It’s Earth Day on Thursday, an opportune time to hear the inspiring stories of Malaysians who have committed to greening their lifestyles.
“I’M building my own GBI-certified house. (GBI is Green Building Index.) The house is four months to completion and will have a rainwater harvesting system, solar panels, wind turbines, insulation and light tubes. I’m using as much recycled building material as possible, including the concrete from the original house and timber sourced from old kampung houses.
“Certified (as sustainably produced) timber is difficult to find and those certified by the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) are expensive. Rather than burn or throw away, old wood should be reused. More and more people are building green but there is a gap in where to find green materials.
“So I plan to find a network of people who recycle building materials. The information will be shared under the Malaysia Green Building Confederation. Rather than create new things, these things can be reused.”
– Dr Tan Loke Mun, architect
“IN the last year, vinegar has become my new best friend. I use it in place of cleaning products, for example, to decaulk my kettle and hot water flask, to clean out my bath and sinkholes (together with baking powder) and to get rid of the smell in my mops. It’s cheap, natural and environment-friendly.
“I’ve also switched as much as possible to environment-friendly household cleaning products, such as toilet cleaners and dishwashing liquid. I have also cut down completely on tuna and other canned fish unless it has a sustainable label. Very tough as my husband loves tuna!”
– Wong Siew Lyn, writer
“THE volunteers from Ecowarriors and I have set up a plant nursery to grow seedlings for our monthly tree-planting project (at the Raja Musa Forest Reserve in Selangor). We decided to do this as we sometimes don’t get enough seedlings from the Forestry Department. We tried germinating them from seeds but it was not easy.
“The foresters then taught us to do wilding collection. Twice a month, we drive to Sungai Panjang (near Behrang), abour one hour and 45 minutes away from Petaling Jaya, to dig up mahang wildings. It’s difficult as it’s a forest and there are bees and snakes. We grow the wildings in our gardens before transplanting them to the nursery.
“I also reuse waste from Starbucks (the Centrepoint outlet in Petaling Jaya). I compost the coffee grounds and use that to fertilise the wildings. The milk cartons, plastic and paper cups are used to plant wildings and the drinking straws, to support the wildings.
“So we don’t need to buy poly-bags which are very wasteful and difficult to dispose of. Yes, we have to sort through garbage bags for these things but it’s not difficult. Doing all this is very satisfying as I’m doing something for Mother Earth. I know we cannot reforest an area back to its original state but it’s better to do something than nothing. And the tree-planting creates awareness among volunteers.”
– Desmond Hew, café operator
“I’VE quit my job and started my own business … yes, it’s green. I’m developing a web directory (greensentral.com) for green groups and green businesses. I’ve been involved in Ecowarriors (a green volunteers group), helping to plant trees. I find that the more I learn about environmental issues and get involved in environment projects, the more I want to do.
“I find that there is a gap in information. Very often, people don’t know where to get information if they want to be green or get green products or get involved in green activities. By bringing green NGOs and businesses selling green products together on one platform, it makes it convenient for people.
“But more than that, the directory will empower individuals with information so they can be agents of change. I hope to get the website up by the end of the month. The challenge is how to make a living from it, so I hope to get advertisers. I’ve also resisted shopping … even during Chinese New Year. I see no reason to expand my wardrobe.”
– Joanne Lim, ecopreneur
“I recently experimented with using bricks in my toilet cisterns in order to reduce the overall amount of water consumed for normal water flushing. This is supported by using the water-saving function in the washing machine, having short showers and not heating up the water but just using normal temperature water. When I need boiled water, I only boil the amount that is needed rather than waste energy boiling more.”
– Matthias Gelber, trainer and consultant
“I’VE been buying vintage clothes. It serves two purposes. I’m reusing and recycling old clothes; vintage clothes offer a lot of potential. They can be reconstructed and made into something interesting, mixed and matched, and they don’t burn a hole in your pocket. It’s matching personal preference with environment protection. So green people can be fashionable, too.
“I do buy new clothes but more than half of my purchases each month would be vintage, mostly clothes from the 1960s and 70s because that’s when fashion got really interesting. I don’t mind if they’ve been worn. Used clothes are not in perfect condition. They will have some stains but I can accept that. That’s part of their beauty and what gives them personality.
“I recently got a DVD player really cheap at a second-hand store, and I’ve also found a shop that stocks used scuba-diving equipment. (She’s considering taking up the sport.) We should go to such places as much as possible so as not to create new cycles of things.”
– Amelda Wong, project manager in a bank
“I REFUSE to install an air-conditioner in my room. A fan is sufficient for me. I’ve been a vegetarian since 2007. It’s partly spiritual but after learning about sustainable living, I realised that’s the way to go. Vegetarian meals use less energy to prepare and the ecological footprint is small. I shop consciously, and don’t buy things unnecessarily.
“On my annual pilgrimage to India, I bring along my old but still good clothes and saris and distribute them to the poor there. And I shop only at The Body Shop for all my cosmetic needs as they are a green company.”
– Dr Sundari Ramakrishna, Malaysian Environmental NGOs co-ordinator
“I’VE reduced my disposable contact lens usage and resorted to wearing glasses most of the time. I now only wear contact lenses about twice a week, mostly when I’m at the gym. It’s my little effort to reduce waste. I can’t imagine the amount of waste I’ve produced since I started using contact lenses 18 years ago – all the containers, solution bottles, packaging, protein remover wrappers, etc.
“There’s still a huge argument out there on whether contact lens are bad for the environment but I think doing something is better than arguing on the Internet. While the amount of waste is considerably insignificant compared to our normal daily waste, every little act goes a long way when it comes to saving the environment.”
– Ene Anuar, compliance professional
“THE following are some of my contributions to saving the planet’s environment and resources. I try to practise them every day. To reduce water use, I use only one cup when brushing my teeth. I never use the bath. I shower, and do it quickly. I use a pail to wash the car, not a hose. I use the air-conditioner sparingly and only when really necessary. And turn off lights. I work on my computer in the dark. The light from the computer is enough. I’ve also been practising composting in my garden as a matter of norm.”
– Datuk Dr Salleh Mohd Nor, Malaysian Nature Society president
“I’VE been making garbage enzyme using fruit peel, especially of orange and honey melon. Now, I’m totally dependent on enzyme as a cleaning agent. That’s all that I use to clean the floor. I don’t use commercial floor cleaners anymore. The floor feels very clean and smooth as the layers of dirt have come out.
“Once, I ran out of garbage enzyme as the next batch was not ready, so I used normal floor cleaner instead. I immediately felt the difference. I didn’t get that squeaky clean feeling. That meant the layer of dirt wasn’t removed. Some people have found the enzyme effective in removing clothes stains but it didn’t remove the blood stains from my bedsheets, though.
“My father threw the enzyme residue onto our potted plants and that kept ants away. I’ve also poured garbage enzyme down the drains and all the mould and stains came out. So I’m very happy with it. And it is one way to reduce kitchen waste.”
– Foong Pek Foong, corporate communications manager
“INSTEAD of discarding unwanted stuff, I’ve posted them at freecycle.com and give them away free. If you fancy someone else’s stuff in this website, you can ask for it. I’ve also sold some things very cheap at mudah.com.my, like my old blinds, for RM5. These are ways to ensure that the stuff ends up with someone who has a need for them instead of being junked.
“I’ve also cut down on electricity usage after switching to energy-efficient lights. This is reflected in the bill, which is about 10% less. I’ve also stopped using one air-conditioner (in the living room). After it got busted, my husband and I refused to replace it. We bought a small fan and use that on warm days.
“Composting has been an eye-opening experience for me. Like most people, I always thought it would be dirty, messy and troublesome. But it is not so, now that I’ve learnt how to do it. Done right, you won’t get problems like maggots or smells. My initial attempt failed as I forgot to turn the heap and it turned dry. Now, it has become a routine. I throw in waste every day and turn the heap every two weeks. I can even compost bones and meat.”
– Yasmin Rasyid, Ecoknights director
“LAST year, I conducted a campaign with 4,000 children in three schools to educate them about plastic bags and I’m planning to expand that campaign to eight schools this year. I’ve also attended a three-day training by Al Gore’s The Climate Project in Melbourne, in which we were trained to educate the public and to raise awareness about climate change.
“On a personal level, I’ve upgraded my home to be more eco-friendly. We’ve installed a rainwater catchment system, switched all our lights to energy-saving light bulbs and have improved the ventilation so we don’t have to use air-conditioning. We’re also in the process of installing solar PV panels.”
– Maya Karin, actress
“BECOMING a mother has triggered my desire to become more environmentally friendly. As a family, we have been taking various steps to green our lifestyle throughout the year … composting, eating less meat, growing our own vegetables, using washable diapers and green toiletries, recycling sump water from the water filter, feeding my pets raw food, not buying stuff with excessive packing or packed in polystyrene or plastic.
“We’ve also started communal eating, which is great. It seems the sensible and right thing to do, plus it is cheaper in the long run. It is also great for improving family ties and friendships.”
– Alicia Ling Horsley, pet boutique owner
“AMONG the simpler things I’ve been doing is using my own tumblers instead of PET (polyethylene terephthalate) bottles. I’m also active in various wildlife protection events, including community work at the National Zoo as a committee member of my school’s eco-wildlife action group.”
– Lim Yau Hui, student
“IT’S hard to be environmentally conscious when you’re around friends who don’t care as much as you do, so I’ve made an effort to get in touch with more like-minded people through various activities in MyCJN (Malaysian Youth Climate Justice Network) and Green Drinks. As a result, over the past year, I’ve been influenced by these friends to go vegetarian on weekdays.
“I’ve also been giving presentations to students on climate change, and getting people interested in environment-related events such as Earth Hour and Earth Day. These events are important because they help people take the first step towards being more aware.”
– Gan Pei Ling, student