Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Letter to the Editor: Car Safety, Performance and Environmental Ratings Depend On More Factors Than Just Age


In coming to a decision on whether to impose a mandatory 12-year cap on the lifespan of private vehicles, the Ministry of Transport should consider the feedback of citizens, organisations and professional bodies. (The Star, 20 Nov 2013).  The safety, performance and environmental ratings of vehicles depend on more factors than just their age.

The automotive industry, understandably, sees increased sales as a much-needed shot in the arm for the industry and the nation's economy. However, from an environmental point of view, purchasing used goods, including automobiles, is a wise decision as it reduces the need to extract and transport raw materials. Buying a car the second time around also means we avoid consuming all the energy used in producing and transporting a new vehicle, and hence significantly reducing the generation of waste matter and carbon emissions.

The environmental cost of a new car is high. Researchers at the Heidelberg Environment and Forecasting Institute who computed the financial, environmental and health impacts of a medium-sized car found evidence to confirm that long before the car has reached the showroom, it has produced significant amounts of damage to air, water and land ecosystems through the extraction of raw materials alone. A 2004 analysis by Toyota found that as much as 28 percent of the carbon dioxide emissions generated during the lifecycle of a typical petroleum-powered car can occur during its manufacture and its transportation to the dealer; the remaining emissions occur during driving once its new owner takes possession.  Even new hybrid vehicles, despite lower emissions and better mileage, actually have a much larger environmental impact in their manufacture, compared to non-hybrids. The batteries that store energy for the drivetrain and having two engines under one hood all increase manufacturing emissions. Thus, the environmental impact of manufacturing a car extends way beyond the car's useful life.

According to Andrew Davis, director of the UK Environmental Transport Association, "Of all the main environmental variables involved with buying a car - size, pollutants, age, speed, etc – whether to buy new or used is the least important. It is the length of time a car is kept that is crucial. The average car is kept for four years. Buying a new car and keeping it for its entire life is more environmentally friendly than buying a one-year-old car every year".

The Transport Minister’s argument that a 12-year cap on thelifespan of cars is “in the public interest” and that it “would not create anunnecessary financial burden” on citizens is not supported by evidence. There are currently insufficient realistic alternatives to private vehicle ownership in Malaysia. The public transport system is often unreliable and unavailable to those living outside the city centre. High crime rates have made walking, cycling and waiting for public transport unsafe and unattractive options for many. Most employers are still unable or unwilling to offer employees the option of telecommuting or working from home to reduce the need for driving and commuting. A 12-year cap on private vehicle lifespan would almost certainly place an additional economic burden on citizens forced to take up loans for new vehicles.

From a vehicle safety and performance perspective, it is foreseeable that many lower-income individuals forced to give up sturdier older vehicles would be able to afford nothing more than the cheapest cars which have low safety ratings and negligible safety features. Thus, forcing vehicle owners to replace their old cars would not only increase household debt, but also have an adverse impact on road safety and traffic accident survival rates.

Claiming that older cars are unsafe and not roadworthy is overly simplistic, while setting a lifespan cap of 12 years is arbitrary. The articleciting the statements of the Director-General of the Malaysian Institute ofRoad Safety Research (MIROS) does not provide traffic accident statistics or indicate the percentage of vehicles involved in accidents that are above 12 years old.

The performance of cars depends on many factors, including the frequency and quality of service and maintenance, and whether repairs and modifications are made to improve efficiency. Vehicle and road safety almost always depends on factors such as the vehicle condition (steering, brakes and tyres), the driver’s mental and physical condition, and road and traffic conditions (lighting, weather conditions, visibility). Whether someone is likely to survive a major road accident depends on other safety factors such as the weight, height and length of the vehicle, vehicle construction (e.g. pickup trucks and SUVs may have bettter reinforcement and safety cage designs), seatbelt use, airbags and head restraints (i.e. headrests to prevent whiplash injury). None of these are dependent on the age of a car. Many safety features could be easily retrofitted into older cars, while newer cars that are cheaply built, poorly maintained or have an existing crash history would not fare better than older vehicles in an accident.

The idea that we should replace our cars merely because they are 'old' has no economic or environmental legitimacy.  Ultimately, how and when we choose to drive, and how we maintain our vehicles, are more important than whether we buy used or new cars when considering the question of how safe, efficient or environmentally sound a vehicle is.


Monday, November 11, 2013

Eco Kids Column: Reusing Children's Artwork



By Wong Ee Lynn

(Image credits: The Imagination Tree.

The school year has come to an end, and without doubt you would have accumulated many masterpieces from various art sessions at school and at home. What can you do with all your paintings and drawings? There is only so much space on the refrigerator for displaying your artwork. How do you decide which to keep, which to throw away and which ones to give away? Here are some ideas you can try out to manage your collection of artwork. 

1. REDUCE AND RECYCLEGive yourself a limited storage space, for example, a large folder or a keepsake box. Choose only your best work to store in the folder or box. For every 1 item you decide to keep, you should discard 5. If you find it too difficult to part with your labour of love, then use a digital camera to take photos of your artwork and store them in a folder on the computer or on a thumbdrive. Label the folder with the year and your name. You will no doubt produce more artwork with each passing year, so you may wish to go through the physical folder or box to select only the best pieces of work to keep. Put the rest of your artwork in the paper recycling bin.

2. LETTERS AND POSTCARDSNot many people send letters or postcards by post these days, but sending and receiving snail-mail brings a special kind of pleasure. Our grandparents, especially, love to hear from us by snail-mail, even if they do see us in person or talk to us on the phone from time-to-time. You can turn some of your best artwork into letters and postcards to be mailed to loved ones. For letters, choose artwork which uses only one side of the paper. The other side of the paper should remain clean and blank for writing on. For postcards, choose the best part of your artwork, and crop it out to postcard size and shape. Paste that part of your drawing/painting on a piece of cardboard (old greeting cards, thick envelopes and cereal boxes will do fine). Write your message on the back of the postcard. Remember to leave space on the right for the mailing address. Fill in the address, add a stamp, and you are ready to mail your unique postcard to someone special.

3. GIFT WRAPUse your larger paintings and drawings as giftwrap. This is an especially good use for patterned paper, for example, when you do potato stamp printing, marble printing or leaf printing in art class.

4. GIFT TAGS AND BOOKMARKSSome parts of an artwork may be more attractive and well coloured-in than the others. Cut out those portions to be used as gift tags or bookmarks. You may want to paste them onto strips of cardboard (again, you can use cereal boxes, thick envelopes, old greeting cards and hard magazine covers). Alternatively, you can fold them into origami hearts to use as gift tags. (Instructions for origami hearts here:‎)

Draw jigsaw puzzle-type lines on the back of your drawing and cut along the lines. Put the puzzle pieces in a used envelope and hand it to a sibling or friend to put together on a rainy day indoors.

Coat a small box or tin evenly with craft glue and paste your drawings or paintings on the surface of the box or tin. Smooth out wrinkles and trim edges before the glue dries. Now you have unique and personalised keepsake boxes and pencil caddies for your bedroom. 

Are your family members collecting cans and jars of food for the underprivileged? It is nice to add a personalised touch to your donations to let the recipients know that you are thinking of them. Cut your colourful artwork into circles that fit the top of the jars and cans of food. Stick your artwork on the cans or jars using a small piece of tape. You should not obscure the expiry date or ingredients list. Imagine how cheered up the recipient would feel to see the amount of thought you put into your donations. 

If an artwork is done on thin paper, cut it down to size that it can be wrapped around a stocky glass jar without overlapping. Use craft glue to paste the artwork around the jar. Add a lit tealight candle to the jar, and you have a luminary illuminating your very own artwork. If a particular work of art is created on thick paper or card, turn them into Chinese paper lanterns (see picture) that you can hang up to add a festive touch to your house. 

Green Resolutions for the New Year


by Wong Ee Lynn

(Image credits:

2013 will soon come to an end, and whether or not you are in the habit of making New Year resolutions, there is never a better time than today to start taking action to reduce pollution and carbon emissions and conserve energy and resources. Here are some suggestions that you may wish to consider or improvise on, if they are not already part of your lifestyle:

Start with a resolution to cook at least four meals a week in your home from fresh, organic ingredients. A vegan diet has the smallest carbon footprint, followed by a vegetarian diet. If you are not already vegetarian, try going vegetarian once a week, and slowly increase it to every other meal. Cutting meat out of your diet just two days a week can decrease your carbon footprint by about 1/3 of a tonne — and coming up with meat-free meals for Saturday and Sunday isn't as hard as it sounds. Visit a local organic farm or organic grocery store, or subscribe to an organic veggie box delivery service if one is available in your residential area. The benefits are almost immediate. A study conducted by scientists at Emory University and the University of Washington revealed that children eating conventional diets all tested positive for common pesticides in their systems. Within a week of switching to an organic diet, the pesticides in their bodies dropped to undetectable levels. When the children switched back to their conventional diets, pesticide levels rose too.

Consider going without a car – you’ll not only save money on the purchase, you’ll save on insurance and maintenance. If it’s impractical to completely give up driving due to safety and other practicality considerations, try to carpool or take alternative transportation – such as a bike or bus. Or seek out the most fuel-efficient vehicle you can afford. Plan your errands and trips to reduce the distance you have to drive. If you do drive, make sure your car is serviced regularly to ensure optimum performance and fuel efficiency.

Trade your bottled water habit for an at-home filter system and you can help make a dent in the 1.5 million barrels of oil used to make plastic water bottles each year. Pair it with a reusable bottle (like one made of glass, aluminum, or BPA-free recycled plastic), and you'll always be prepared to tackle your thirst. Remember to bring your refillable water bottle along with you whenever you leave the house (together with your reusable shopping bags and food takeout containers). Impose a "fine" on family members who forget and end up buying bottled water.

When you stop buying paper kitchen towels and wet wipes, you will have to make a habit out of using washable rags and handkerchiefs. When you cut single-serve packaged items such as individual packets of cereal and 3-in-1 coffee mix out of your shopping list, you will have to make a habit out of making breakfast and beverages from scratch or pour from a bulk container. Often, we reach for heavily-packaged and wasteful items merely because they are within reach and convenient. Therefore, make some adjustments to your life and lifestyle to reduce waste.

Give up paper and plastic bags. Twelve million barrels of oil were used to make the 88.5 billion plastic bags given out in the United States last year. And it takes four times more energy to make paper bags.The best choice is reusable shopping bags made of cotton, nylon or durable, mesh-like plastic. Put a few reusable shopping bags in your car so you have them handy on your next shopping trip. And if you happen to forget your reusable bag, choose paper if you will recycle it or plastic if you will reuse or recycle it. To help you remember to bring your shopping bags with you, here is the link to the July 2011 Green Living column:

Increase the temperature on your office air-conditioning unit by 2 degrees, and switch it off 1 hour earlier than you normally do. If you absolutely need air conditioners at home, buy a high-efficiency air conditioner with Energy Star rating. 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. 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. For more energy conservation tips, visit the Green Living blog at:

Pick out 3 items you can give up this year for environmental and economic reasons. This can include driving to the gym (instead, jog or cycle around the neighbourhood), buying more electronic gadgets, and having 2 cars (instead, one spouse can drop the other off at work on his/her way to the office). Where gift-giving is concerned, try substituting consumer gifts for experience gifts such as concert tickets, tickets to the rock-climbing gym, and camping trips. Do the simpler version of the 100-Thing Challenge. Instead of paring all your possessions down to an austere 100 items, go around your house and pick out 100 items you can donate to charity, repair, refill, reuse or recycle.

The Green Living Special Interest Group would like to thank all our readers, volunteers and supporters for your encouragement and assistance, and we wish all of you a very happy, sustainable and environmentally-responsible New Year 2014!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Green Living Turtle Volunteer Programme 2013

Volunteering has always been a critical component of Green Living. Volunteering enables us to put our skills and knowledge into practice, and to acquire more knowledge, awareness and experience in the process. Volunteering is an essential part of walking the talk about environmental responsibility, and also opens up our eyes to the problems we encounter in trying to implement solutions to environmental issues.

The Green Living SIG chose to organise a volunteer programme on 28th September 2013 at the Turtle Conservation and Information Centre operated by the Department of Fisheries in Pantai Pengkalan Balak, Masjid Tanah, Melaka as it does not receive as much volunteer help and positive publicity as some of the other turtle sanctuaries and hatcheries in Malaysia.

30 MNS members registered for the programme to learn more about turtle conservation issues in Malaysia and help with the upkeep of the Centre. Participants also made a financial contribution of RM25 each, which would be used by the Centre in its turtle egg buyback programme.

The first order of the day after the screening of a short video and educational slideshow was to clean the manmade turtle pond within the compound of the Centre, which held 3 hawksbill turtles and a green turtle for research and rehabilitation purposes. The turtles would be released into the sea once determined fit for release by the marine biologists.

The pond was filled with algae as it was filled with filtered seawater, and the turtles had dirt and algae on their carapace due to the stagnant water. The volunteers got down to work scrubbing the tiles with steel wool and scouring pads.

When this was completed, the turtles also received a bath. The young volunteers were very careful not to hurt the turtles or unduly stress them out.
(Photo credits: Steven Lim)

Once the pond and turtles were sufficiently clean, filtered seawater was pumped into the pond. The look of relief on the turtles' faces was palpable. "Yay, no more feet in our pond!" the turtles seemed to say.

After a short break, the volunteers proceeded to carry out a beach cleanup, which saw boxes and bags of rubbish being removed from the beach in front of the Centre. It was clear from the rubbish collected that the waste came from the local residents, food stalls and picnickers. It is hoped that more rubbish receptacles are put up around the beach to encourage people to dispose of their rubbish properly, and measures are taken to enforce this.

We regrouped at the Centre to help the staff clean up the turtle hatchery where the nests are. The volunteers used rakes and brooms to sweep up dry leaves and litter.

The young volunteers found the time to climb a lovely old tree in the hatchery compound after the cleaning duties were completed. We can think of no better way of spending a sunny Saturday afternoon.

Two tiny turtle hatchlings were released into the sea by the staff of the Centre around 6.45 p.m.
(Photo credits: Wan Sze)

4 of us who remained at the Centre until 9pm had the good fortune to witness a group of researchers weighing, measuring and releasing a batch of turtle hatchlings that had just hatched at the Kem Terendak beach.

Green Living would like to thank the participants of the Turtle Volunteer Programme for their helpfulness, generosity and willingness to accommodate imperfections in the said Programme.

To find out more about the Turtle Conservation and Information Centre, contact them at the numbers and address provided below:

Pusat Konservasi dan Penerangan Penyu 
Turtle Conservation and Information Centre
Pantai Padang Kemunting,
Masjid Tanah,
Pengkalan Balak,
Phone/Fax: 06 384 6754
Facebook Profile:!/hawksbill.ecoclub.3

Monday, August 12, 2013

Wild Encounters at the MNS Eco Kids Zoo Enrichment Workshop


By Wong Ee Lynn


Though many of us do not enjoy seeing animals in captivity, 41 MNS members were keen to learn how to improve the quality of life of animals at Zoo Negara.  Zoo Education Officer Edwina and team were there to greet us when we arrived on the morning of 28th July 2013 and we were taken to the Enrichment Centre where we were to prepare food puzzles and treats for the lions, tigers, tapirs and elephants to keep them mentally and physically stimulated.


It was also a good exercise in repurposing, as the workshop participants had spent time collecting cardboard boxes, coconut shells and toilet roll tubes for the Enrichment Centre to be converted into toys and puzzles for the animals.


Due to the large size of our group, some of the participants chose to go on a Science Walk with Dr. Ille Gebeshuber, who is not only a Professor in Physics but also a dedicated MNS member and volunteer.


With the help of their parents, the children who stayed behind at the Enrichment Centre carved and hollowed out pumpkins to be stuffed with meat for the lions and tigers. The pumpkins would then be concealed in boxes to stimulate the big cats’ natural hunting and seeking instincts. 

The other participants cut up fruits and vegetables for the tapirs and elephants.


A group of participants wrapped a mixture of rice, palm sugar and bananas in banana leaves to be presented to the elephants.


The children put fruits and vegetable pieces on skewers and poked the sharp ends into a banana trunk to create a whimsical fruit cocktail bar for the tapirs.

The Science Walk group joined us at 10 a.m. for the Animal Enrichment Observation. It was not merely a session during which we observed “cute animals doing cute things”, but an important and educational lesson on animals’ natural behaviours and social needs. Education Officer Edwina must be commended on her short interactive lessons on snare traps and the wildlife trade, habitat loss, why some animals could not be reintroduced into the wild, the need for zoos and animal sanctuaries, the reason for the Zoo’s ban on Styrofoam, and the conservation status of many animals (i.e. least concern, endangered and extinct).

Well, there goes the cow! One of the tigers has found the pumpkin concealed in a box decorated to resemble a cartoon cow, but he wasn’t hungry enough to have his breakfast immediately.


The lions found their pumpkins within minutes, but seemed more interested in guarding the meat and casting jealous glares at their neighbours, the tigers.



Here comes the MNS mascots,  the tapirs! Their proboscis wagged merrily when they smelled the fruits. And no, they didn’t hurt themselves on the satay skewers. Aren’t they clever?


Siti the Asian Elephant says: “Reach out and touch somebody today!”


In an ideal world, animals would be able to live peacefully in the wild without human interference.  However, with the number of threats to wildlife such as deforestation, poaching and hunting, zoos and sanctuaries have to be set up to provide safe living spaces for animals, in particular, captive-bred or confiscated wildlife who can no longer survive in the wild. It must be remembered that zoos and sanctuaries can never be a good substitute for life in the wild. Animals in captivity can and do get restless, bored, depressed and frustrated, and start displaying behaviour such as swaying, rocking, biting, begging and overgrooming their fur or feathers to the point that bald patches appear. It is hoped that our little contributions helped to make the animals’ lives a little more fun and interesting.


We take this opportunity to thank Edwina and her hardworking team as well as our ever-obliging Dr. Ille for their time, effort and assistance. May we all continue to do what we can to help and protect wildlife and the natural world.



Saturday, August 3, 2013

Managing Electromagnetic Field Pollution




(Image credits:


By Wong Ee Lynn


Electromagnetic fields (EMF) and electromagnetic waves (EMW) are present everywhere in the environment and natural sources include the Earth, Sun, ionosphere, lightning and visible light. EMWs in their natural frequency are not harmful to humans. Our Earth’s frequency is 7.83 Hz, which is identical to human (alpha) brain waves.


However, there are also manmade EMFs and EMWs, which have increased in the past century with the development of technology and radio communications. Devices such as cellular and cordless phones, electronic gadgets, satellite systems and microwave ovens come in a frequency range of between 900 MHz to 2.4 GHz.


These frequencies are hazardous because they overload and overstimulate our bodies, and overwhelm our immune systems. Computers, for instance, generate enough radiation to cause concern even at distances up to about 60cm (about 2 feet). Some of the health effects associated with EMFs and EMWs include depression, chronic fatigue, memory loss, irritability, inability to concentrate, insomnia, headaches, weakened immune system, anxiety and stress-related ailments.


EMFs are created whenever an electrical appliance is connected to the mains supply, including appliances we use in our daily lives such as computers, mobile devices and refrigerators. Many appliances do not merely create EMFs but rely on EMFs in order to function.  Local EMF hotspots include areas close to electricity metres, main distribution panels, fuse boxes, battery-based back-up power supplies and major wiring ducts.


It is very difficult for most of us to eliminate the use of electronic and telecommunications devices entirely just to avoid exposure to EMFs and EMWs. As such, here are some strategies that could help reduce exposure to EMWs and promote energy efficiency in our daily lives:



Increasing your distance from an EMW-emitting device will reduce your exposure to EMWs.

Do not stand or sit in front of a microwave oven to watch food cook.


Sit at least 6 feet (1.9 metres) away from a TV set. Do not sit close to the sides and back of a TV set if you are not watching TV, as radiation is just as high from these angles as if you are facing the TV directly. LCD / flat screen TVs produce much less radiation than cathode ray types (CRT), so do choose a LCD / flat screen unit if you are buying or replacing a TV set.


Computer power supply or UPS systems which provide backup power supply for computers emit powerful radiation, so do position it as far away from yourself and others as the cables would allow, at least 1.5 metres.


Position your computer central processing unit (CPU) tower as far away from you as the cables would allow (at least 60 cm). If possible, keep it on the floor. It is best to minimise computer radiation exposure to your head.


LCD monitors emit minimal EMW radiation, so do consider making a change to an LCD monitor unit, laptop or netbook if you are still using an older CRT type of computer. In addition, LCD monitors and laptops require less electricity to run. However, lower radiation does not mean zero health risk, so please try to minimise exposure to radiation from LCD monitors, mobile phones, tablet devices, smartphones, laptops and netbooks. Place them on a surface other than your lap or other part of your body during use.


WiFi information networks, wireless routers, modems and similar devices also emit high levels of EMWs. This type of radiation (radio frequency or microwave) is different from computer radiation and these wireless devices have not yet been proven by experts to be safe. To be on the safe side and to save electricity, switch off mobile devices and WiFi routers after use and when you go to bed.




Minimise the duration of time spent on your EMW-emitting devices. Do not leave devices and appliances on when not in use. Do not bring your mobile phone, netbook, laptop, tablet, e-reader or similar devices to bed with you. Limit computer and mobile phone use to a certain number of hours each day.




Switch all devices off after use, and switch off chargers once they are fully charged. Try not to have your computer, smartphone or other electronic devices in the bedroom. Try not to fall asleep in front of the computer or TV set. If you find yourself dozing off, switch off your computer/TV (switch off completely at the source, not just put it in sleep mode) and go to bed.




Many appliances and devices we use at home do not need to be electronic or battery-operated. Non-electronic kitchen scales, bathroom scales, hand-powered blenders/food processors and non-battery operated children’s toys and musical instruments will help you save money on electricity and battery costs, as well as reduce exposure to EMWs. Washing and drying dishes by hand, and using conventional non-electric toothbrushes and shavers can reduce EMW exposure. Use a swiffer pad or broom instead of a vacuum cleaner if possible. Hang clothes out to dry instead of using a dryer. Preparing salads and cooking dishes using a steamer over a rice cooker while the rice is cooking will reduce cooking time and eliminate the need to use extra electronic appliances, and ultimately, reduce your exposure to EMWs in the kitchen.




Your body and health are your best safety devices. To strengthen your immune system and reduce the health risks associated with exposure to electromagnetic radiation, take care of your diet, exercise regularly, go outdoors frequently, spend at least several hours a day away from electronic devices and cultivate a positive attitude to make you more resilient against stress, anxiety and fatigue.



(Sources: and The Canadian Initiative to Stop Wireless, Electric and Electromagnetic Pollution [WEEP])

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Refill Packs, Handkerchiefs and other Green Living Conundrums


(By Wong Ee Lynn,

Q.Which is better -- purchasing refill packs and refilling existing containers, or buying regular products and recycling their containers?
 Refill systems have the potential to significantly reduce both retail packaging waste and product waste. This favours the selection of high volume products that show significant potential weight savings. Such systems involve the initial sale of products in a dispensing container such as a trigger spray or a pump dispenser, with customers encouraged to purchase a simple container to refill the original dispenser. In their simplest form, refill systems could be a pack where the spray or pump can be transferred from the original container to a new container of the same size and design as the original but with a screw cap in place of the dispense mechanism. Refill packs generally provided value for money for consumers. Observations showed refill packs can provide up to 67% savings for the consumer, although the average found was 26.2% across all categories. (Source:

As a general rule, refill packs are still greener than buying soap, coffee, milk and other products in regular containers and recycling the containers later. Based on the life cycle analysis of refill packs, refill packs are lighter and consume less energy and resources to manufacture than regular packaging. In addition, they require less fuel to transport since they are lighter and can be packed more tightly together. Also, many refill packs are recyclable. Refill packs made of plastic laminates are, however, unfortunately non-recyclable and non-biodegradable. Check for the mobius loop at the back of the packaging. If the refill packaging is recyclable, just rinse it out and put it in with your usual plastic items for recycling. Many plastic bottles that you deposit at the recycling centre still end up being landfilled, due to contamination, sorting issues, and other problems. If that is the case, then refill packs would still take up less landfill
space than regular packaging when disposed of. Consumers must continue to put pressure on manufacturers and retailers to produce refill packs that are recyclable or biodegradable.

Q. Which is greener -- tissues or handkerchiefs?
How do disposable tissues stack up against cloth hankies in the environment stakes? Are tissues really worse for the environment even though they are made from renewable resources?
To find out data was collected from a 1995 Duke University research on paper and 2006 Cambridge University research into textiles. The comparison is based on a 1 g tissue versus a 15 g cotton hanky, which we assumed to have a lifespan of 520 uses.

Water footprint
While both paper and cotton production are known for their high water use, the cotton hanky wins hands down using four and half times less water than a virgin tissue. It takes around 2.2 L to produce one paper tissue.
The water footprint of cotton is huge - it takes 165 L of water to grow and manufacture a single hanky, and then it has to be washed. Assuming a four-star washing machine is used, an additional 0.15 L of water is required each time the hanky is washed.
But the hanky still beats tissues because it will be used at least 520 times, which means the embodied water and the washing water comes to 0.47 L each nose-blow.
It takes three times more energy to grow trees and produce pulp to manufacture a virgin fibre tissue compared to a producing a cotton hanky.
To make a tissue takes 0.013 kWh. While it takes 0.78 kWh to produce a cotton hanky - spread over 520 uses this works out to be only 0.04 kWh per use, including washing and drying. Since laundering is the main source of energy use, just switching from tumble drying to line drying will reduce energy use even further, to 0.02 kWh.

Not surprisingly tissues do create a fair amount of waste. Unlike office paper, once a tissue has been used it can't be recycled, so it ends up in landfill. A single virgin fibre tissue creates about 1.3 g of waste, including waste from manufacturing. Manufacturers are reluctant to sell tissues made from recycled paper because they say they can't make them soft enough.
Therefore, tissues are made from virgin fibre for a single use only.
Surprisingly the greatest source of waste from cotton hankies is due to the coal mining waste created to make electricity needed for laundering. One cotton hankie produces 0.05 g of landfill-bound waste for each use, which is 26 times less waste than a tissue.

The Verdict
Hankies are greener than tissues (pardon the pun), that is if they actually get taken out of the sock drawer. To really minimise your nose-blowing impact purchase organic cotton hankies or, if you can find them, buy hemp, which has a 50 per cent lower eco-footprint.
Even better, buy vintage hankies or make them from scrap fabric. To reduce the laundering impact, wash hankies in cold water and line dry. If you really can't bring yourself to give up tissues at least try to find ones made from chlorine-free, post-consumer recycled paper and compost them after use.


Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Natural Disinfectants and Deodorisers


By Wong Ee Lynn

Bacteria are a natural part of the ecosystem. Our attempts to keep our homes and families healthy should be with the goal of having a clean, pleasant-smelling place to live, where potentially hazardous bacteria are controlled by basic hygiene.

A healthy human immune system can easily cope with normal household germs, and is in fact at greater risk from the chemicals used in many cleaning products.

In recent years, we have seen a boom in anti-bacterial products, from kitchen sponges to dishwashing liquid. Not only can disinfectants be health risks in themselves, many disinfectants contain chemicals, such as triclosan, which can affect the central nervous system of humans and other mammals, and cause organ damage. Health and environmental experts caution against anti-microbial products (sponges, toys, soaps, washcloths, aerosol sprays) because:

(1) They create a false sense of security and there is no evidence at all that they make a home safer or protect humans against illnesses and infections;
(2) They are likely to unfavourably alter the balance of microbial life in the home, leaving behind those that are more resistant to disinfectants and harder to kill;
(3) Surviving bacteria are likely to become resistant, and could make homes, like hospitals, a harbour for truly dangerous bacteria. In cases where you truly need a stronger disinfectant, e.g. in cleaning the cages and living areas of pets that have recently suffered deadly infections such as parvovirus, the best choice is a properly diluted solution of chlorine bleach.

However, most of our daily cleaning activities would not require the use of bleach. For general purposes, there are excellent natural disinfectants which include lavender oil, tea tree oil, grapefruit seed oil and other citrus extracts.

A basic list of products and tips:

1. Use cleaning cloths instead of disposable disinfectant wipes. Cotton material, e.g. old t-shirts, is best for cleaning and polishing, and can be tossed in for washing together with the rest of the laundry when dirty.

2. Instead of having various types of household cleaning agents, purchase an all-purpose biodegradable cleaner to use for most general cleaning, including mopping the floor, cleaning the bathroom and wiping down furniture. If the product is unscented, you can always add a few drops of pure essential oil, such as tea tree (antifungal) or peppermint and lavender (deodorising, antibacterial) to a diluted solution prior to cleaning.

3. White distilled vinegar is great for cleaning glass and windows and does not contain harmful ammonia.

4. Borax is a natural mineral product that kills bacteria and mildew. It can be used to soak nappies, whiten clothes, soften water and increase the effectiveness of plain soap It is also good for preventing odours and preventing mildew and mould growth, for example, in the bathroom.

5. Avoid all aerosol furniture polishes, especially those containing silicone. Experts recommend dusting with a soft cloth dampened with a little water. Good furniture does not need to be polished more than once a year, and you can use beeswax-based polish and other natural furniture polishes for this purpose.

6. Toothpaste can be used to polish and clean delicate metal jewellery.

7. You can make a metal/brass polish using a paste of white vinegar or lemon juice mixed with bicarbonate of soda.

8. If you have cats, clean the litter tray daily and wash the litter trays using soap and water at least once every few days, rather than purchase scented or antibacterial litter so that you can put off cleaning the litter tray.

9. Microwave your kitchen sponge (wet, not dry) for 2 minutes on high heat to kill germs at least twice a week, rather than buy antibacterial sponges.

10. Rather than purchase shoe sprays and powders, stuff your shoes with scrunched up newspaper (you can reuse the newspaper for each pair of shoes until they fall apart). The carbon in newsprint will deodorise your shoes, while the paper will absorb moisture.

11. Reduce the number of clothes you own that require dry-cleaning. Most of the clothes that require dry-cleaning can be safely washed by hand using a mild soap and gently hung out to drip-dry in the shade.

12. Instead of using fabric softener to add fragrance to your laundry, put herbal or floral sachets in your closet and clothes drawers instead, to help your clothes smell fresh. Alternatively, you can also put half-unwrapped bars of lemon or lavender scented soap in your closets as inexpensive and reusable deodorisers.

13. For clothes to stay white, use borax or oxygen-based bleach or hydrogen peroxide solution instead of chlorine bleach to whiten the clothes. Use natural indigo solution in the final rinse to brighten your whites.

14. Instead of antibacterial foam carpet cleaners, sprinkle the carpet with plain bicarbonate of soda. Leave for an hour or two for the soda to deodorise the carpet, and then vacuum. When more intensive cleaning is necessary, clean your carpet with a steam machine and plain water.

15. Use normal soap bars instead of antibacterial shower gels and creams. Soap bars use less packaging and weigh less, and are therefore more environmentally friendly to package and transport. There is no necessity to use antibacterial soap for your daily baths. The belief that soap bars harbour germs is a marketing ploy to create fear and thus sell antibacterial products. Our parents and grandparents did without antibacterial soap and no-one fell sick or died from using and sharing normal inexpensive soap bars.

16. Commercial air-fresheners work by masking unpleasant odours, coating your nasal passages with an oily film, or numbing your sense of smell with a nerve-deadening agent. Instead of using commercial air freshener sprays, gels and canisters, try these simple deodorising tips instead –
(i) Increase and improve ventilation. Open windows daily to clear stale air and toxic fumes. An extractor fan can help in the kitchen and bathroom.
(ii) Empty your rubbish frequently. When your rubbish bin is wet or dirty, wash it using a handful of soap powder/flakes, some water and an outdoor/bathroom broom. Put the rubbish bin upside down outdoors to air-dry.
(iii) Declare your home a no-smoking zone. Smokers will have to learn to regulate their habit, or smoke outdoors.
(iv) Grow indoor plants to improve air quality.

17. Do not use cut flowers to deodorise a room. To make flowers look and smell perfect, the floral industry uses more pesticides than any other agricultural business (since consumers do not, after all, eat flowers). They also use vast quantities of floral accessories (such as plastic wrap and ribbons), floral preservatives and non-native flowers. Purchase potted local plants instead.

18. Insecticides are poisonous and should be avoided because of their negative health and environmental effects. You are unlikely to have a problem with pests if you pay extra attention to cleaning and tidying, and block the entrances of pests (e.g. by installing mosquito screens and covering bathroom and kitchen flow holes at night). Food should be stored in airtight containers such as glass jars, or stored in the refrigerator, to avoid attracting pests. Don’t leave crumbs and unopened packages, and empty wastebaskets regularly. Essential oils such as that of peppermint, eucalyptus and citrus can repel ants and flies, while citronella oil will repel mosquitoes.

19. Instead of purchasing car air fresheners, put a bunch of pandanus leaves or lavender in your car to add fragrance and repel insects. Alternatively, put orange or lemon peel in a cup in your car to remove stale odours. Another simple air freshening method is to open one end of the packaging on a bar of soap (lavender scented soap works particularly well) and put the bar of soap in your car.

(Images reproduced from Wikipedia without permission but in accordance with the principles of fair use)

Thursday, May 9, 2013

19-Year-Old Invents Ocean Cleanup Array



19-year-old Dutch inventor Boyan Slat has unveiled plans to create an Ocean Cleanup Array that could remove 7,250,000 tons of plastic waste from the world’s oceans. The device consists of an anchored network of floating booms and processing platforms that could be dispatched to garbage patches around the world. Instead of moving through the ocean, the array would span the radius of a garbage patch, acting as a giant funnel. The angle of the booms would force plastic in the direction of the platforms, where it would be separated from plankton, filtered and stored for recycling.

At school, Boyan Slat launched a project that analyzed the size and amount of plastic particles in the ocean’s garbage patches. His final paper went on to win several prizes, including Best Technical Design 2012 at the Delft University of Technology. Boyan continued to develop his concept during the summer of 2012, and he revealed it several months later at TEDxDelft 2012.

Slat went on to found The Ocean Cleanup Foundation, a non-profit organization which is responsible for the development of his proposed technologies. His ingenious solution could potentially save hundreds of thousands of aquatic animals annually, and reduce pollutants (including PCB and DDT) from building up in the food chain. It could also save millions per year, both in clean-up costs, lost tourism and damage to marine vessels.

It is estimated that the clean-up process would take about five years, and it could greatly increase awareness about the world’s plastic garbage patches. On his site Slat says, “One of the problems with preventive work is that there isn’t any imagery of these ‘garbage patches’, because the debris is dispersed over millions of square kilometres. By placing our arrays however, it will accumulate along the booms, making it suddenly possible to actually visualize the oceanic garbage patches. We need to stress the importance of recycling, and reducing our consumption of plastic packaging.”

To find out more about The Ocean Cleanup Foundation, visit:

Green Living Column, June 2013: Removing Weeds The Natural Way

The rainy season is upon us again, and it usually results in an increase in weeds. The use of chemical weedkillers and herbicides, however, has been linked to water and soil pollution and the deaths of insects, frogs, toads, birds, tree shrews and even companion animals such as dogs and cats. How, then, do we remove weeds without resorting to chemical weedkillers?  Here are some safer ways of removing weeds and preventing weeds from growing:
(1) Spread layers of wet newspaper on top of areas where you do not want weeds to grow. This prevents sunlight from reaching the soil and thus inhibits the growth of grass and weeds.  Old garbage bags, pieces of tarpaulin or old carpet and shower curtains work as well. However, this method can be rather unsightly, so you may wish to restrict this to the insides of flowerpots, borders and in the spaces between plants.
(2) After pulling out weeds, sprinkle normal table salt on the soil to stop weeds and grass from growing. Be careful not to salt the soil where other plants such as flowers grow, as you might end up inadvertently killing them. Salt also works well on edges of lawns, in cracks in the concrete or in the spaces in between tiles.
(3) Spray vinegar directly onto weeds to kill them. However, vinegar can kill other plants that it comes in contact with, so although it is eco-friendly and biodegradable, it takes a little forethought to manage an effective application. Applying vinegar onto weeds is best done on a sunny day without the risk of wind blowing the vinegar onto other plants or the rain to dilute or wash the vinegar away.
(4) Make a liquid soap spray to spray directly onto weeds. Mix 5 tablespoons of liquid soap (such as dishwashing liquid) in one quart (4 cups) of water in a spray bottle. Coat the weeds with the soapy water. Works best on hot days as well.
(5) A kettle of boiling water is usually enough to kill weeds, especially those growing in cracks in the concrete, but does not prevent weeds from growing in the same spot in future.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Pesticides In Your Produce: The Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen


(Compiled and edited from Environmental Working Group, and Mother Nature Network)

The health benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables outweigh the risks of pesticide exposure. The Environmental Working Group (EWG)'s Shopper's Guide to Pesticides 2012 was published to help consumers make informed choices if they so choose to reduce their exposure to pesticides found and tested in produce sold in the USA. However, scientists, including the director of the Office for Science and Society at McGill University, Montreal, and the US Dept of Agriculture have stated that there is no evidence that the trace residues of pesticides present in produce are harmful to human health, and that eating conventionally-grown produce is far better than not eating fruits and vegetables at all.

Most countries monitor residual levels of pesticides in produce, and establish legal limits for the safety of consumers. In some cases, however, these residual levels may be toxic to children, pregnant women and even pets.The US FDA maintains that consuming pesticides in low amounts is harmless, but some studies show an association between pesticides and health problems such as cancer, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and nervous system disorders and say exposure could weaken immune systems.

We at Green Living are of the opinion that the EWG Shopper's Guide can help consumers determine which fruits and vegetables have the most pesticides and are the most important to buy organic. By offering consumers the information needed to make a choice, consumers can choose lower their exposure to pesticides by avoiding the 12 most contaminated fruits and vegetables (Dirty Dozen) and eating the least contaminated produce (Clean Fifteen).

1. Apples
2. Celery
3. Sweet bell peppers
4. Peaches
5. Strawberries
6. Nectarines
7. Grapes
8. Spinach
9. Lettuce
10. Cucumbers
11. Blueberries (from the USA)
12. Potatoes

1. Onions
2. Sweet corn
3. Pineapples
4. Avocado
5. Cabbage
6. Sweet peas
7. Asparagus
8. Mangoes
9. Eggplant
10. Kiwifruit
11. Cantaloupe
12. Sweet potatoes
13. Grapefruit
14. Watermelon
15. Mushrooms

Buy Organic:
Produce which is "Certified Organic" will cost more, but is your best assurance of pesticide-free status. Although the chart above is useful, it is not 100% accurate. Growing methods can change, and country-of-origin considerations make it more difficult to know exactly what you're buying. Buying organic, in-season produce from your local market is the best assurance of pesticide-free produce. If you are on a limited budget, look for organic choices for the produce your family eats the most.

Vegetable and Fruit Washes:
Commercial vegetable and fruit washes are available which are formulated to remove chemical residue from produce. You can also make your own produce wash using a solution of table salt in water.

A study done over a decade ago by the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station on the removal of trace pesticide residues from produce compared non-organic produce that was either not washed at all, rinsed only in water, and washed in “FIT, Fruit & Vegetable Wash, Organiclean, Vegi-Clean, or a 1% solution of Palmolive.”

The study found there was “little or no difference between tap water rinsing or using a fruit and vegetable wash in reducing residues of the nine pesticides studied.” There was a difference between the unwashed produce and the ones that were rinsed in water or washed with a product. The unwashed produce had more pesticide residues.

So, it seems the amount of pesticides on the surface of produce can be reduced with washing. It also seems as if there is no need to spend extra money on wash products because tap water or salt water is just as effective. However, washing only removes pesticides on the surface, not pesticides that have seeped below the skin of the produce or that have been inbred in the produce from the beginning by genetically engineered (GMOs) seeds.

Peel Fruits with Higher Residue Levels:
Peeling fruits, especially peaches, pears and apples, will help remove residues. Be sure to keep the peelings out of the compost. Some pesticides permeate the skin of the fruit, so this method does not guarantee residual free produce in all cases.

Grow Your Own:
You can attempt to grow many varieties of local fruits, vegetables and herbs yourself. Tomatoes, pandanus leaves, lime, lettuce and sweet potato leaves can easily be grown in pots. Even a small balcony kitchen garden can be very productive for family use.