 2019 alone, you’re definitely not the only one going through this.
But… are there any existing laws that prohibits open burning?
Fret not! Malaysia has a pretty stringent law that actually strongly prohibits open burning. The government has enforced the Environmental Quality Act 1974 which is basically your best possible chance to actually take action against that annoyingly stubborn neighbour of yours.
Under Section 29A (1) of the Act which clarifies that people are not allowed to permit or cause open burning on any premises and whoever defying Section 29A(1) would be convicted under Section 29A(2) whereby they’d be liable to a fine not exceeding RM500,000 or jailed for no more than 5 years or… BOTH!
Yeap! RM500,000 is A LOT of money and no one would want to risk getting caught if such heavy fines and a lengthy time in prison is imposed right? But then again, why are open burning cases still on the rise even with such heavy penalty?
Minister Yeo Bee Yin from the Ministry of Energy, Technology, Science, Climate Change and Environment has said, in an interview with The Straits Times, that the Department of Environment has been found to be under equipped to regulate enforcement as she was quoted saying, “Only two or three weeks ago, I realised that the DoE doesn't even have cars to conduct enforcement. That's ridiculous! And, they don't even have enough equipment”.
The penalties on those who are found guilty were also deemed to be high enough and there was no need for a reform.
Imaginably, this is why it’s actually important for you to report anyone who has been burning their garbage outside, not only would you be reporting that uninformed neighbour of yours, you would also be highlighting the slew of possible reoccurrences that could be prevented with proper enforcement.
But, what if I get accused even if I didn’t do it?
Oops! If you end up seeing yourself at the other end of the spectrum where you’re accused of open burning and you’re facing charges under Section 29A of the Act, there are some leeway within the Act under Section 29C whereby:
- that the open burning occurred outside his control or without his knowledge or connivance or consent.
Don’t worry! All you would need to do, would be to prove that you’ve taken all reasonable precautions to avoid committing such a crime, under Section 29C. After all, we’re all innocent until proven guilty.
Does this mean that open burning for religious purposes would get banned?
Yikes! Does this mean that burning hell notes or incense sticks are banned in Malaysia too? Well, as stringent as this law may seem, there are some exceptions that the Department of Environment has made that allows certain types of open burning notably;
Burning of diseased agricultural land
Open burning from religious or cultural activities ( incense sticks, hell notes, Indian poojas, etc..)
Barbecue or grilling purposes ( Aye, looks like Saturday night barbecues are still on after all)
Flaring ( for the purpose of extracting oil)
Even though, the law excludes certain types of open burning, you could be mindful by finding ways to minimise air pollution.
For instance, during barbecues you could use an electric grill instead of a charcoal based burner. As for religious or cultural events, you could burn your incense sticks and joss papers in a closed furnace with a proper filtering system instead of out in the open air.
However, just because burning for religious purposes are still allowed does not mean that the prohibitions set by the Department of Environment should be ignored. There are certain things that are still big no- nos under the Environmental Quality Act 1974 such as :
Any kind of open burning on peat soil
Open burning anywhere within 30km radius of the Kuala Lumpur International Airport
So, here’s the real deal, WHO can you actually report the incident to?
In case, if the fire is uncontrollable and you or anyone else around you are at risk of getting hurt, you should definitely contact the Fire and Rescue Department Malaysia.
However, if it’s just the basic garbage ‘bonfire’ that’s been bothering you for a long time and has probably shrouded your housing area with its own personalised haze, you could report it either to your local council (Majlis Perbandaran) or the Department of Environment via their hotline.
The official portal of the Department of Environment verifies under Section 29A of the Act that the Department of Environment are not the only ones who’re able to investigate, many other departments are also authorised to conduct investigations, specifically:
- Fire and Rescue Department Malaysia
- Royal Malaysian Police
- local councils ( Majlis/Dewan Bandaraya and Majlis Perbandaran)
This makes reporting such incidences easier since there are more departments you could seek help from. The numbers to your respective Majlis Perbandaran and the hotline for the Department of Environment is linked right here.