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!