Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Eco Kids Column: Meet the Zero-Waste Kids



By Wong Ee Lynn

The Johnson family of Mill Valley, California, has managed to reduce the environmental impact of their activities and purchases to such an amazing extent that they produce only 2 handfuls of rubbish PER YEAR. The healthy, happy and environmentally-responsible family has pared down its possessions to only the necessities, yet they don't feel deprived.

All food waste goes into the compost heap, they shop in bulk at farmers' markets and they take their own glass jars and cloth bags so they don't need to buy anything with packaging. They all use compostable bamboo toothbrushes, and Mrs Johnson has replaced toothpaste with homemade tooth-cleaning powder which she stores in glass jars.

How do the Johnson children, Leo, 10, and Max, 12, do it? Here are some of the earth-friendly practices their parents have implemented and the 2 boys are happy to practice and share:

1. The boys are limited to just two bins of toys each. If they want something new, it has to fit in the bin. This prevents clutter and teaches the boys to appreciate and care for the things that they have.

2. If the boys outgrow something, it would be donated, sold, or re-gifted. The boys' parents, Béa and Scott Johnson, encourage friends and family to give gifts of expe­rience rather than things. Last year, 10-year-old Leo’s birthday gifts included a weekend of skiing and gift certificates to a climbing gym and the local ice cream shop.

3. They carry handkerchiefs rather than buy, use or accept tissue paper.

4. They do not buy juice and sodas in cartons, bottles and cans. They use reusable water bottles and bring it with them when they go out instead.

5. Although they occasionally have to buy and use medication (from a pharmacy or a clinic), for common colds, they have a neti pot [for flushing nasal passages with saline] instead. Instead of Band-Aids, this family mostly uses peroxide, gauze and paper tape, as these are biodegradable.

6. Food is always made fresh, from basic ingredients such as grains, flour and vegetables. The boys do not eat packaged instant products such as boxed breakfast cereals, frozen pizzas or fast food. Leo, age 10, has this to say on life in the school lunch room, "It isn't hard to say no to chips. They're gone in three seconds, then the bag is in the trash."

7. Instead of paper lunch bags, the boys carry their sandwiches to school in cloth napkins. They also use reusable and washable food containers, and carry snacks from home such as nuts and cookies in small, washable cloth sacks.

8. The boys are happy to accept and use previously-owned toys and clothes. Once repaired and cleaned up, there is often little difference between new items and pre-owned items.

9. 12-year-old Max explained how he politely exercises the principle of “refuse” (i.e. in addition to Reduce, Reuse and Recycle) when offered goodie bags at birthday parties: “I think: do I want that? Do I need that? Will I use that? If no, then I say ‘No thanks.’ If they insist, I say ‘No, but thanks for the offer.' The mothers say, ‘ok’.”

What can YOU do to reduce waste and your impact on the environment? Can you try to cut down on junk food, fast food and unnecessary purchases? Will you forgo party favours and disposable tableware at your next birthday party? How about forgoing more toys, and requesting gifts for charity at your next party? Also, use cloth shopping bags, refillable water bottles and reusable food containers instead of plastic bags and disposable packaging. See what else can be repaired, refilled and reused.

You can read more about the Johnsons in their family blog at: http://zerowastehome.blogspot.com/

(Photo credits: Thomas J. Story, Sunset.com)

Monday, June 11, 2012

Taking Action for Biodiversity, Part 2


(Edited and compiled by Wong Ee Lynn

1. Water is indispensable to the health of the Planet and that of its occupants, whether they are animals or plants. There is enough water for everyone and everything but, unfortunately, it is badly distributed and often badly managed. Here in Malaysia, we often use potable water indiscriminately and excessively.
Here is how you can save drinking water: water your plants with rainwater,
preferably at the end of the day (to avoid evaporation), recover grey water
(dishwater, bathwater, shower water) and use it for flushing the toilet and cleaning floors with.

2. Some local authorities are now making an effort to plan and manage roadsides and road dividers as a way of promoting biodiversity.
If this is not yet the case in your area, you might suggest that the department concerned try these easy-to-apply principles: plant only local species, replace chemical pesticides and fertilisers with ecological equivalents, use mulch and groundcover to limit the growth of
undesirable plants and to reduce watering, compost green waste and
use the compost to feed the soil in the dry season, practise late mowing, and keep some refuge areas.

3. Would you like to take advantage of your vacation to protect biodiversity? Then why not become an eco-volunteer!
By discovering places inaccessible to ordinary tourists, you can actively help nature protection associations by participating in research and conservation projects.
And you do not need to be an expert in biology or environmental sciences – anyone can take part in the activities proposed. You can volunteer with the Borneo Sun Bear Conservation Centre in Sabah (http://sunbears.wildlifedirect.org/), the Turtle Conservation Society in Terengganu (http://www.turtleconservationsociety.org.my/) and the Malaysian Conservation Alliance for Tigers (http://malayantiger.net/v4/mycat).

4. How does one transform a garden – your own, the garden at your children’s school or on your company’s premises – into a natural refuge for biodiversity? Refuse to use chemical pesticides and fertilisers.
Help spontaneous vegetation grow in a corner of the garden and practise late mowing which makes it possible for plant species to reproduce and
diversify and creates a shelter for many animals. Set up a pond or preserve a dead tree (its cavities can host a variety of animals), leave a log pile or a pile of stones for small mammals, amphibians and various invertebrates. Diversify a hedge with indigenous species. Plant bee-foraging plants which attract large numbers of insects as well as bees.

5. Like detergents, most cosmetics sold today contain chemical products (preservatives, synthetic perfumes, surfactants, etc.) which are not biodegradable and are therefore harmful to biodiversity, particularly the aquatic environments into which they are carried by waste water.
Use eco-cosmetics: wash with Marseilles (Castile) soap, perfume your
bath with a few drops of essential oil of lavender, clean your skin
with an extraction of camomile or blueberry, exfoliate it with
wheat- or oat bran, nourish it with sunflower or olive oil.

6. Contrary to what you might think, there is often more biodiversity in the city than in the country (where monocultures prevail, in both fields and plantations). Surprisingly, there is a great variety of biotypes in the city. Public and private gardens, ponds, parks, forests, streets and avenues, vacant land, wasteland, railway sidings, water-course embankments and even balconies. Even small cracks in sidewalks, at the base of buildings or in walls are colonised by a multitude of wild plants.
But this biodiversity is vulnerable: it is not strong enough to withstand cement mixers and steamrollers.

7. The intensive growing of traditional cotton uses only 3% of cultivable surface area but 25% of the insecticides sold around the world. Soil exhaustion, deforestation, massive irrigation, pollution of free groundwater, exposure of agricultural workers and local species to toxic substances... intensive cotton farming is particularly harmful both to the environment and to human beings.
On the other hand, extensive growing of eco-cotton, with natural fertilisers and pesticides, requires less water, preserves soil fertility (because it is alternated with other crops), and produces cotton that has softer, more resistant fibres. In addition, eco-cotton is hypoallergenic because it is not chemically treated when made into clothing.

8. When you eat local products where they are grown and produced, you are supporting the farmers who grow indigenous species and thus limiting the pollution caused by transport. This is good for both the local economy and for biodiversity. Always refuse dishes made from threatened species (turtle steak, red-tuna sushi, sea cucumber, bush meat, etc.) or those whose production has a negative impact on local biodiversity (fishing or hunting without respect for minimum sizes or quotas, cultivation that requires deforestation of a large area, etc.) Neither should you accept traditional remedies and cosmetics based on rhinoceros horn, elephant tusk, tiger meat or bone, the musk from musk deer, etc.
A list of threatened species is available at: www.cites.org and

9. Wood has at least two advantages: it is more resistant than plastic and it is not derived from oil. Make sure you choose only FSC- or PEFC-certified furniture. This means that the wood from which it is made comes from sustainably managed forests To treat the wood, choose natural products based on linseed oil, beeswax or vegetable oil.
For more information about these labels, look up:
www.fsc.org and www.pefc.org.

10. Reduce your consumption of meat. In order to raise livestock, it is necessary to have pastures or to produce forage (soy, corn, beets, colza, etc.), all of which requires a very large surface area, often carved out at the expense of forests. In addition, it takes an enormous amount of
water and pesticides to grow forage crops, resulting in the exhaustion and pollution of free groundwater. And that is not all! When ruminants digest, they produce vast quantities of methane, one of the most potent greenhouse gases, particularly when they are fed with protein crops, such as soy.
Finally, too much meat is not good for us (hypocholesterolaemia, cancer, diabetes, etc.). Instead, eat lentils, eggs, cheese, legumes or fruit several times a week.