Thursday, April 26, 2012

Taking Action to Curb Climate Change

TAKING ACTION TO CURB CLIMATE CHANGE  
By Wong Ee Lynn 
Coordinator 
Green Living 
Special Interest Group 
Selangor Branch

Human well-being, we have learned, is linked more closely than most people realise to the great marine and terrestrial ecosystems. Carbon emissions must not exceed Nature's capacity to withdraw carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and neutralise the carbon. Carbon dioxide is part of life, yet rising carbon dioxide levels are implicated as the primary cause of climate change since 1950. In order to mitigate climate change-related environmental damage, our only hope is to ensure that emissions of CO2 from human activities are limited to levels that can be absorbed by trees and plants through photosynthesis. The Challenge: The world's inhabitants will need to find politically acceptable ways to reduce their CO2 emissions level by 80%.

Personal choices are not a substitute for political action. Global problems could only be comprehensively solved through actual reforms in public policies that engage most people and institutions. Similarly, however, political action is no substitute for leading lives that reflect our environmental values. As long as people keep buying energy guzzlers (e.g. big vehicles as status symbols, large mansions for small families), businesses and manufacturers will continue producing them. The following are commonsense actions each of us can take to effectively reduce greenhouse gas emissions from our homes, cars and businesses. These suggestions also happen to cut our expenses and improve our health and quality of life.  


INCREASING YOUR FUEL EFFICIENCY:
Every litre of fuel we burn releases approximately 2.6 kilograms of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. We can, however, significantly reduce our road transport emissions by planning our trips and errands and practicing efficient driving techniques.  

1. Observe the Speed Limit
Over 50% of the energy required to move a vehicle down the road is spent overcoming aerodynamic drag (pushing air out of the way). When driving faster, the aerodynamic drag and rolling resistance increase. Consequently, the fuel economy decreases rapidly at speeds above 60 mph.  

2. Overdrive Gears and Cruise Control
When using overdrive gears, it's possible to still drive at highway speeds, but the engine speed decreases. Overdrive gears reduce both fuel consumption and engine wear. Also, using cruise control on highway trips helps maintain a constant, steady speed rather than a variable speed and as a result helps reduce fuel consumption.

3. Anticipate Traffic Situations
Anticipating traffic conditions ahead and not tailgating can improve gas mileage by 5 to 10 percent. This driving strategy is not only safer, but also reduces wear on tyres and brakes. When driving in the city, nearly 50 percent of the energy needed to power a vehicle is for acceleration. Unnecessary braking wastes that energy. Avoid driving during rush hours. Leaving your home for the office half an hour earlier, and leaving the office only after the traffic jam has subsided, can help you make huge fuel savings.  

4. Avoid Unnecessary Idling
No matter how efficient the car is, unnecessary idling wastes fuel, costs money and pollutes the air. If waiting for more than a couple of minutes, turn off the engine. Also, do not leave the car idling while running into a store for a "quick" errand, as it is also an open invitation for auto theft.  

5. Carpooling, Mass Transit, People Power and Telecommuting
On one or more days a week consider: - Carpools and ride-share programs - Walking or biking to work - Telecommuting one or more days a week 6. Vacations A loaded roof rack can decrease fuel economy by as much as 5%. Therefore, to reduce the aerodynamic drag of these space savers and improve fuel economy, place items inside the trunk whenever possible.  

7. Tyre Maintenance
Be sure the tyres are properly inflated. Car manufacturers are required to place a label in the car stating the correct tyre pressure. This label may be found on the edge of the door or door jamb, in the glove box, or on the inside of the gas cap cover. If the label lists a psi range, use the higher number in order to maximize fuel efficiency. Under-inflated tyres cause fuel consumption to increase by as much as 6%, cause the tyres to wear quicker and can make it difficult to handle the vehicle. Be sure wheels are aligned and brakes are properly adjusted to minimize rolling resistance.  

8. Change Your Motor Oil and Air Filter Regularly
Changing the oil regularly will increase the life of the car's engine. Clean oil reduces wear caused by friction between moving parts and it removes harmful dirt and grit from the engine. The car's air filter keeps impurities in the air from damaging internal engine components. Not only will replacing a dirty air filter improve fuel economy, it will protect the engine. Clogged filters can cause up to a 10% increase in fuel consumption.  

9. Keep Your Engine Tuned
Studies have shown that, depending on a car's condition; a poorly tuned engine can increase fuel consumption by as much as 10-20 percent. Following the recommended maintenance schedule in the owner's manual will save fuel, help the car run better and last longer.  

ENERGY CONSERVATION AT HOME:
Households use over 1/5 of the total energy consumed in the country. An average suburban family creates 4.5 tons of carbon dioxide from home electricity use every year. Adopting these simple, low-cost energy conservation measures could reduce staggering amounts of carbon emissions.  

While Cooking:
1. Match the size of the gas ring to the size of the saucepan or you will be paying to heat air.
2. Put a lid on saucepans, so the contents heat quicker and you use less energy.
3. Pressure cookers and steamers are more efficient and allow you to cook several different foods on one ring. 4. Microwaves use less energy than ovens and do not require preheating.  

Electrical Appliances:
1. Don’t leave appliances like TVs, stereos, PCs and cordless phones on standby mode.
2. Unplug equipment once fully charged - e.g. mobile phones, shavers, batteries and electric toothbrushes - otherwise they keep drawing electricity.
3. Buy high quality appliances with Energy Star ratings. Cheap, generic appliances may appeal to the impulse buyer, but they use energy less efficiently and will cost you more money in the long run in terms of utility bills and the cost of repairs and replacements.  

Refrigeration:
1. Avoid leaving fridge doors open. Each minute the door is open takes three minutes of energy to cool down again.
2. Avoid putting hot or warm food straight into the fridge. Allow it to cool first.
3. Defrost your fridge regularly to keep it running efficiently and cheaply. If it seems to frost up quickly, check the door seal.
4. Keep the fridge in a cool room. Set temperatures accurately: Fridge 5°C; Freezer 18°C.  

Washing machine and dishwasher:
1. Wash on the low-temperature programme.
2. Try to have full loads when using the washing machine and dishwasher.  

Tumble dryer:
1. In sunny weather, dry your clothes outside and enjoy the fresh smell that only comes from line-dried clothes.
2. If you have to use a tumble dryer, don’t put very wet clothes inside. Wring them out or spin-dry them first.  

Lighting:
1. Keep window ledges clear of clutter to get the most daylight in your home. Pull curtains back during the day and keep plants trimmed so they don’t block incoming light. Keep bulbs and shades clean.
2. Turn off lights when not needed.
3. Dimmer switches reduce consumption and help create the lighting effect you want.
4. Fluorescent lights use less electricity than ordinary bulbs.
5. Energy saving light bulbs use 80% less than ordinary bulbs, and last ten times longer.
6. When away, outside lights can be arranged to come on automatically, instead of being left on permanently.
7. Light-coloured walls, ceilings and floors, as well as mirrors, reflect daylight, making maximum use of natural light.

REDUCING YOUR HOME COOLING LOAD:
Studies have shown that 42% of an average family's energy bill is spent to keep homes at a comfortable temperature. Strive to reduce the cooling load of your air-conditioning units by employing cost-effective conservation measures. The efficient cooling tips below save money and energy, and improve our comfort levels:
1. If possible, delay heat-generating activities like dishwashing and ironing until evening.
2. Keep the house shut tight during the day. Don't let in unwanted heat and humidity. Ventilate at night either naturally or with fans.
3. Install awnings on windows to provide shade.
4. Plant trees for shade around the house, especially as ‘sun-breakers’ outside windows.
5. If you absolutely need air conditioners, buy a high-efficiency air conditioner with Energy Star rating.
6. Your air-conditioner’s size and horsepower should be as according to your needs. When buying a new air conditioner, make sure it is not oversized.
7. Do not use a dehumidifier at the same time your air conditioner is operating. The dehumidifier will increase the cooling load and force the air conditioner to work harder.
8. To reduce energy wastage, seal all air conditioner ducts.
9. Keep the thermostat set at 78 degrees F or higher if using ceiling fans. Don't air-condition unused rooms.
10. Maintain your air conditioners properly to maximize efficiency. Clean the filters every month if you use it frequently. Normal dust build-up can reduce airflow by 1% per week.
11. Provide shade for your room air conditioner, or the outside half of your central air conditioner if at all possible. This will increase the unit's efficiency by 5 - 10%.
12. Install window shades or mini-blinds. Mini-blinds can reduce solar heat gain by 40-50%.  

CONCLUSION
It is crucial that each of us understand the role we have to play in tackling climate change. Climate change is a result not only of factory emissions and government logging concessions, but also of everyday actions such as switching on appliances and purchasing foam food packaging. All over the world today, communities and non-profit organisations have instituted climate change initiatives, while individuals have made behavioural modifications to reduce the impact of their daily habits on the environment. Our actions must be borne out of a deep personal conviction that what we do is meaningful and is crucial in the battle against environmental damage and degradation. Facing the challenge today will lead us into a cleaner, greener future tomorrow.

Composting At Home

COMPOSTING AT HOME
Up to 40% of household waste is kitchen and garden waste, ideal for composting. Making your own compost reduces the need to buy soil improvers and mulches. Applying homemade compost to your soil improves its quality and helps it to conserve moisture. Composting at home also reduces waste and so helps the environment.
1. Find a site for your compost bin. It should be placed directly onto the soil or grass. Your bin should not have a base. This is to enable the worms to get in and to let moisture drain away. It does not need to be placed in a sunny spot. It is more important to place it where you can get to it easily.
2. Enclosed bins will have a neater appearance, help keep out pests, and hold in heat and moisture. You can construct a wooden bin out of salvaged wood; create a three-sided enclosure using bricks or cinder blocks and leave the front open; or even drill holes in the bottom and sides of a garbage can or steel water drum.
3. Air and water are very important to the composting process. Lightly churn the bin contents every few weeks to let air in. The compost mixture should always look wet. If you think it is drying out, you can always water your bin to return it to its ‘wet’ state.
4. Fruit and vegetable peelings, tea bags, grass clippings, eggshells, dead plants, hedge trimmings, woody prunings, rabbit and guinea pig bedding, leaves and newspaper are ideal for composting. However, there are a few things that you should exclude such as cooked food, meat, fish, bones, dairy products, pet faeces, diseased plants, glossy or coloured paper/card.
5. Use the compost. About one month before planting, apply 1-3 inches of the finished compost and work it into the top four inches of soil. Compost can also be used in the garden as a top dressing or mulch throughout the summer. Screened through a ½" sieve, compost can be used to create a potting soil by combining equal parts of compost, sand and loam. Large particles can be put back in the compost pile.  

Tips:
1. Composting works best with a good mix of dry, tough materials with wet, sappy materials. Wet, sappy kitchen waste needs to be joined by drier types such as newspaper or hedge clippings to prevent the mixture from becoming slimy.
2. As a guide, it is best to use your bin a year before harvesting your compost. The compost you harvest will generally be the remains of the material you added during the first 6 months or so. Any material that is still recognisable can be put back into the bin to continue composting.
3. Composting should produce only a rich earthy smell. If a sharp ammonia smell is produced it is usually due to too much grass and not enough paper. Mix in some shredded paper to get it smelling sweet again.
4. To discourage flies, add a layer of soil to cover the bin contents. When the material is covered, the insects will disappear in a day or so. There is no need to add soil every time you add material, just do it when the flies appear.

Pesticides and Insecticides

POISONS IN YOUR HOME: PESTICIDES

When you spray pesticides to kill garden or household vermin, you're also exposing your children (and yourself) to these toxins. Think about it: These concoctions are designed to kill insects. Even if you use them as directed, they still have the potential to cause a wide range of health problems in people because of their toxicity.

Natural Alternatives to Pesticides:  
BASIC SOAP SPRAY RECIPE
Soap has been used for centuries as an all-purpose pesticide. It disrupts insects’ cell membranes, and kills pests by dehydration. The key is not to use too much soap, or you’ll also kill the vegetation near the pests. If you follow the proportions of soap to water in the Basic Soap Spray recipe, below, your garden would be fine. Note: Buy a liquid soap, NOT a detergent. Castille soap works best, although you could also buy liquid organic cleaners through direct sellers or in certain supermarkets and home stores.

Basic Soap Spray: 1 to 2 tablespoons liquid soap 1 quart water Combine ingredients in a bucket, mix, and then transfer to a spray bottle as needed.  

Garlic Variation:
1 to 2 heads garlic, chopped Enough boiling water to cover Put garlic in the bottom of a jar and cover with boiling water. Put lid on and allow to sit overnight, then strain and add garlic-water to the soap spray. This will decay, so be sure to freeze leftovers until ready to use again.  

Repelling Pests - Simple tips that will help repel biting and buzzing pests without using toxic products that can harm your health and the environment.
1. If you’re camping, bring along some coriander seed or lemon balm leaves to throw on the campfire. Both are great pest deterrents.
2. When you do the laundry, add a few drops of essential oil of lavender to the rinse water. You’ll think your clothes smell heavenly, but the pests won’t!
3. You can buy essential oils from most pharmacies and aromatherapy shops. These essential oils are good repellents for the following pests:
(i) Ticks: Rose Geranium, Palmerosa, bay, eucalyptus, European pennyroyal lavender, tickweed (American pennyroyal)
(ii) Mosquitoes: Pennyroyal, lemon balm (citronella), thyme, lavender
 (iii) Black flies: Sassafras, lavender, eucalyptus, pennyroyal, cedar, lemon balm (citronella), peppermint.
(iv) Head Lice: Tea tree, rosemary, lavender, eucalyptus, rose geranium.
(v) Fleas: Orange oil

Towards a Cleaner, Greener Home

TOWARDS A CLEANER, GREENER HOME  

Homemade duster
Make your own dusting cloths. Stir in one cup of lemon oil with two cups of hot water. Dip lint free cloth into the potion and let it air-dry. Then store the duster in a covered metal container until you're ready to dust. The oil picks up the dust and the lemon gives your dusting a fresh aroma.  

Shoe cleaning
A quick way to put a beautiful shine on your shoes is by rubbing them with a banana skin on black shoes or the soft side of a lemon skin on brown shoes.  

Cleaning a mirror
Dip a soft cloth in a weak solution of vinegar and water, and then wipe the mirror clean. This works better than commercial spray cleaners, which can leave a film or deposit.  

Cleaning filthy fridge seals and finishing off the exterior
The plastic seals of refrigerators can be wiped free of debris using a toothbrush with toothpaste. Mildly abrasive toothpaste helps to cleanse and brighten fridges without the scratching properties of most household cleansers. Apply liberally with the toothbrush and scrub until stains disappear. Then wash down with wet cloth and dry thoroughly. Failure to dry the seal properly will allow mould and mildew to grow, so finish the job by wiping the seal carefully with a dry, absorbent cloth. The sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) found in many toothpaste brands acts as a cleaning agent, which neutralizes acids. It is also an abrasive, which removes built-up dirt.  

Doing the dishes
Rinsing dishes before food residue hardens makes cleaning them easier and uses less detergent.

 Cleaning tiles
Most commercial tile cleaners do more harm than good because they contain chloride, a serious irritant to the eyes, nose and skin. Wipe or spray vinegar onto mould or mildew, leave overnight and scrub in the morning. Use a firm bristled brush.  

Clothes that need dry-cleaning
Try to buy items that do not require dry-cleaning, as most dry-cleaning solvents are toxic and have been identified as endocrine disrupters that have been linked to breast cancer. If you must dry-clean, air the clothes thoroughly before bringing them indoors. Many garments labelled "dry clean only" can be safely hand-washed using mild soap.  

Keeping drains clean and open
Your drains can be kept open, clean and odour-free without the use of corrosive drain cleaners. There are two simple rules: 1. Never pour grease down the drain 2. Always use a drain sieve. In addition, use this preventative measure for routine maintenance up to once a week. Pour ¼ cup bicarbonate of soda down the drain. Follow with ½ cup vinegar and plug the drain until fizzing stops. Flush with 4 litres of boiling water. If you have two sinks, plug one side before commencing the procedure. Also try this method if a clog does happen.  

Buying a carpet
When buying a carpet, choose natural materials such as cotton and wool over synthetics. Buy rugs and carpets that haven't been treated with insecticides and fungicides. When rugs are cleaned, make sure no pesticides are used. Avoid commercial products containing chlorine, formaldehyde and solvents such as trichloroethylene, methylene and nitrobenzene.  

Make your own natural antibacterial spray:
Mix 20 drops of pure essential oil of lavender and 1 cup water in a spray bottle and shake to blend. The essential oils of lavender and thyme are more antiseptic than phenol, the industry standard.  

Reusable and Unbleached
Store food in bowls or Tupperware that can be reused endlessly. Use unbleached coffee filters. Use waxed paper, as it is biodegradable, instead of foil and plastic wrap.  

Oil-Based vs Latex Paint
Oil-based paints are toxic. They cannot be thrown out in the trash, but require special "hazardous waste" handling available at only some recycling facilities. Use latex paint instead. To dispose of excess latex paint, leave the can uncovered to allow evaporation, then pull out the hardened paint and recycle the can. Never pour paint on the ground or wash brushes outside, as the runoff can contaminate groundwater.

Cool your home, naturally

COOL YOUR HOME, NATURALLY

Reduce the cooling load of your air-conditioning units by employing cost-effective conservation measures. Efficient cooling saves money and energy, and improves the quality of our lives.
1. If possible, delay heat-generating activities like dishwashing and ironing until evening.
2. Keep the house shut tight during the day. Don't let in unwanted heat and humidity. Ventilate at night either naturally or with fans.
3. Install awnings on windows to provide shade.
4. Plant trees for shade around the house, especially as ‘sun-breakers’ outside windows.
5. If you absolutely need air conditioners, buy a high-efficiency air conditioner with Energy Star rating.
6. Your air-conditioner’s size and horsepower should be as according to your needs. When buying a new air conditioner, make sure it is not oversized.
7. Do not use a dehumidifier at the same time your air conditioner is operating. The dehumidifier will increase the cooling load and force the air conditioner to work harder.
8. To reduce energy wastage, seal all air conditioner ducts.
9. Keep the thermostat set at 78 degrees F or higher if using ceiling fans. Don't air-condition unused rooms.
10. Maintain your air conditioners properly to maximize efficiency. Clean the filters every month if you use it frequently. Normal dust build-up can reduce airflow by 1% per week.
11. Provide shade for your room air conditioner, or the outside half of your central air conditioner if at all possible. This will increase the unit's efficiency by 5 - 10%.
12. Install window shades or mini-blinds. Mini-blinds can reduce solar heat gain by 40-50%.

Fuel Economy Tips

BE FUEL-SMART!

Simply practicing efficient driving techniques can improve fuel economy.  

Observe the Speed Limit
Over 50% of the energy required to move a vehicle down the road is spent overcoming aerodynamic drag (pushing air out of the way). When driving faster, the aerodynamic drag and rolling resistance increase. Consequently, the fuel economy decreases rapidly at speeds above 60 mph.  

Overdrive Gears and Cruise Control
When using overdrive gears, it's possible to still drive at highway speeds, but the engine speed decreases. Overdrive gears reduce both fuel consumption and engine wear. Also, using cruise control on highway trips helps maintain a constant, steady speed rather than a variable speed and as a result helps reduce fuel consumption.  

Anticipate Traffic Situations
Anticipating traffic conditions ahead and not tailgating can improve gas mileage by 5 to 10 percent. This driving strategy is not only safer, but also reduces wear on tyres and brakes. When driving in the city, nearly 50 percent of the energy needed to power a vehicle is for acceleration. Unnecessary braking wastes that energy. Avoid driving during rush hours. Leaving your home for the office half an hour earlier, and leaving the office only after the traffic jam has subsided, can help you make huge fuel savings.  

Avoid Unnecessary Idling
No matter how efficient the car is, unnecessary idling wastes fuel, costs money and pollutes the air. If waiting for more than a couple of minutes, turn off the engine. Also, do not leave the car idling while running into a store for a "quick" errand, as it is also an open invitation for auto theft.  

Carpooling, Mass Transit, People Power and Telecommuting
On one or more days a week consider: - Carpools and ride-share programs - Walking or biking to work - Telecommuting one or more days a week  

Vacations
A loaded roof rack can decrease fuel economy by as much as 5%. Therefore, to reduce the aerodynamic drag of these space savers and improve fuel economy, place items inside the trunk whenever possible.  

Tyre Maintenance
Be sure the tyres are properly inflated. Car manufacturers are required to place a label in the car stating the correct tyre pressure. This label may be found on the edge of the door or door jamb, in the glove box, or on the inside of the gas cap cover. If the label lists a psi range, use the higher number in order to maximize fuel efficiency. Under-inflated tyres cause fuel consumption to increase by as much as 6%, cause the tyres to wear quicker and can make it difficult to handle the vehicle. Be sure wheels are aligned and brakes are properly adjusted to minimize rolling resistance.  

Change Your Motor Oil and Air Filter Regularly
Changing the oil regularly will increase the life of the car's engine. Clean oil reduces wear caused by friction between moving parts and it removes harmful dirt and grit from the engine. The car's air filter keeps impurities in the air from damaging internal engine components. Not only will replacing a dirty air filter improve fuel economy, it will protect the engine. Clogged filters can cause up to a 10% increase in fuel consumption.  

Keep Your Engine Tuned
Studies have shown that, depending on a car's condition; a poorly tuned engine can increase fuel consumption by as much as 10-20 percent. Following the recommended maintenance schedule in the owner's manual will save fuel, help the car run better and last longer.

Energy Conservation Tips

BE ENERGY-SMART!  

While Cooking:
1. Match the size of the gas ring to the size of the saucepan or you will be paying to heat air.
2. Put a lid on saucepans, so the contents heat quicker and you use less energy.
3. Pressure cookers and steamers are more efficient and allow you to cook several different foods on one ring.
4. Microwaves use less energy than ovens.  

Electrical Appliances:
1. Don’t leave appliances like TVs, stereos, PCs and cordless phones on standby mode.
2. Unplug equipment once fully charged - e.g. mobile phones, shavers, batteries and electric toothbrushes - otherwise they keep drawing electricity.
3. Buy high quality appliances with Energy Star ratings. Cheap, generic appliances may appeal to the impulse buyer, but they use energy less efficiently and will cost you more money in the long run in terms of utility bills and the cost of repairs and replacements.  

Refrigeration:
1. Avoid leaving fridge doors open. Each minute the door is open takes three minutes of energy to cool down again.
2. Avoid putting hot or warm food straight into the fridge. Allow it to cool first.
3. Defrost your fridge regularly to keep it running efficiently and cheaply. If it seems to frost up quickly, check the door seal.
4. Keep the fridge in a cool room. Set temperatures accurately: Fridge 5°C; Freezer 18°C.  

Washing machine and dishwasher:
1. Wash on the low-temperature programme.
2. Try to have full loads when using the washing machine and dishwasher.  

Tumble dryer:
1. In sunny weather, dry your clothes outside and enjoy the fresh smell that only comes from line-dried clothes.
2. If you have to use a tumble dryer, don’t put very wet clothes inside. Wring them out or spin-dry them first.  

Lighting:
1. Keep window ledges clear of clutter to get the most daylight in your home. Pull curtains back during the day and keep plants trimmed so they don’t block incoming light. Keep bulbs and shades clean.
2. Turn off lights when not needed.
3. Dimmer switches reduce consumption and help create the lighting effect you want.
4. Fluorescent lights use less electricity than ordinary bulbs.
5. Energy saving light bulbs use 80% less than ordinary bulbs, and last ten times longer.
6. When away, outside lights can be arranged to come on automatically, instead of being left on permanently.
7. Light-coloured walls, ceilings and floors, as well as mirrors, reflect daylight, making maximum use of natural light.

Water Conservation Tips

BE WATER-SMART!

In The Bathroom:
1. Install a low-flow toilet or a dual flush system.
2. Take shorter showers. Turn the water off while soaping and turn it back on to rinse.
3. When brushing teeth, turn the water off until it is time to rinse.
4. When washing hands, turn the water off while soaping and turn it on again to rinse.
5. When shaving, fill the sink with hot water instead of letting the water run continuously.
6. Test toilets for leaks. Add a few drops of food colouring or a dye tablet to the water in the toilet tank, but do not flush the toilet. Wait a few minutes to see if the colouring appears in the bowl. If so, the toilet has a silent leak that needs to be repaired.
7. Use a toilet tank water displacement device, such as a toilet dam or bag. Also, a plastic bottle can be filled with stones or with water, recapped, and placed in the toilet tank. These devices will reduce the volume of water in the tank but will still provide enough for flushing. (Bricks are not recommended as they eventually crumble and can damage the flushing mechanism.) Displacement devices are not recommended for use with newer low-flow toilets.
8. Never use the toilet as a trash can to dispose of bugs, cigarette butts, or other items. Unnecessary flushing wastes water and places an unnecessary burden on sewage treatment plants and septic tanks.  

In The Kitchen:
1. Never run the dishwasher without having a full load.
2. Think “conservation” when working in the kitchen. Small water savings, such as not making too much coffee or letting ice cubes melt in a sink, can add up over time.
3. Only fill the kettle with the water you need.  

In The Laundry:
1. Wash only a full load when using the washing machine. It takes about 32 to 59 gallons of water per load!  

Outdoors:
1. Water plants early in the morning during the hot season to reduce evaporation loss.
2. Consider use of drip irrigation for bedded plants, trees, or shrubs.
3. Do not over-water or water too frequently.
4. Use mulches to help reduce soil moisture loss.
5. Do not "sweep" the driveway or sidewalk with water from the hose. Use a broom instead.
6. Use a bucket of soapy water and use the hose only for rinsing when washing the car.
7. Mow your lawn no shorter than 3 inches. Taller grass needs less water and fewer fertilizers and herbicides.

The 3Rs: Reusing

Reusing - What You Can Do:

• Reuse keeps goods and materials out of the waste stream.
• Reuse creates less air and water pollution than making a new item or recycling.
• Reuse results in less hazardous waste.
• Reuse saves money in purchases and disposal costs.

1. Go through your house for things you no longer want, use, or love, but which is still in usable condition. You could either donate them to a good cause, or put them up for sale at a garage sale, flea market or car boot sale.
2. Many charitable organisations like the SPCA, MNS and YMCA may want reusable items for their jumble sales to raise funds for their projects. Other welfare homes will need clothes, household appliances and other items suited to the needs and ages of the people they provide shelter for. The Malaysian Red Crescent Society may want clean, usable clothes for disaster victims and displaced families. Your local café, family clinic or hair salon may welcome your old magazines and comic books, and your local library or community centre may have a need for your old books. Give these organisations a call and see if they have storage facilities for the items you would like to contribute.

3. Shop wisely to save resources. Can the container be easily recycled or reused? Will a larger container reduce the amount of packaging and perhaps cost less per serving? Is everything that can be recycled being recycled?

4. Find a use for an existing item - like decorating a paper bag and using it as a gift bag instead of buying wrapping paper; putting leftovers into a clean container from some other food; turning a used box into storage; saving desiccant / silica gel packets from vitamin bottles to use as closet dehumidifiers, decorating a can to hold pencils; saving packing peanuts and boxes and using them the next time you need to ship something or give a gift.

5. Instead of buying these items new, save and reuse all: bags (plastic and paper), rubber bands, twist ties, boxes, and packaging material. 6. Create and use note pads from once-used paper and leave messages for family members/roommates on a reusable message board.

The 3Rs: Reducing

REDUCE!

The critical first step of waste prevention has been overshadowed by a focus on end-of-line waste management (i.e. recycling). Please help us promote a greater awareness of the importance of the "Reduce" part of the 3Rs.

MY REDUCE, REUSE & RECYCLE CHECKLIST
1.       BRING MY OWN SHOPPING BAG WHEN I GO SHOPPING
2.       BRING MY OWN FOOD CONTAINER WHEN I TAKE AWAY FOOD
3.       BRING MY OWN DRINKING WATER IN A BOTTLE WHENEVER I GO OUT.
4.       USE HANDKERCHIEF INSTEAD OF TISSUE PAPER FOR DRYING MY HANDS, ETC.
5.       MAKE MEMO PADS FROM USED PAPER RATHER THAN BUY POST-ITS, MEMO PADS OR NOTEBOOKS.
6.       NOT BUY PIRATED GOODS OR CHEAP, SUBSTANDARD ELECTRICAL APPLIANCES.
7.       TAKE GOOD CARE OF MY MOBILE PHONE AND ELECTRICAL APPLIANCES RATHER THAN KEEP REPLACING BROKEN APPLIANCES.
8.       BRING MY FAMILY TO PLAYGROUNDS OR NATURE PARKS RATHER THAN SHOPPING MALLS.
9.       PRACTICE ONE “BUY NOTHING DAY” A MONTH.
10.    BRING MY OWN PACKED LUNCH, DRINK AND SNACKS TO WORK OR SCHOOL SO I WILL NOT BUY EXPENSIVE, HEAVILY PACKAGED FOOD AND DRINK.
11.    GIVE FRUITS AS FESTIVE GIFTS WHEN VISITING FRIENDS AND FAMILY INSTEAD OF HEAVILY PACKAGED SWEET TREATS.
12.    SAVE AND REUSE ALL OR MOST OF: WRAPPING PAPER, CELLOPHANE WRAP, RIBBONS, TWIST TIE, ENVELOPES, PAPER BAGS AND RUBBER BANDS.
13.    SHARE MY MEAL WITH A FRIEND OR BRING HOME THE LEFTOVERS RATHER THAN WASTE FOOD.
14.    FIND NEW HOUSEHOLD USES FOR JARS, PLASTIC CONTAINERS, ENVELOPES AND OTHER ITEMS BEFORE I DISPOSE OF THEM OR PUT THEM IN THE RECYCLING BIN.
15.    FIND BUSINESSES THAT WILL REPAIR MY APPLIANCES AND FURNITURE, OR REFILL PRINTER CARTRIDGES AND OTHER CONTAINERS, BEFORE I THROW AWAY MY OLD ITEMS AND REPLACE THEM WITH NEW ONES.
16.    SUPPORT LOCAL CHARITIES BY DONATING MY OLD CLOTHES, TOYS AND ELECTRICAL APPLIANCES TO RELEVANT ORGANISATIONS.
17.    REDUCE MY WASTE TO SUCH AN EXTENT THAT I ONLY HAVE TO TAKE THE GARBAGE OUT 1 DAY A WEEK OR LESS.
18.    DISCONTINUE UNNECESSARY MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTIONS AND READ ONLINE OR AT THE PUBLIC LIBRARY INSTEAD. SHARE MY READING MATERIALS WITH MY FRIENDS AND COLLEAGUES, AND DONATE OLD MAGAZINES TO MY CLINIC OR HAIR SALOON.
19.    SET UP A COMPOST PIT/HEAP FOR MY GARDEN AND KITCHEN WASTE.
20.    REPLACE DISPOSABLE PARTYWARE WITH PERMANENT TABLEWARE AND CUTLERY, AND PAPER KITCHEN TOWELS WITH DISHCLOTHS AND RAGS.
21.    SWITCH TO BAR SOAP. BAR SOAP HAS LESS PACKAGING WASTE AND IS LESS EXPENSIVE THAN LIQUID SOAP IN BOTTLES WITH PUMP DISPENSERS. IF USING LIQUID SOAP, BUY BULK REFILL RATHER THAN INDIVIDUAL BOTTLES.
22.    DILUTE OR USE LESS OF DETERGENTS, SOAPS AND SHAMPOOS. USING LESS MEANS I WILL NEED LESS WATER FOR RINSING AND WILL GENERATE LESS PACKAGING BECAUSE I WILL NOT HAVE TO REPLACE OR REFILL THESE ITEMS FREQUENTLY.
23.    HOLD A JUMBLE OR YARD SALE TO SELL MY UNWANTED BUT USABLE ITEMS. (NOTE: YOU CAN ALSO HOLD A JUMBLE SALE VIA E-MAIL BY LISTING ITEMS, USUALLY BOOKS, CDS AND CAMPING OR PHOTOGRAPHY EQUIPMENT, FOR SALE AND FORWARDING IT TO FRIENDS.)
24.    TAKE PUBLIC TRANSPORT TO WORK/SCHOOL. THIS WILL REDUCE MY FUEL CONSUMPTION AND MAINTENANCE COSTS, E.G. WEAR & TEAR OF TYRES AND CAR PARTS.
25.    BUY ONLY RELEVANT GIFTS THAT WILL BE APPRECIATED. IF UNSURE, I WILL ASK THE GIFT RECIPIENT MYSELF OR CHECK WITH HIS/HER FAMILY & FRIENDS.
26.    SWITCH TO PRODUCTS WITH A HIGH RECYCLED CONTENT. THIS WILL ENCOURAGE MANUFACTURERS TO CONSERVE NATURAL RESOURCES AND SUPPORT THE RECYCLING INDUSTRY.
27.    USE IN-SOLES IN MY NEW SHOES AND HAVE THE COBBLER FIT EXTRA SOLES, IF POSSIBLE. THIS WILL MAKE MY SHOES LAST MUCH LONGER.
28.    REDUCE PAPER WASTE AT HOME / OFFICE BY NOT PRINTING UNNECESSARY DOCUMENTS, AND AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE BY PRINTING ON ONCE-USED PAPER OR ON BOTH SIDES OF PAPER.
29.    TRY HOLIDAYING AT A LOCAL DESTINATION OR VACATIONING AT HOME, E.G. SPEND A WEEK VOLUNTEERING FOR A WORTHY CAUSE OR RELAXING WITH THE FAMILY. THIS WILL CUT DOWN ON MY SPENDING, PURCHASING OF UNNECESSARY SOUVENIRS AND THE HIGH FUEL CONSUMPTION OF AIR TRAVEL.
30.    AVOID GOING SHOPPING WHILE HUNGRY OR DEPRESSED BECAUSE THOSE ARE TIMES WHEN CONSUMERS ARE MOST VULNERABLE TO IMPULSE SPENDING.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

GREEN LIVING ADVOCACY:
LETTER TO THE EDITOR
PROVIDE FACILITIES FOR THE DISPOSAL OF ELECTRONIC WASTE




Earth Hour was observed on March 31st by people across the country who profess concern for the environment and climate change. However, the fleeting and superficial nature of the event makes it of dubious educational and practical value. Several organisations and corporate entities, however, must be commended for implementing environmentally responsible initiatives that go beyond the hour-long festivities. This includes HSBC's used battery collection programme (Metro, 30th March), scheduled to run until June 5.



The predicament of the public now, however, is where to dispose of used batteries for recycling after this programme ends. It is common knowledge that batteries contain heavy metals such as mercury, lead, cadmium, and nickel, which can contaminate the environment when batteries are improperly disposed of. When incinerated, certain metals could be released into the air or can concentrate in the ash produced by the combustion process.



The disposal of electronic waste (e-waste) such as dry cell batteries and light bulbs has been a perennial problem for ordinary citizens trying to find a solution to e-waste management. The Green Living Special Interest Group of the Malaysian Nature Society collects used batteries from the public but faces problems trying to locate a facility willing to accept them for reclamation, recycling, or safe disposal. The only authorised scheduled waste contractor in the country is unwilling to agree to anything other than a one-off collection as a goodwill gesture. Unlicensed "recycling" outfits which claim to "recycle" computers and other electronic waste items more often than not strip and recover only valuable metals from the electronic products and dispose of the rest of the items in the trash, where they invariably end up in landfills. It is ironic that the Ministry of Housing and Local Government claims that Malaysians do not recycle enough, yet when initiatives are made by environmental organisations to collect electronic waste and hazardous household waste for recycling or safe disposal, no corporate or governmental entity is able to offer a solution.



We would strongly urge the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment to implement measures to streamline and increase the recycling and safe disposal of electronic waste. These measures would include:

1. Phasing out the use of mercury-containing batteries through legislation;

2. Ensuring uniformity in the collection, storage and transportation of batteries and hazardous waste;

3. Requiring manufacturers to provide facilities for the collection of used batteries and electronic products for recycling, and instituting “producer take-back” measures;

4. Providing facilities to collect electronic waste and hazardous household waste, including batteries, electrical appliances, light bulbs, paint and chemicals, at accessible locations, such as in front of local council buildings and residents' associations’ buildings.



In the meantime, the public would be well-advised to reduce the number of batteries entering the waste stream by not purchasing unnecessary battery-operated products and by purchasing and using rechargable batteries instead of single-use batteries.



Keeping toxic metals and environmental pollutants out of our waste stream and thus our air, soil and water should be a national health and safety concern, and not merely a month-long Earth Hour corporate social responsibility project.


Wong Ee Lynn
Coordinator, Green Living Special Interest Group,
Malaysian Nature Society


(Note to MNS Members: HSBC Malaysia is collecting used batteries at selected branches nationwide from now until June 5, including at its head office at HSBC North Tower, No 2 Leboh Ampang, 50100 Kuala Lumpur.)

Domestic Cleaning Robots and Energy Efficiency

Pencinta Alam April 2012
Green Living Column

DOMESTIC CLEANING ROBOTS AND ENERGY EFFICIENCY

By Wong Ee Lynn




An increasing number of homeowners and consumers have purchased or are considering purchasing robotic vacuum cleaners and floor-cleaning robots. While some may argue that it is greener to do everything by hand, this may not be an option for many people due to time constraints and the unavaibility of domestic help and cleaning agencies. Sometimes vacuuming (instead of sweeping) can also be a necessity for those with allergies or asthma. Taking into consideration the number of people who have already acquired domestic robots or who are planning to get one anyway, what can we do to reduce the energy use of these robots so that they do not use electricity excessively?

1. The most important step in any attempt to live a more environmentally-responsible lifestyle is always to REDUCE. If you have a maid or a cleaning service, or if you have the time to do all your housework on your own and do not need a cleaning robot, don't buy one. If you do buy one, use it only when necessary. Do not feel tempted to run your cleaning robot every day just because you have one. If previously you cleaned your floor only once a week, then you should stick to your routine and operate your cleaning robot only once a week or only when necessary.

2. How do you choose a cleaning robot? Pick a model from a reputable manufacturer. It should come with a warranty and an energy efficiency assurance. Do not purchase cheap cleaning robots of dubious brands as these usually fail to perform well, use excessive electricity and end up breaking down easily. Go online to read user reviews to get a more objective view of particular models. Since good quality robotic vacuums work close to the floor, they need less vacuuming power, such that the suction power rarely exceeds 60W, whilst other systems including conventional vacuums can consume as much as about 300 watts. The better quality robotic vacuum cleaners may also be made of lightweight yet durable plastic, which reduces the energy needed to run it and propel it across the floor. If possible, pick a cleaning robot with a navigation system, as it will clean more thoroughly and systematically. Most conventional cleaning robots have a random cleaning pattern
where they move into a straight line until they bump into a hard surface, after which they will move in the opposite direction. These also clean along walls and furniture by detecting edges and stairs. The cleaning robots with a random cleaning pattern may end up cleaning the same place 2 - 3 times or missing certain areas entirely. A cleaning robot with a navigation system, on the other hand, will map out the room and clean it systematically, usually in a "barcode" or "combing" pattern, which ensures that it does not miss any spots and does not clean and area more than once.

3. Commercials and YouTube videos often show cleaning robots hard at work while you are away or asleep. However, this is not an energy efficient practice. You should be at home and awake but working on something else while the cleaning robot is at work, as it may get stuck on rugs, mats, cables or low furniture. Also, as explained earlier, cleaning robots with a random cleaning pattern may end up cleaning the same place several times or missing certain spots. When this happens, you should switch the robot off, move it to the area you wish it to clean, and start the robot again. You may think that this does not result in the flexibility and time savings you believe a cleaning robot would afford you, but all it takes is a little adjustment. For example, operate your cleaning robot while you are doing the laundry, cooking or working on your computer, so you can keep an eye on your cleaning robot from time to time.

4. Switch off the charger once the battery of your cleaning robot is fully charged. Do not leave the battery on to overcharge. Also, try not to use the docking function where a cleaning robot will automatically go to its charging dock once its battery is low, because it means you will have to leave the charger on the whole time, charging nothing but the air, while your robot is running. Further, try not to use the function which enables your robot to automatically detach itself from its charging dock and resume cleaning once its battery is fully charged. This is because the robot does not know which room it was last in, and will randomly clean the room that it is currently in. At the point the robot detaches itself from its charging dock, the charger is still on and will continue heating the air and wasting electricity. Be efficient, just as you would while sweeping and mopping the floor manually. Follow a routine: Remove rugs, cables and other obstacles
from the floor before you run your cleaning robot, run the robot in each room, empty out the waste bin and clean the air filter and then charge the battery. Once the battery is full, switch off the charger.

5. Your cleaning robot can get snagged in cables and rugs or stuck in railings and under low furniture such as couches. Tidy up the room you want your robot to clean before you switch the robot on. Be within earshot so that you can free your robot if it gets stuck or snagged. This isn't an onerous burden, as it is something one can easily do even while watching television or working on the computer.

6. Remember to read your owner's manual on the maintenance of your cleaning robot. After each vacuuming session, detach the waste bin, air filter and brush for cleaning. This prevents the brush and vacuum vents from becoming clogged up with dust and hair. Just as we need to keep the air filters in our cars and air conditioning units clean to improve efficiency, our cleaning robots could do with cleaner air filters, too. For floor washing or mopping robots, don't forget to clean the mopping pads, water tank and cleaning solution tank after use.

Technology can improve our lives and make things so much more efficient and enjoyable, if we take the correct measures to look after the things we own and use. Like all electrical appliances, a little effort on the owner's part can make cleaning robots so much more efficient and reduce wear-and-tear.

Letter to the Director of Zoo Negara

Dr. Mohamad Ngah
Director,
Zoo Negara Malaysia

cc. Education Unit
Zoo Negara Malaysia

10th February 2012

Dear Sirs,

PHASING OUT THE USE OF POLYSTYRENE AND STYROFOAM PRODUCTS AT ZOO NEGARA

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 gl.mnselangor@yahoo.com should you require any clarification or assistance.

Thank you for your time and attention.

Serving Nature and our community,


WONG EE LYNN
Coordinator,
Green Living Special Interest Group
and
Committee Member,
Malaysian Nature Society,
Selangor Branch

Basic Green Living Resolutions for 2012

PENCINTA ALAM JANUARY 2012
GREEN LIVING COLUMN

BASIC GREEN LIVING RESOLUTIONS FOR 2012:

By Wong Ee Lynn


1. Pledge to REDUCE CONSUMPTION AND WASTE. Look at your purchases for the last 6 months and decide what purchases were unnecessary and should be reduced or eliminated in the coming year. Shop less and do more. Observe Buy Nothing Day at least once a month. Choose products with the least packaging. Reduce food wastage by using up food before they go bad, relying on a shopping list and keeping track of leftovers and items in your fridge and pantry. Join a library. Read magazines and newspapers online. Have your bills, invoices and newsletters sent to you via email and terminate the hard copy subscription for the same. Try to reduce your waste to the point that you only need to take out the trash once a week. Separate and recycle discarded items. Set up a compost bin for garden and kitchen waste. Reuse, recycle, repair and refurbish whenever possible. Set goals for yourself -- for example, if you enjoy shopping, try going one month without purchasing a new
item of clothing. Then gradually increase it to 2 months, and then 3. Bring your own drinking water, food containers and shopping bags whenever you go out.

2. Pledge to REDUCE ELECTRICITY USAGE. Have a look at your current electricity bill. Set yourself the goal of reducing it by 10% by the following month. Switch off appliances at the source and when not in use. Don't leave chargers on once an appliance has finished charging. Reduce the usage of air conditioning units. Adjust the temperature on your air-conditioning units and refrigerators. Have faulty refrigerator door seals replaced. Do not buy substandard and unnecessary electrical appliances and gadgets. Reduce the amount of time you spend watching television or playing video/computer games. Opt for non-electronic weighing scales, exercise equipment and household equipment.

3. Pledge to REDUCE WATER WASTAGE. Have a look at your current water bill. Set yourself the goal of reducing it by 10% by the following month. Repair leaky taps and pipes. Do not leave taps running when doing cleaning chores, showering or brushing your teeth. Collect rainwater for use. Reuse water used for soaking vegetables and rice grains for watering the plants. Use less detergent when doing housework, so you will need less water for rinsing. Do not use the toilet flush to dispose of rubbish. Use a broom and dustpan, and not running water from the hose, to clean your driveway and porch. Run your washing machine and dishwasher only on a full load.

4. Pledge to INCREASE FUEL ECONOMY. Collect your fuel receipts for the past week. Set yourself the goal of reducing it by 10% by the following month. Cut down on unnecessary trips, and combine errands and trips whenever possible. Take public transport or walk and cycle to as many destinations as you can. Do not leave your engine idling while waiting. Switch off your engine if you are going to have to wait for more than 2 minutes. Clear your car of unnecessary weight by removing items you do not need. Keep your car well-serviced and get the necessary maintenance work done. Check your oil and water levels at least once a week to ensure your car performs at optimum level and to reduce wear and tear. Plan your trips so that you do not get stuck in peak hour traffic.

5. Pledge to LEAD A LESS TOXIC LIFESTYLE. Be knowledgeable about the products you are purchasing. Opt for biodegradable cleaning solutions and personal care products, especially those made using natural ingredients. Eliminate the use of chemical pesticides and insecticides, and replace them with natural essential oils such as citronella and lemongrass. Do not use herbicides in your garden, but apply rock salt to weed-prone areas instead. Replace chemical disinfectants and deodorisers with tea tree oil, lavender oil or peppermint oil. Purchase a multi-purpose organic cleaning agent to use for different purposes (e.g. cleaning the bathroom, mopping the floor, cleaning the windows) instead of one cleaning agent for each purpose. Better yet, make your own cleaning agents out of plant enzymes, vinegar or baking soda. Deodorise your car or bathroom with sliced lime, pandan leaves or unwrapped bars of natural soap, instead of with chemical deodorisers.


6. Pledge to VOLUNTEER MORE. Read your newspapers and NGO newsletters to keep yourself informed of volunteer opportunities. Contact the organisers as soon as you can confirm your participation so that they will be able to include you in carpooling arrangements. Be a sensible and helpful volunteer -- Wear appropriate clothes and bring your own drinking water, medication or first aid kit and sunblock if necessary. Find out more about the work you are expected to assist with so you know what to expect, how to get to the destination, and what skills you are able to offer. Some NGOs, residents' associations, animal shelters and other facilities require volunteers on a regular basis, for example, to provide tuition classes for underprivileged children, to sort out recyclables, to do paperwork and data entry or to carry out animal care work. Determine the amount of time you are able to devote and include it in your schedule. Have the self-discipline to turn up
at the same time on a regular basis and complete a certain amount of work (e.g. Provide 2 hours of tuition? Collect 10 bags of rubbish? Bathe 10 animals? Clean a particular facility? Plant 50 trees?) before you leave.

7. STICK AT IT -- The most important resolution you can make is to remain determined to carry through with all the resolutions you have made. If you have slipped once or twice, try to get back on track as soon as you can. Ultimately, even the best of intentions will amount to nothing if you are unable to follow up with measurable action.

Drafting An Effective Letter to the Editor

PENCINTA ALAM OCT 2011, GREEN LIVING COLUMN

GREEN LIVING ADVOCACY: DRAFTING AN EFFECTIVE LETTER TO THE EDITOR

By Wong Ee Lynn



(This blogpost has been published as a 3-part series in the Malaysian Nature Society monthly newsletter. All rights reserved by author alone.)


Much as Green Living is about sharing and disseminating information on environmentally responsible choices and putting these choices into daily practice, we must understand that lifestyle changes must go hand-in-hand with political advocacy. It is important to live a lifestyle that is consistent with our environmental values. It is hypocritical, for instance, to call for a ban on the construction of new dams when we fail to manage and reduce our water and energy use. But personal lifestyle changes alone cannot be a substitute for political action. As environmentalists and concerned citizens, we should all strive to keep ourselves informed on environmental issues and to be able to articulate our grievances and ideas in a way that is meaningful.

For many people who have never drafted a letter to the editor, this can seem like a daunting and time-consuming task. But like any other undertaking in life, a bit of planning, a fair amount of research and a good deal of determination is all it takes before you become a regular writer of letters to the editor. Letters to the editor vary greatly in quality. Some are forgotten almost as soon as they are read, some need to be refuted, some are impressive in their pomp and some are worth a second read. If you are a beginner, here are some basic pointers on how to draft a letter to the editor that is more likely to be published and therefore more likely to be read and considered by those with the political and economic leverage to make necessary changes:

1. HIT THE GROUND RUNNING WITH YOUR INTRODUCTION

If you are quoting a newspaper report, article or someone else’s letter to the editor, try not to start your letter with “I refer to your report, XXXX, dated XXXX” or a similarly predictable and bland opening line. Make a stand from the beginning. Let your reader know, in the same sentence that you are bringing their attention to another article, whether you are for or against the article you cited.

Examples of statements that express agreement include: “I concur with the views of…” and “I commend the XXX State Government for…”. Examples of statements that express disagreement include: “I was disappointed to read that the Federal Government has approved plans to....” and “The National Solid Waste Management Policy falls short of …”

If you are referring to a specific incident, for example, open burning or the felling of trees in your area, then start off your letter with a narration. Use the “5 Ws of Journalism” as a rough guide. In your introduction, address:
- What happened?
- Where did it take place?
- Who is it about/ Who does it affect/ Who witnessed it/ Who was responsible for the incident?
- When did it happen?
- How did it happen?

For example, following a reef clean-up project, you could start a letter thus: “Following a recent coral reef clean-up project off the coast of XXXX conducted by volunteers from the Malaysian Nature Society, we found to our dismay that most of the litter consisted of fishing lines and broken polystyrene foam coolers left behind by the local fishing community.”

2. ADDRESS THE CORRECT PARTY

“The Government should do so-and-so” is a statement that is best restricted to coffeeshop conversations. When you are drafting a Press Statement or a letter to the editor, identify and address the party responsible for rectifying a problem or implementing a solution to an issue.
- Waste management, local community, and recycling issues = Ministry of Housing and Local Government
- Open burning = Dept of Environment
- Marine issues = Dept of Fisheries and Ministry of Agriculture and Agro-based Industry.
- Tree felling, green lungs = National Landscape Dept and Ministry of Housing and Local Government
- Pet stores, animal welfare, stray animals = Dept of Veterinary Services
- Wildlife = PERHILITAN and Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment.
- Fuel, vehicle ownership and public transport = Ministry of Transport

3. GO POINT-BY-POINT

If you are writing in response to a letter, report or article, analyse the article you are referring to. Break it down into specific issues that you wish to refute or express agreement with. Be specific.

Here is an example of a point-by-point response to arguments raised by the Malaysian Plastics Forum:

“The plastics industry also attempts to argue that such a ban would result in unemployment. It is, however, unforeseeable to us that any industry, much less the plastics industry, would be so lacking in resilience and resourcefulness that it could not adapt to changes in consumer patterns and legislation and could not come up with alternative or better products to meet market demands.

Further, the plastics industry feigns concern for the environment by arguing that the solution lies in instituting more measures to recycle plastic bags and polystyrene packaging. This is in defiance of science, economics and common sense, which demonstrate that it costs more to recycle a plastic bag than to manufacture one from raw materials, that even the recycling process generates waste and pollution and consumes fuel, water and energy, and that many types of plastic products cannot be safely or feasibly recycled.”

You must be able to explain why you agree/disagree with a statement, and support it with facts. This is more effective than merely saying “Plastic bags are not good for the environment.” As any lawyer will tell you, a failure to refute / challenge someone’s allegation or claim will be taken as an indication of acquiescence!



4. USE EXAMPLES AND COMPARISONS WHENEVER POSSIBLE.

“Leaving your car engine idling while you wait is a waste of fuel” sounds less compelling than “For every two minutes a car is idling, it uses about the same amount of fuel it takes to go about 1.6 km”. Examples, comparisons and illustrations all help to communicate ideas more effectively to your readers, as it will appeal to their imagination and memory. However, be sure to check your facts and references to make sure they are corroborated by official or academic sources.


5. CHECK YOUR REFERENCES

Always cite references whenever possible, e.g. “Relying on the International Civil Aviation Organisation’s and CO2 Balance’s carbon emission calculators, it is determined that a return trip for just one person from Tokyo to KLIA would generate an estimated 2.51 tonnes of carbon dioxide.” Cite specific laws and guidelines, whenever possible. In this age of information technology, there is hardly anything that you could not speedily locate using search engines.

This is especially important if you hold a position of leadership in your organisation and you are writing in the capacity of a representative of your organisation. All information cited should be reliable and relevant.

Just as importantly, check your references. Each statement you cite should be corroborated by more than one source type. For example, a newspaper report should be corroborated by an official statement in a Ministry’s official website. Be careful about citing blogs, Wikipedia or statements and claims made by NGOs of dubious reputation. Check the veracity of their statements. Is it corroborated by any other reliable party? Some sources may not be objective, and be based on personal opinions and prejudices.

Steer clear of “round trip” sources, where secondary sources begin to cite each other (e.g. a Chairman of an NGO cites his own article in their newsletter, and the newsletter quotes him in return) and “mirror corroboration”, where secondary sources all cite one source, creating an illusion of corroboration. You can tell that statements constitute “mirror corroboration” when it is difficult or impossible to verify and does not cite authority. A veteran oil industry executive produced an ad that claims: “There is no scientific evidence that CO2 is a pollutant… higher CO2 levels than we have today would actually help the Earth’s ecosystems”. Your “Mirror Corroboration/Round Trip Corroboration” alarm bells should start ringing by now.


6. USE THE “SANDWICH APPROACH” WHEN APPROPRIATE

When dealing with authorities and parties whose cooperation and assistance you require, it is often helpful to use the “Sandwich Approach” in presenting constructive criticism and feedback. In the sandwich, praise is the bread, and constructive criticism is the filling. The person giving feedback begins by praising strengths, then suggests improvements, and ends with further praise.

An example of how to use the Sandwich Approach in a press statement or letter to the editor:
Bread 1: “Like many citizens, I appreciate the State Government’s concern for the welfare of the people”
Filling: “However, it is submitted that reduced water charges will not help water conservation efforts, and may contribute to a water crisis in the state”. (Provide reasons to back up your statements.)
Bread 2: “I am positive that the State Government would be willing to consider adopting water-saving technologies and practicing better management of our water resources, all of which will help our state reach its developmental goals without sacrificing the environment or the people’s welfare.”


7. TAKE A STAND, BUT BE BALANCED IN YOUR VIEWS

Appreciate that whenever you are expressing your views on one issue, there will always be a percentage of people who hold a different view. Not everyone will be as enthusiastic about cloth shopping bags, taking public transport and using vegetable enzymes as you are. For every tree that you may wish to protect, there may be a fearful houseowner convinced that dead branches will fall through his roof at any time. Try to find a common ground, and then present a balanced and fair argument. Help your opponents address their concerns. Try to reach a compromise and propose solutions whenever possible.


8. PROPOSE AN ALTERNATIVE OR A SOLUTION

An eloquent letter goes nowhere if it ends abruptly without offering alternatives and solutions. Put your research skills to good use by finding alternatives, especially ones tried-and-tested in other jurisdictions. Offering alternatives encourages discussion and communication. Here is an example of how to put forward multiple alternatives in a letter to the editor:
“In order to mitigate the problem of overfishing and at the same time, ensure food security, we must consider alternatives to commercial fishing. These include:
i. Promoting aquaculture and fish farming methods that are sustainable and limit the risk of infection, zoonosis and pollution;
ii. ii. Establishing fishing quotas so fishermen can only legally take a certain amount of fish; and
iii. Declaring certain areas of the sea "no-go zones" and make fishing there strictly illegal, so the fish in that area have time to recover and repopulate.”

9. BE PASSIONATE, NOT EMOTIONAL

Many people mistake being emotional with being passionate. It is best never to write when you are feeling too angry or emotional. A letter that declares: “The poachers should die for this!”, “How could they do this?!?” or “This is crazy!” might be able to get public attention, but is less likely to be taken seriously than one that says: “Legislators must take immediate steps to safeguard our fast-vanishing natural heritage, while PERHILITAN and other bodies entrusted with the regulation of the wildlife trade must be more circumspect in the issuing of permits and be more vigilant in the monitoring of wildlife displays.” Remember that your letter or press statement will reflect on you, your organisation and the cause you champion. Be professional and considerate of other’s views and sensitivities always.


10. NEVER ISSUE THREATS OR ULTIMATUMS

A prolific petition writer has a tendency of making demands and issuing ultimatums in his petitions and press statements. “We demand that the police investigate this matter and bring the culprits to book within 24 hours”, ends one press statement. 24 hours went by, and nothing happened. What can the petition writer do? Threaten to migrate to another country? Threaten to vote in a new government? Terminate the entire police department?

Never write cheques that can’t be cashed. You will end up antagonising the parties that you should be making your allies, and you will end up looking ridiculous.


11. MIND YOUR GRAMMAR, SPELLING AND REFERENCES

Please take the time to proofread your draft, and if possible, get a helpful associate to review it for you. A poorly drafted letter indicates a lack of professionalism. If you don’t take your letter seriously enough to want it to be as free of faults as possible, then chances are, your readers will not take it seriously either.

International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer

PENCINTA ALAM SEPTEMBER 2011
GREEN LIVING COLUMN

INTERNATIONAL DAY FOR THE PRESERVATION OF THE OZONE LAYER

By Wong Ee Lynn




September 16 was designated by the United Nations General Assembly as the International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer.

The ozone layer is the protective layer of naturally occurring gas, comprised of three atoms of oxygen found about 10 – 50 km above the earth's surface, that protects us from the harmful ultraviolet radiation or solar UV-B rays. Scientists in the 1970s discovered that the layer was thinning as a result of the release of chlorofluorocarbons (CFC). In 1985, nations around the world convened at Vienna in an attempt to develop a framework for co-operative activities to protect the ozone layer. This signed agreement became known as the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer.

More than 130,000 new cases of melanoma are reported around the world and some 66,000 people die from skin cancer every year. As such, the UNEP is still monitoring compliance with the programmes of the international treaties aimed at eliminating the production and use of ozone-depleting substances, including CFCs, used as industrial refrigerants and in aerosols, and the pesticide methyl bromide.

Here are some activities individuals, organisations and community groups can pledge to carry out from September onwards as part of ongoing global efforts to reduce ozone depletion:

1. September 22 is World Car Free Day. According to The Washington Post, the event "promotes improvement of mass transit, cycling and walking, and the development of communities where jobs are closer to home and where shopping is within walking distance", and aims to give residents of an area a feel of what their locality is like with fewer cars. Go carless on Sept 22 to explore different routes to work and to see if there are other viable and practical alternatives to driving.

2. Know the rules: It is illegal and harmful to recharge or refill refrigerators, freezers and home/vehicle air conditioners with CFCs.

3. If you have an older vehicle with an air conditioner, have it serviced by a qualified technician, and make sure the CFC is recaptured and recycled by technician who is specifically certified to do this work. If you don't use your air conditioner — or if the vehicle is about to be scrapped — make sure a qualified technician recaptures and recycles the CFC. Vehicles of model year 1995 or newer do not use CFCs. The same rules apply to older refrigerators freezers and home air conditioners, which may contain CFCs.

3. Don't buy or use portable fire extinguishers that contain halons. Halon is a compound consisting of bromine, fluorine and carbon. Bromine is many times more effective at destroying ozone than chlorine. Replace halon fire extinguishers with alternatives (e.g. carbon dioxide or foam).

4. Check labels on aerosol cans. VCR-head cleaners, boat horns, spray confetti, photo negative cleaners, and drain plungers are still allowed to contain CFCs but such labeling isn't required.

5. Minimize high altitude aircraft flights (oxygen reduction and water vapor deposition) and air travel in general.

6. If you feel strongly about this issue, write a letter to the Press or to the Department of Environment or the Minister of NRE, urging them to protect the ozone layer by tightening regulations on CFCs and halons, speeding up their elimination, mandating warning labels on products containing them, and pressing other nations to take such steps. Substitutes for CFCs may add to the cost of many products, be less efficient,, and have other drawbacks, at least at first. This may be hard to accept, especially since CFC emissions are invisible, and most of the damage they cause may not be evident for decade. But the steps we take now to protect the ozone layer will benefit future generations.

(Image credits: http://www.theozonehole.com/ozonelayer.htm)