Connexion: Solar energy and paper bags draw in rich arrivals

By Joachim Ng

Can Perak exploit its silver-state lure to draw in higher grade foreign arrivals under the revised Malaysia My Second Home (MM2H) programme? Under the new MM2H scheme, participants need to have a monthly offshore income of RM40,000. It means that an Australian retiree, for instance, must have sufficient investments to earn roughly A$14,000 monthly dividends (convertible to RM40,000) that he can spend in Malaysia.

Of all the states, Perak has long secured high ranking as a choice destination for retirees. One of the most recent awards went to Taiping, which was placed third in the “Best of Cities” category during the 2019 Sustainable Top 100 Destination Awards at the International Tourismus-Börse (ITB) travel trade show in Berlin, Germany.

Beyond the aesthetic soothing beauty of limestone hills and caves, the state government is ecologically conscious in its desire to promote the use of photovoltaic solar panels in government buildings as a climate-friendly zero-carbon renewable energy source. Owners of private buildings, commercial and residential, should also bathe in the heat of solar energy as it is a pull factor drawing in the eco-minded expat retirees.

Tenaga Nasional Berhad, one of the more friendly utility companies, has a 100% offset plan wherein every 1kWh of electricity that you generate through your solar panels and export to the TNB grid will be offset against 1kWh that you consume from the grid. So, your cost is the initial capital outlay which can be recovered in five or six years. 

For many, this is a long stretch. The state government should provide incentives such as generous rebates on the yearly property assessment tax during the recovery phase. Property developers and organisations that own buildings should also be roped in so that there are economies of scale to bring down the unit price of solar panels. Lower capital outlay per unit will mean a shorter recovery period, leading to wider usage.

Tax relief for promoting sustainability should be granted to developers who install solar panels in new housing estates and condominiums. Management corporations and joint management bodies should also be encouraged with tax reliefs, and so too should organisations that own such buildings as houses of worship and community centres.

Kampungs, with sprawling grounds bathed in sunlight, are splendid locations for installation. Equipped with batteries for power storage, every kampung can become self-reliant in power for their homes. This will be especially useful for school-going children who need to light up their lives. But who will finance the capital outlay in kampungs? The answer is collective ownership of these assets under the New Economic Policy’s bumiputra assistance scheme.

Unfortunately Perak, like the rest of Malaysia, has a habit of backsliding like hapless players in a snakes-and-ladders game. Less than two years after being named the 3rd most sustainable city in the world, Taiping was hit by news of massive illegal dumping of rubbish in open spaces along suburban roads. Even back in 2019, the road from Taiping to Port Weld was an eyesore with garbage dumped on countless spots along the stretch.

Back in January 2021, the mayor of Ipoh announced the capital’s ambitious goal to recover its long-lost status as the cleanest city in Southeast Asia. Yet early this month, Ipoh was similarly hit by news of backyard drains clogged with garbage of all sorts including the infamous plastics. Residents complained of overflowing water causing floods, mosquitoes breeding in the drains, and pests such as rats and cockroaches breeding merrily.

Heavy surveillance through CCTVs and facial recognition devices are necessary to arrest the culprits and fine each of them at least RM10,000 so as to recover the cost of these installations. More and more countries are going into remote surveillance; Perak should lead the way in strict policing of the environment.

The most abundant group of throwaways is none other than plastic in its various forms. Plastic materials are almost a third of discards, whether carelessly or legitimately thrown away. The food industry is a recalcitrant villain in its continued heavy use of plastic bags and containers. Eventually, the plastic waste ends up in our stomachs and is probably one of the leading causes of the rising rate of cancers.

It starts with plastic discards being washed into rivers and carried to the ocean. Malaysia is one of several nations that together contribute half the plastic waste found at sea. With aging, the plastics break into pieces and become microplastics. You can see the process happening in your own home. Check the stack of old plastic bags in your storeroom: chances are they have degenerated into fragments.

Microplastics in ocean waters enter the food chain as they are unknowingly ingested by fishes and seashore creatures that are in turn eaten by larger animals. As long as you are non-vegetarian, you bear the risk of eating plastics. In 2019, the Microplastics Research Interest Group at Universiti Malaysia Terengganu found plastic pieces of smaller size than 5mm in wild and farmed seabass consumed by Malaysians. Is there a colon cancer link?

Microplastics have also been found in tap water and bottled water, making it a necessity to drink only water that has gone through several stages of filtering. In the previous article, this column advocated a Better Nutrition Directive to phase out sickness-inducing food items from being sold or served, and to encourage the consumption of nutritional foods. 

A frequently highlighted anti-nutritional item is refined sugar which has most of its nutrients processed out. Medical researchers say its consumption increases risk of diabetes, and nearly 1 in 5 Malaysian adults have diabetes. Add microplastics to the list of items that induce sickness — in this case, cancer is likely. However, we need a whole-of-society approach spearheaded by the Government to eliminate refined sugar and microplastics in our food.

Sugar is an easy one. If you can’t do without sweetness, add ingredients that contain natural sugar to the dish you are cooking. The chef just has to make up his mind to promote healthy eating. As for plastics, use paper bags for your throwaways. Many environmental NGOs object on grounds that paper comes from trees. They don’t realise that paper is a cultivated product derived from commercial trees specially grown for the purpose.

Paper does not come from jungle trees. Just as we have rubber and oil palm estates, Malaysia can also create paper estates on disused rubber land or waste land. We are not doing it because we convert such land for housing as the profit is much greater. To fight off climate change and cancer, the solutions are all around us. The question is whether we have the decisiveness to act in time.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of Ipoh Echo.



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