Saving the Planet: Are We Doing Our Part?
Written by: Vimala Shanmugam
Edited by: Nazrin Sarnin
Remember the days of making recycled crafts at school? Making art and science projects using old newspapers and toilet rolls? Or maybe your school had a recycling week, dedicated to teaching students about global warming and what the three coloured bins mean.
Now, take a look at your post school life. When was the last time you did a recycling project? Or segregated your waste to send recyclable items to recycle centres instead of the garbage truck? Or bothered to walk a few extra feet to throw your aluminium drink can into an orange bin instead of a normal bin?
Can’t remember? It is okay, most Malaysian sadly don’t. In fact we rarely speak publicly about how much our ignorance is actually hurting the environment, and it might be time to change that.
Waste Management Association chairman Ho De Leong, who spoke on the issue in an article by The Star from July 16 last year, stated that “recent studies show that 11% of the (38,000 tonnes of) waste generated in Malaysia daily comprises diapers alone. Imagine, more than 4,000 tonnes of diapers generated and thrown away daily!” He also recalled the less wasteful ways of the previous generation when cloth diapers would be washed and re-used for babies, and drinks came in glass bottles that were collected back by the retailers.
While the recycling rate across the country had gone up to 24.6% in 2018 from 21% in 2017, this is still far below world leader Germany where the rate is between 52% and 56%. While their government bears the brunt of the effort, as the Malaysian government should also do, citizens there are also better trained and equipped to manage their waste output better.
We already know about segregating our domestic waste, refusing plastic bags and straws, and what items go in the three coloured bins, but these steps might not be significant enough to make a difference unless every single Malaysian does these.
So what more can we do?
Turns out, a lot actually! Just ask the members of the Zero Waste Malaysia Facebook group.
Zero Waste Malaysia is a registered non-profit organisation who strive for a more mindful and eco-conscious lifestyle in Malaysia, through leading by example. The 33,000 (and growing) members in their Facebook group work together to share their experiences, ideas and tips to be “zero wasteful,” a concept which ideally means no waste is generated by an individual.
#ZeroWasteRamadhan in 2019 was one of the initiatives backed by Zero Waste members. The goal of the campaign was to encourage Ramadhan bazaar patrons to bring their own containers instead of buying food and drinks in plastic and polystyrene packaging, refuse straws and plastic cutlery, and to also buy less food (hence not waste food too.) It was a trending challenge that quite a few Malaysians took up and shared their experiences on social media.
Among some of the ideas and tips for daily practice that members share in the Facebook group are composting, growing or making their own food, buying in bulk, repurposing their old furniture, toys and stationaries, recycling projects, making homemade soap and so much more, if only we take the time and effort to do them. They also bring awareness to the many ways we are wasteful without even realizing it.
One example is to cut down on women’s menstrual waste. When added up, a woman spends an average of 10 years of her life menstruating. That’s approximately 500 cycles and 11,000 to15,000 sanitary products in a lifetime! Shocking right?
There are a couple other alternatives to sanitary napkins and tampons though; menstrual cups and reusable sanitary napkins. By purchasing just one product every few years, a woman can cut down the amount of waste she sends to the landfills significantly. Imagine how much money can be saved too!
Zero Waste Malaysia has been proving that it is not really difficult to make a big difference to save the planet since 2016. If we only take a little time to do the research and make and effort, it will surely pay off if we can one day be on par with western countries in zero waste efforts.