2 Malaysian women show how easy it is to be eco-friendly in the kitchen

  • Living
  • Friday, 07 Aug 2020

Lau loves to use beeswax wraps as they help to retain the freshness of her fruits and vegetables. Photos: The Star/Muhamad Shahril Rosli

Whenever Lau Shu Ping goes to the wet market, she carries reusable containers and cloth bags in her 15-year-old rattan basket. The vegetarian declines to use plastic bags and gets traders to store vegetables and fruits in her containers.

“I always bring my grandmother’s 60-year-old tiffin carrier whenever I want to pack food. I can put all sorts of cooked food items, vegetables and dried fruits in the tiffin. It’s handy and it brings back fond memories of my grandmother, ” says Lau, 36, who also packs durian in a thick cloth or gunny sack, just like how her grandma used to.

Lau is among an increasing number of Malaysians who are going back to the basics and embracing a sustainable lifestyle to help protect the environment.

Lau carries her grandmother's 60-year-old tiffin carrier whenever she packs food. Photo: Lau Shu PingLau carries her grandmother's 60-year-old tiffin carrier whenever she packs food. Photo: Lau Shu Ping

These zero-waste practitioners refuse single-use plastics, avoid wastage and reuse items as much as possible.

For example, Lau prefers using a piece of cloth over paper towels to clean her kitchen. And instead of a dishwashing sponge, Lau uses a loofah.

“Loofah is a natural sponge from Mother Earth and unlike the dishwashing sponge, the loofah is compostable, ” says Lau, the founder of Kepong-based zero-waste shop Green Ideal Cottage.

She urges people to be more mindful of and respect the environment.

“We want many things but we don’t really need much. Lead a simple lifestyle and care for Mother Earth, ” says Lau, who is using a secondhand oven, which she bought online.

Over 300mil tonnes of plastic waste are produced worldwide each year, according to Our Planet Is Drowning In Plastic Pollution on www.unenvironment.org. WWF’s Plastic Packaging in South-east Asia and China report in 2020 found that Malaysia had the highest waste collection compared to Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia and China.

Also read: Proudly Malaysian, this certified sustainable homeware range helps you go greenMade from breathable materials, beeswax wraps help food remain fresher for longer periods.Made from breathable materials, beeswax wraps help food remain fresher for longer periods.

Beeswax wrap is a food wrap material consisting of a fabric, usually cotton, coated with food-grade beeswax, rosin and jojoba oil. The wrap is mouldable and can be shaped around jars, plates or bowls as covers or used directly to wrap food.

“Most of my students are surprised at how simple it is to make this reusable item. They also realise it is a better alternative to plastic wraps, ” says Lau.

These days, beeswax wraps are available in zero-waste shops and also online. Despite their benefits, they don’t come cheap. Usually sold in three sizes (small, medium and large), they have a price tag that ranges between RM30 and RM80.

The steep cost often gives the impression that eco-friendly living is a luxury only meant for the well-heeled.

Lau offers a solution; make your own wraps!

“It can be pricey especially if consumers are buying it in bulk. But those who are unwilling to fork out a lot of cash for beeswax wraps should try making them on their own. In the long run, it helps to reduce unnecessary waste and stretch your ringgit.”

In her beeswax-making workshops, Lau has encountered naysayers who were apprehensive about the sustainability of beeswax wraps.

“Some students pointed out that beeswax wraps were not as pliable as plastic and that it required maintenance. A few were worried whether they could contaminate food while others disliked the sticky texture, ” she says.

Cut fruits and vegetables store well in beeswax wraps.Cut fruits and vegetables store well in beeswax wraps.

However, Lau loves her beeswax wraps because she says they help keep food fresher and last longer.

“Beeswax wraps are made from breathable materials which help food remain fresher longer. I’ve kept sliced brinjal and avocado for days, and they did not oxidise, ” she says.

In general, she observes there is still a lack of knowledge among Malaysians about the importance of sustainability and adopting a zero-waste lifestyle.

“Only a small portion of Malaysians are interested in learning how to make these sustainable kitchen items, ” says Lau, who also makes her own dishwashing liquid from used cooking oil and multipurpose cleaners from garbage enzymes, made from organic food scraps like citrus peels and uncooked vegetables.

Gaining momentum

The kitchen is one place that everyone can practise environmentalism simply by reducing wastage as much as possible – whether it is by turning food waste into compost, stale bread into breadcrumbs or simply caring for kitchenware and electrical items so that they last longer.

Opting for cookware that is durable such as cast iron pots and pans, for example, is one way to reduce waste. While non-stick coated pans are a breeze to work with, they will break down, chip or wear away after a few years.

Another advocate of a sustainable lifestyle is Khor Sue Yee, co-founder of non-governmental organisation Zero Waste Malaysia (ZWM). Through ZWM – whose membership has ballooned to almost 34,000 since it was first set up as a Facebook group on Jan 1,2016 – Khor and her team continue to advocate a zero-waste lifestyle by introducing simple and practical habits people can follow.

Beeswax wraps help to lessen my carbon footprint,"Beeswax wraps help to lessen my carbon footprint," says Khor. Photo: Zero Waste MalaysiaAmong them are refusing single-use plastic items like straws, bags, cutlery and packaging.

Khor says whenever she needs to pack a sandwich or some dried fruits as a snack, she too opts for her trusty homemade beeswax wraps or Japanese furoshiki cloth to wrap dry food items.

“I usually pack dry food items in beeswax wraps whenever I am on the move, in between meetings, or when I go hiking.

“Beeswax wraps are lightweight, foldable and convenient. Plus, they help lessen my carbon footprint, ” says Khor, 28, who first started using the wraps in 2016.

“Plastic cling wrap is convenient, but it usually serves as a single-use product. We should all try to use sustainable items and rethink our habits for a more sustainable lifestyle, ” explains Khor, who was inspired to lead a zero-waste lifestyle by American environmentalist Lauren Singer.

“Four years ago, beeswax wraps weren’t readily available in Malaysia.

“Thankfully, there were many step-by-step tutorials on social media that taught me how to make them, ” says Khor.

With the world’s growing environmental problems, Lau hopes more consumers will lead a greener lifestyle.

“It isn’t difficult to make these changes. We need to start thinking of changing our habits and working towards sustainable living to protect our environment.

“Plastic can take years to decompose in landfills. There are many reports and videos on marine animals that die after ingesting plastic or getting entangled in it.

“Let’s lead a minimalist lifestyle and reduce unnecessary things in our homes, ” says Lau, who also offers workshops on making soaps and vegan skincare products.

Beeswax wraps can be made with a few items.Beeswax wraps can be made with a few items.

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