The Toyota Eco Youth (TEY) challenge celebrates its 15th anniversary and this year’s theme is solid waste management. Starting off as an eco competition between schools, the annual programme has grown over the years, impacting secondary schools and teachers as well as communities around the schools.

“It is no secret that environment sustainability is second nature to Toyota,” said Datuk Ismet Suki, president of UMW Toyota Motor (UMWT), who added that on a global basis, the company has established the Toyota Environmental Challenge 2050, which identified six key environmental issues to be tackled in the next three decades such as CO2 reduction, water optimisation and establishing societies that practice recycling and an earth-friendly culture.

“The main problem with solid waste is that they are not biodegradeable. A plastic bottle takes 500 years to break down, a plastic bag 10-20 years, a milk carton five years, a tin can 50 years, a glass bottle 1 million years. This means it is not only a problem to the planet now, but for the next 10, 100, 1000, up to a million years,” laments Mahamad Amran Kamsi, chief assistant director at the Ministry of Education (MoE).

In the past, participating schools were selected by MoE, typically one from each state. This year, schools intending to participate in TEY had to submit a project proposal to the organising committee. This new arrangement is expected to bring even better results in terms of the project outcome, promotions and exposure, as schools that submitted proposals had shown their competitive spirit from the onset.

Mahamad Amran says that attitudes must change. Although the best solution is still the 3R- with emphasis on Reduce, then Reuse and Recycle, the recycling rate in Malaysia is still dismal at 2%. “We cannot afford to wait until the world turns into a planet of garbage.”

To date, 209 schools have participated in TEY and UMWT has spent over RM6 million on the social responsibility programme since 2001.