Creation of low-carbon societies is a challenging mission in today’s modern life. The implementation of a sustainable and low carbon society requires the concerted efforts from multi-stakeholders ranging from the residents, local authorities, policy makers, government, technologists and experts. It takes time to gain trust, and to engage the mutual interests. It requires perseverance and passion to create a vibrant and sustainable eco-system for transformation towards zero-waste and resource-recycling based societies.
Benefited from the International Grant provided by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) -JST SATREP grant entitled Development of Low Carbon Society in the Asian Regions (2011-2016) as championed by Prof Ho Chin Siong, UTM, Dr Lee serves as one of the subsector heads focusing on sustainable solid waste management. Due to the immense exposure and expertise exchange with the Japanese counterparts and a few impactful visits to the Eco-town in Japan, Dr Lee gained insight on how to implement low carbon societies in Malaysia. Her effort focuses on reducing waste to the landfill by implementing community-based food-waste composting.
After many years researching on the use of natural microbials to enhance the effectiveness of composting, Dr Lee feels it is the time to drive science-to-action. As project lead for UTM Sustainable Campus Flagship Project in 2014 entitled On Campus Bio-recycling of Food and Green Wastes into Compost, compost is generated from UTM cafeterias’ food waste and green waste from the landscape. The compost produced can serve as a soil enhancer for UTM landscape plants. The final compost has fulfilled the basic safety and Malaysian biofertilizer standards. The compost site has received many visitors from international and local agencies and as a living lab to educate the students and the community about food waste composting.
UTM Bio-recycling Composting project is summarized as follows:
Through the proof-of-concept of the food waste compost project in UTM, more community composting projects have taken place since then. Many of which are supported by the UCTC and the NBOS grants from the Ministry of Education, Malaysia and coordinated through UTM Centre for Community and Industry Network (CCIN). These include the setup of community composting plants in Felda Taib Andak, Kulai and Rural Transformation Centre (RTC) Layang-Layang, Johor.
Since 2016, her team also assists a local organic farm FOLO (Fees for Our Loves One) with a pilot-scale composting site located in Ulu Tiram. Her PhD students currently study the compost quality as well as the economic and environmental feasibility to better sustain the composting plant. FOLO farm composted 3t/d of food waste from the nearby hotels and wet market, their current interest is to ensure the quality and the safety of their compost and to produce high value-added bio-products from this site apart of the organic crops.
Education is the key driver to achieve the long-term goal to sustain a zero-waste society where most wastes can be recycled including the food waste. Grooming a green next generation is essential to sustain this goal. Various programs are conducted by Lee, these include the UTM International Summer School entitled “Accelerating Green Development in Asia”. A range of sustainability topics in waste, energy and green economy was covered for Iskandar Malaysia region as one of the best case studies, accompanied by site visits to the green practices including the Iskandar Region Development Agency (IRDA), biogas and compost sites and cultural immersion activities.
Through the UCOMPOST Facebook site and UTM FRESH Facebook, Dr Lee shares her vision and on-going passion by conducting various green initiatives. Dr Lee engages with various community stakeholders including schools, local authorities and agencies, about sustaining soil health and ensuring safe and quality food chain through simple food-waste composting technology. Various hands-on composting workshops are outreached to the public. The ultimate goal is to divert close to 50% of the organic waste from entering the landfill while promoting high-quality locally grown products for healthy diet and local economy activities. She currently engages actively with the local authorities in Iskandar Malaysia and Kuala Lumpur for the realization of the Low Carbon Society.
Dr Lee is also the key driver for the International Conference for Low Carbon in Asia and beyond (ICLCA), the first two series were accomplished in Johor Bahru (ICLCA’15) and Kuala Lumpur ICLCA’16 and the ICLCA’17 will be co-organised with JGSEE from King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi in Bangkok, Thailand . The conference aims to provide a high‐impact platform bringing together researchers and multi‐stakeholders from academia, government and industry in Asia to share their expertise, knowledge and experiences in order to facilitate and catalyze the transformation of the Low Carbon Society in Asia and beyond. The conference so far cumulated in the publication of a series of Special Issues for mobilizing the Low Carbon Society in the international journals of Journal of Cleaner Production (Elservier) and Clean Technologies and Environmental Science (Springers), where Dr Lee also serves as one of the Guest Editors.
Dr Lee spent her past eight years in UTM International office spearheading various international networking and mobility programs to enhance UTM’s global reputation. Her specific role has been to enhance UTM students’ opportunities to study abroad while realising internationalization at home by attracting more international exchange students to study in UTM. She attended various international conferences and currently still serves as a fellow in the UTM International Office. She has been invited to speak a few times in Japan to promote Malaysia Education as well as Solid waste management.
Moving on from 2016, her global experience has empowered her with the vision to drive on the goal of promoting sustainability for the society in a holistic manner. While proof–of-the- concept and launching of community composting sites might seem easier, sustaining the composting business to create economic and social benefits will be her long-term quest.