In Malaysia’s Sabah, young scientists fight plastic pollution with seaweed

Workers clearing mounds of floating plastic waste of the Klang river, in Klang, on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur. (AFP file photo)
Workers clearing mounds of floating plastic waste of the Klang river, in Klang, on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur. (AFP file photo)
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Updated 22 January 2023

In Malaysia’s Sabah, young scientists fight plastic pollution with seaweed

Workers clearing mounds of floating plastic waste of the Klang river, in Klang, on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur. (AFP)
  • Seaweed-based bioplastic is sustainable and takes only a few weeks to biodegrade
  • Students from Semporna plan to finish their bioplastic prototype this academic year

KUALA LUMPUR: Semporna, a remote town on the northern tip of Borneo, is famous for some of Malaysia’s most stunning dive sites and marine life, but for the past few years the fame has been fading with plastic litter smothering the shoreline.

Plastic pollution is one of the most pressing environmental issues. Production of disposable plastic products has rapidly increased in the past two decades, overwhelming the world’s ability to deal with them.

Over 380 million tons of plastic are produced globally every year, with nearly half of it being single-use plastic, or plastic disposed of after use, like bags or food packages. While less than 10 percent of plastic gets recycled, according to Plastic Oceans, some 10 million tons of it enters the oceans and may remain for 400 years before it decomposes.

FASTFACTS

• Seaweed-based bioplastic is sustainable and takes only a few weeks to biodegrade.

• Students from Semporna plan to finish their bioplastic prototype this academic year.

In Semporna and other parts of the scenic state of Sabah, residents have watched their beaches and coral reefs gradually disappear wrapped in discarded plastic, and animals dependent on the ocean for sustenance poisoned and disfigured as they swallow the indigestible litter.

Aware of the conveniences plastics offer and the impossibility of phasing them out from our lives, students from the MARA Junior Science College in Semporna have come up with a way to counter the pollution problem: They decided to fight plastic with plastic — a different one, though, made from seaweed, that does not harm marine species.

“The students are the sons of Semporna, thus they have a sense of duty to protect and conserve the beautiful islands and marine lives there,” their biology teacher and project mentor, Shahrul Hafiz Abdul Ghani, told Arab News.

“They decided to use seaweed, which is an abundant natural resource in Semporna, and produce seaweed-based bioplastics such as straws and plastic bags ... It is biodegradable and would reduce our dependency on plastics.”

Ghani’s team, comprising Fahim Nazhan, Muhammad Fauzan Lakarani and Muhammad Fauzi Lakarani, is using Kappaphycus, a genus of red algae that is common in Malaysian waters.

One of the fastest-growing organisms on Earth, seaweed is a sustainable material to use as a replacement for plastic packaging. It is biodegradable in about four to six weeks.

“Now we are at the stage of producing a better prototype to ensure it has the perfect durability and plasticity ... There is a commercial potential for seaweed, and we are on the lookout for more funding for our bioplastic,” Ghani said, adding that his students are going to present their prototype seaweed plastic bags, utensils and straws this year.

The only major drawback to producing seaweed-based bioplastic is currently its cost, as processing technologies have only been developed across the world in recent years.

Chung Ngin Zhun, who founded Malaysian seaweed startup Rhodomaxx four years ago, told Arab News that support for developing such initiatives was still too little for them to bloom.

“Many Malaysians are not aware of the potential usage of seaweed other than being used as nori for sushi. There have been initiatives by the government since 2018 to get rid of single-use plastics ... There is a move towards that direction, but this kind of trend is usually set by the more affluent class of society. It is not really a holistic approach, maybe because of the lack of education,” he said.

Chung’s company is a pioneer in the Malaysian market, producing seaweed-based vegan leather, bioplastics, and mineral supplements. A Sabah native himself, he sources the raw material from the region and from neighboring Indonesia.

“It grows naturally without the use of land without the use of agricultural inputs and also without the use of freshwater, which makes it an ideal resource for a more sustainable future,” Chung said, but added that despite the abundance of seaweed, the industry will find it hard to grow locally.

“Unfortunately, there is a lack of narrative on this side of the world, the global south produces only raw materials ... We don’t have the infrastructure to fund projects like ours, we also don’t have legislations and lawmakers that are aware of this sort of circular economy model and how to drive governmental programs to support initiatives such as ours.”

Another hindrance to the seaweed industry’s growth in Malaysia may be the consistency of supplies, according to Siti Nahdatul Isnaini Said Hussin, a scientist from National Institutes of Biotechnology Malaysia.

“The current rate of production at Sabah coastal areas is not promising enough to ensure sustainable sources of seaweed supplies for commercial bioplastic production,” she said, adding that cultivation cycles have been disturbed by plant diseases and grazers such as turtles or milkfish that feed on seaweed.

On the other hand, the seaweed that is farmed in the region has regular foreign buyers, mainly from China, who offer higher prices to growers than the local market.

The development of seaweed bioplastics in Malaysia could, in Hussin’s opinion, be more successful if it were linked to the material’s other properties, especially its edibility and appeal as a halal product to consumers in the Muslim-majority country.

“The future of seaweed-based bioplastics could be more promising by focusing on the strength of the seaweed itself — its high nutrition content, edible and water-soluble anti-inflammatory properties,” she said.

“Halal encapsulation, edible food sachets, and other applications of bioplastics related to food would be more attractive and marketable.”

 


Italian police arrest 3 Tunisians linked to slain Berlin terrorist

Italian police arrest 3 Tunisians linked to slain Berlin terrorist
Updated 12 sec ago

Italian police arrest 3 Tunisians linked to slain Berlin terrorist

Italian police arrest 3 Tunisians linked to slain Berlin terrorist
  • Anis Amri killed 12 people in German Christmas market during 2016 truck rampage

LONDON: Three Tunisians linked to a terrorist who killed a dozen people in Germany in 2016 have been arrested by Italian police for facilitating illegal immigration, Italian news agency ANSA reported.

The trio were arrested during nationwide raids in Italy on more than 40 premises linked to a transnational gang enabling illegal immigration.

Two of the men were subsequently placed in pre-trial detention, while the third was ordered into house arrest.

Police tied the three to Anis Amri, a Tunisian who plowed into Christmas market crowds in Berlin using a truck seven years ago, killing 12 people and injuring dozens.

After going on the run following the attack, Amri was killed in a shootout with Milan police four days later.

Authorities carried out raids on the illegal immigration gang in Ancona, Fermo, Ferrara, Catanzaro, Modena, Macerata, Siracusa and Verona.  


Ukrainian authorities search house of ex-interior minister — report

Ukrainian authorities search house of ex-interior minister — report
Updated 42 min 1 sec ago

Ukrainian authorities search house of ex-interior minister — report

Ukrainian authorities search house of ex-interior minister — report
  • The head of Ukraine’s ruling party confirm Avakov’s home had been searched

KYIV: Former Ukrainian interior minister Arsen Avakov said his home was searched by security officials on Wednesday as part of an investigation into a purchase of Airbus helicopters, the Ukrainska Pravda media outlet reported.
An Airbus helicopter crashed on Jan. 18, killing 14 people including Interior Minister Denys Monastyrskyi and other top ministry officials.
The State Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) did not immediately reply to a request for comment about the Ukrainska Pravda report.
A top governing party official confirmed on Wednesday that security officials had raided the homes of one of Ukraine’s richest men and a former interior minister, and said the country would change during the war with Russia.
Ukrainska Pravda quoted Avakov as saying the search was related to the helicopter crash.
“They looked at Airbus contracts from six years ago,” it quoted Avakov as saying.
Avakov, 59, resigned as Ukraine’s interior minister, in July 2021. Prior to his resignation he was one of the country’s most powerful officials, serving as the interior minister for over seven years.
David Arakhamia, head of the Servant of the People party’s parliamentary faction, said there were also searches at Ukraine’s Tax Office and that the management team of the Customs Service would be dismissed.
“The country will change during the war. If someone is not ready for change, then the state itself will come and help them change,” he wrote on the Telegram messaging in app.


Suspects arrested over Pakistan mosque blast, police focus on how bomber got in

Suspects arrested over Pakistan mosque blast, police focus on how bomber got in
Updated 01 February 2023

Suspects arrested over Pakistan mosque blast, police focus on how bomber got in

Suspects arrested over Pakistan mosque blast, police focus on how bomber got in
  • The bomber struck on Monday as hundreds of worshippers gathered for noon prayers in a mosque that was purpose built for the police and their families living in a highly fortified area

PESHAWAR: Police investigating a suicide bombing that killed more than 100 people at a Pakistan mosque said on Tuesday that several people had been arrested, and they could not rule out the possibility that the bomber had internal assistance evading security checks.
The bombing was the most deadly in a decade to hit Peshawar, a restive northwestern city near the Afghan border, and all but three of those killed were police, making it most suffered by Pakistan’s security forces in a single attack in recent history.
The bomber struck on Monday as hundreds of worshippers gathered for noon prayers in a mosque that was purpose built for the police and their families living in a highly fortified area.
“We have found some excellent clues, and based on these clues we have made some major arrests,” Peshawar Police Chief Ijaz Khan told Reuters.
“We can’t rule out internal assistance but since the investigation is still in progress, I will not be able to share more details.”
Investigators, who include counter-terrorism and intelligence officials, are focusing on how the attacker managed to breach the military and police checkpoints leading into the Police Lines district, a colonial-era, self-contained encampment in the city center that is home to middle- and lower-ranking police personnel and their families.
Defense Minister Khawaja Asif had said the bomber was in the first row in the prayer hall when he struck. Remains of the attacker had been recovered, provincial Police Chief Moazzam Jah Ansari told Reuters.
“We believe the attackers are not an organized group,” he added.
The most active militant group in the area, the Pakistani Taliban, also called Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), has denied responsibility for the attack, which no group has claimed so far. Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah had told parliament a breakaway faction of the TTP was to blame.
The blast demolished the upper story of the mosque. It was is the deadliest in Peshawar since twin suicide bombings at All Saints Church killed scores of worshippers in September 2013, in what remains the deadliest attack on the country’s Christian minority.
Peshawar sits on the edge of the Pashtun tribal lands, a region mired in violence for the past two decades.
The TTP is an umbrella group for Sunni and sectarian Islamist factions opposed to the government in Islamabad. The group has recently stepped up attacks against police.


US readies over $2 billion Ukraine aid package with longer-range weapons

US readies over $2 billion Ukraine aid package with longer-range weapons
Updated 01 February 2023

US readies over $2 billion Ukraine aid package with longer-range weapons

US readies over $2 billion Ukraine aid package with longer-range weapons
  • The aid is expected to be announced as soon as this week

WASHINGTON: The United States is readying more than $2 billion worth of military aid for Ukraine that is expected to include longer-range rockets for the first time as well as other munitions and weapons, two US officials briefed on the matter told Reuters on Tuesday.
The aid is expected to be announced as soon as this week, the officials said. It is also expected to include support equipment for Patriot air defense systems, precision-guided munitions and Javelin anti-tank weapons, they added.
One of the officials said a portion of the package, expected to be $1.725 billion, would come from a fund known as the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative (USAI), which allows President Joe Biden’s administration to get weapons from industry rather than from US weapons stocks.
The USAI funds would go toward the purchase of a new weapon, the Ground Launched Small Diameter Bomb (GLSDB) made by Boeing Co, which have a range of 94 miles (150 km). The United States has rebuffed Ukraine’s requests for the 185-mile (297-km) range ATACMS missile.
The longer range of the GLSDB glide bomb could allow Ukraine to hit targets that have been out of reach and help it continue pressing its counterattacks by disrupting Russia further behind its lines.
Reuters first reported on Boeing’s proposal to field GLSDB for Ukraine in November. At the time it was expected GLSDB could be in Ukraine by spring.
GLSDB is made jointly by SAAB AB and Boeing. It combines the GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb (SDB) with the M26 rocket motor, both of which are common in US inventories.
GLSDB is GPS-guided, can defeat some electronic jamming, is usable in all weather conditions, and can be used against armored vehicles, according to SAAB’s website. The GBU-39 — which would function as the GLSDB’s warhead — has small, folding wings that allow it to glide more than 100km if dropped from an aircraft and hit targets as small as 3 feet (1 meter) in diameter.
The USAI funds would also be used to pay for more components of HAWK air defenses, counter drone systems, counter artillery and air surveillance radars, communications equipment, PUMA drones, and spare parts for major systems like Patriot and Bradley, one of the officials said.
There was also a significant amount of medical equipment — enough to equip three field hospitals being donated by another ally, the official added.
The White House declined to comment. The contents and size of aid packages can shift until they are signed by the president.
In addition to the USAI funds, more than $400 million worth of aid was expected to come from Presidential Drawdown Authority funds, which allows the president to take from current US stocks in an emergency.
That aid was expected to include mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles (MRAPs), guided multiple launch rocket systems (GMLRS) and ammunition.
The US has sent approximately $27.2 billion worth of security assistance to Ukraine since Russia’s February 2022 invasion. Russia calls the invasion a “special operation.”


US and allies mark anniversary of Myanmar coup with more sanctions

US and allies mark anniversary of Myanmar coup with more sanctions
Updated 01 February 2023

US and allies mark anniversary of Myanmar coup with more sanctions

US and allies mark anniversary of Myanmar coup with more sanctions
  • The United Kingdom designated two companies and two people for helping supply Myanmar’s air force with aviation fuel used to carry out bombing campaigns against its own citizens

WASHINGTON: The United States and its allies imposed further sanctions on Myanmar on Tuesday, marking the two-year anniversary of a military coup with curbs on energy officials and junta members, among others.
Washington imposed sanctions on the Union Election Commission, mining enterprises and energy officials, among others, according to a Treasury Department statement. Details of the decision were first reported by Reuters.
It marks the first time the United States has targeted Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE) officials under the current Myanmar sanctions program, a Treasury spokesperson said.
Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom also announced sanctions.
Myanmar’s top generals led a coup in February 2021 after five years of tense power-sharing under a quasi-civilian political system that was created by the military, which led to a decade of unprecedented change.
Myanmar has been in chaos since the coup, with a resistance movement fighting the military on multiple fronts after a bloody crackdown on opponents that saw Western sanctions re-imposed.
Tuesday’s US sanctions target the managing director and deputy managing director of MOGE, which is the junta’s single largest revenue generating state-owned enterprise, according to Treasury.
Human rights advocates have called for sanctions on MOGE, but Washington has so far held back.
Also designated by Washington was the Union Minister of Energy, who Treasury said represents Myanmar’s government in international and domestic energy sector engagements and manages the state-owned entities involved in the production and export of oil and gas.
Mining Enterprise No 1 and Mining Enterprise No 2, both state-owned enterprises, as well as the Union Election Commission, were also hit with sanctions by Washington.
TOUGH ELECTION RULES
On Friday, the junta announced tough requirements for parties to contest an election planned for August, including a huge increase in their membership, a move that could sideline the military’s opponents and cement its grip on power.
The election would subvert the will of the people if opponents of the military continue to be met by violence, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.
“Many key political stakeholders have announced their refusal to participate in these elections, which will be neither inclusive nor representative, and which almost certainly will fuel greater bloodshed,” he said.
The rules favor the Union Solidarity and Development Party, a military proxy stacked with former generals, which was trounced by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party in 2015 and 2020 elections.
Thousands of NLD members were arrested or jailed in the coup, including Suu Kyi, and many more are in hiding.
The NLD in November described this year’s election as “phoney” and said it would not acknowledge it. The election has also been dismissed as a sham by Western governments.
Washington also targeted former and current Myanmar military officials, the Treasury said, accusing the Air Force of continued air strikes using Russian-made aircraft against pro-democracy forces that have killed civilians.
Canada targeted six individuals and prohibited the export, sale, supply or shipment of aviation fuel in its action. Australia targeted members of the junta and a military-run company.
The United Kingdom designated two companies and two people for helping supply Myanmar’s air force with aviation fuel used to carry out bombing campaigns against its own citizens.
John Sifton, Asia advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, said that even with Tuesday’s action, the United States has still not matched stronger sanctions imposed by the European Union, particularly when it comes to natural gas revenue and banks that process foreign payments for the extractive sector.
“As a result, the measures taken so far have not imposed enough economic pain on the junta to compel it to change its conduct,” Sifton said in a statement.