Sunday, April 15, 2012

Letter to the Director of Zoo Negara

Dr. Mohamad Ngah
Zoo Negara Malaysia

cc. Education Unit
Zoo Negara Malaysia

10th February 2012

Dear Sirs,


I have the good fortune of being a volunteer at Zoo Negara and am heartened and encouraged by the many improvements I see in Zoo Negara, including the fact that it is listed as the only Malaysian zoo that is party to the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA). The enrichment programmes at Zoo Negara and greater emphasis on natural history and conservation education are just two of the many things that make us, as Malaysians, increasingly proud of our national zoo.

What Zoo Negara lacks, however, is a willingness and conscious and concerted effort to phase out the use of styrofoam and polystyrene products at the Zoo. The Zoo has over 100 staff, all of whom work in sections equipped with sinks and water supply, yet their lunches are delivered to them daily in styrofoam packets and paper cups with plastic lids and straws. This means that over 3,000 pieces of styrofoam food packets are generated and disposed of each month by the staff of Zoo Negara itself. The concession stands and cafeterias also insist on serving food and beverages in disposable (mostly styrofoam) packaging or tableware. None of the concession stands have permanent tableware even for customers who wish to dine in.

It is for good reason that institutions, cities and countries around the world have banned or severely curtailed the use of polystyrene products. Polystyrene products today contain no chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) not due to any magnanimous initiative on the part of the plastics industry, but because of a worldwide ban on the ozone-depleting substance. However, polystyrene and plastics are still made from petroleum, a non-renewable, fast-disappearing and heavily polluting resource. Also, benzene, a material used in the production of polystyrene, is a known human carcinogen.

Considering the fact that styrofoam is widely-known to have been fatally ingested by wildlife and marine animals, it is unacceptable that Zoo Negara continues to use and create a significant market for styrofoam food packaging and tableware. Many zoos worldwide, including smaller zoos such as Zoo Melaka, have banned styrofoam products and even balloons and plastic bags from their premises due to the choking hazard they may present to animals, and also because the aforementioned products are known to be wasteful and harmful to the environment.

Polystyrene and styrofoam products, even when conscientiously disposed of in rubbish bins and bagged up for the landfill, still present an environmental hazard. It is precisely because of its lightness that polystyrene foam products end up becoming litter. Carried by wind and water, even the most scrupulously disposed of polystyrene foam product may end up in oceans, waterways and the digestive tracts of animals.

It is a myth that polystyrene products are environmentally safe simply because they are declared ‘recyclable’. Not only are there no facilities in Malaysia that will collect or accept polystyrene for recycling, it is common knowledge that polystyrene is not recycled once contaminated with food and dirt.

There are numerous zero-cost and low-cost measures that Zoo Negara could adopt to reduce the use of disposable packaging, reduce and manage waste and phase out the use of polystyrene/styrofoam packaging and tableware. As the Coordinator of the Green Living Special Interest Group of the Malaysian Nature Society, I would be most grateful if Zoo Negara would consider implementing the following recommendations:

(i) To cease providing lunch for the staff in styrofoam food packets and paper cups, and to require them to bring their own drinking water bottles and lunch containers instead. Each container can then be given a waterproof adhesive label with the name and department of the staff member. The staff should be requested to leave their food and water containers at the canteen or any other designated place when they arrive in the morning, and the food will be delivered to them at their respective stations during lunch hour, the same way delivery of the styrofoam food packets is carried out. Since all sections have sinks and running water supply, it should not be a problem for the staff to wash their food and beverage containers. In order to enforce this regulation, staff who forget to bring their containers will not have their food delivered to them, but will have to eat at the staff canteen on reusable, washable tableware.

(ii) To provide the option of eating on reusable, washable, permanent cups and tableware at all the F&B outlets in Zoo Negara.

(iii) To replace polystyrene and styrofoam packaging and disposable tableware with environmentally-acceptable disposable packaging, such as brown paper bags for snacks, paper cups for drinks, and biodegradable food packaging (e.g. EcoPak and packaging made of oil palm empty fruit bunches, sugarcane fibre or rice husks) for take-away food. The higher cost of the latter should be borne by the customers, who will be duly informed by written notices that there will be no extra charge if they were to eat in using washable tableware, but will be charged an additional sum of 20 - 50 sen should they opt to take away their food in biodegradable food packets. Notices and posters should be placed in strategic locations around the Zoo, especially at F&B outlets, on the environmental benefits of reducing waste and packaging, and on the harm caused to wildlife by foam products and plastic bags.

Whatever increase in water usage arising as a result of the implementation of these measures will be negligible, considering the savings in terms of the cost of purchasing and disposing of polystyrene, styrofoam and plastic products, and the water, energy and petroleum used in the production and manufacturing process and transportation of the said products anyway.

These measures, if implemented, are not only beneficial to wildlife and the environment, but also an excellent public relations and environmental education opportunity for Zoo Negara. Phasing out the use of polystyrene and styrofoam products and plastic bags would be in line with the objectives of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which include animal care and welfare, environmental education and global sustainability. Zoo Negara can only be a World-Class Zoo if we have a world-class staff and world-class society mentality. Phasing out the use of environmentally harmful products and reducing and managing waste would be a very positive and important step towards attaining this goal.

The Green Living Special Interest Group and the Malaysian Nature Society would be happy to discuss this matter with Zoo Negara and render all assistance necessary in this matter.

Kindly do not hesitate to contact us at should you require any clarification or assistance.

Thank you for your time and attention.

Serving Nature and our community,

Green Living Special Interest Group
Committee Member,
Malaysian Nature Society,
Selangor Branch

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