In late September last year, news broke all around the world about Malaysia becoming a plastic waste dumping ground
On 23 September, a report by RadioNZ revealed that "thousands of tonnes of plastic" waste from New Zealand, Australia, and the United Kingdom were using Malaysia as their "dumping ground" for plastic waste.
The report highlighted, among other things, how illegal factories that take in plastic waste have affected the living conditions of Kuala Langat residents.
However, months before the news made global headlines, there was a small group of grassroots activists who were tirelessly working to bring clean air to Jenjarom, Kuala Langat
In an exclusive report with Huffington Post, chemist Pua Lay Peng spoke extensively about the journey to bring some form of justice to the quiet town of Jenjarom.
Her little band of inexperienced activists consists of one lawyer, a former village leader, and a stay-at-home mother. All of them were residents of the area.
Their tireless search for the truth was not without consequences, as the group received death threats and were even physically assaulted
Pua shared screenshots of the threats she received with Huffington Post. In one screenshot, a fake Facebook user claimed there was a bounty of USD25,000 (approximately RM102,000) on the group.
The message included a Chinese saying that roughly translated to "breaking someone's rice bowl is like killing their parents".
Meanwhile, volunteer and lawyer C.K. Lee said he was physically stopped in his car and then chased by men affiliated with the illegal plastic recycling factories.
Other members suffered in other ways closer to home, such as falling out with friends and loss of income
Lee shared in the report how he lost clients for his law practice due to his activism, while another volunteer Tan Ching Hin said he had fallen out with friends.
Both Lee and Pua shared how they had to sacrifice their jobs along the way.
"Some days, I had to sacrifice my work because I was drafting complaint letters [to authorities]. Many weekends have been spent meeting with journalists," Pua said with an edge of fatigue, as noted by Huffington Post.
For months, the team had to use their lunch hours and weekends scouring for proof of the illegal burnings
The group would find "smouldering mounds of plastic hidden inside plantations and around quiet corners of residential neighbourhoods", wrote Dominique Mosbergen for Huffington Post.
Facilities which looked new and were unmarked would also suddenly pop up.
Pua said the group collected water samples near these facilities to test for toxic materials, which came back positive.
Although some action has been taken since September, the residents remain sceptical of any change
"The fight is not finished. The problem is not solved, it's just always relocating," said Lee.
"The environment is everyone's duty. We all need fresh, clean air to breathe."
Energy, Science, Technology, Environment, and Climate Change Minister Yeo Bee Yin aims for Malaysia to be a zero single-use plastic nation by 2030:
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