Thursday, December 4, 2014

Making Possessions Last Longer (Part 2)


Making Possessions Last Longer (Part 2)
(By Wong Ee Lynn, /


In the December 2014 Green Living column, we provided tips on how to care for clothes, shoes, bags, mattresses and pillows to make them last longer, and the proper etiquette for donating used items. In this month's column, we will share ideas and tips on how to care for electronic devices and appliances, books, toys and furniture to make them last and help you save on money and resources.
1. Mobile phones and battery-operated devices
- Get (or make!) a good quality protective casing or cover for your phone, tablet device, MP3 player or other device to protect it from scratches, dirt, dust, water, sweat and drops/falls.
- Don't expose your phone or other device to extreme heat or moisture. Don't leave it on your vehicle dashboard or next to / on top of the refrigerator or stove, and don't bring your devices into the shower or swimming pool with you.
- Switch off the battery charger once your device is fully charged. Never charge your device for more than 12 hours. Conversely, you should not let your battery get fully drained before you recharge it. Always use the correct charger for your device. Cheap knock-off battery chargers can damage batteries and devices.
- If your phone or device ever falls into water, switch it off as soon as you retrieve it to prevent an electrical short circuit. Disassemble your device quickly and dry the battery and removable parts with a dry cloth or towel to prevent corrosion. Spread the battery, SIM card and other removable parts out onto a teatowel and let them dry overnight. Do NOT use a hairdryer to dry a wet phone or device, as the heat can cause further damage. Reassemble your phone or device the following day and test it to see if it will work again.

2. Electrical Appliances
- Switch off and unplug anything that is not in use. Switch off battery chargers once appliances are fully charged.
- Have a proper place to store appliances to prevent damage caused by water or being accidentally dropped or pushed off ledges and counters. Store smaller appliances, e.g. hair dryers, blenders and mixers, in drawers and cabinets when not in use.
- Unplug your refrigerator and clean the compressor coils at least once a year to keep it running efficiently. Same goes for fans and air-conditioning units. Regular cleaning will help them run more efficiently and prevent breakdowns. As a general rule, wipe down all appliances after use to prevent dirt, dust and pet hair from clogging up vents and moving parts.
- Microwave ovens can last around 10 years, given proper care. Clean out your microwave after use before the grease and food bits solidify and harden, which will increase the risk of sparking, which can seriously damage your microwave oven. Heat up a bowl of water with a slice of lemon or lime in it in your microwave until the water boils. The steam will loosen the grease and food particles and make your microwave oven easier to clean.
- Don't put heavy items, e.g. books and ornaments, on top of appliances, such as television sets, computer monitors and microwave ovens, which can add strain to the structure of the appliance.
- Read your appliance manual and warranty documents to find out the proper way to care for and service your appliances.

3. Books
- Buy good quality book covers/ plastic wrapping paper for wrapping your book covers in. This will protect them from dirt and moisture and help them look new for many years to come, which is a bonus if you plan to sell or donate your pre-loved books. If the books are used or old books, wipe down the cover and sides with a damp cloth and let the book air-dry completely before you wrap it. Repair all torn pages and covers or split spines with adhesive tape.
- Don't scribble on book pages. If you have a habit of writing down ideas and thoughts or new words to look up in a dictionary, keep a few pieces of scrap paper or memo pads around in your reading corner so your books can be spared the scribbles.
- Have bookmarks lying around, or one bookmark for each book, to discourage yourself from dog-earing pages, or putting books face down on a table (which may dirty the pages or break the book spine, causing pages to come loose). You can easily make bookmarks by cutting laminated flyers, cereal boxes or greeting cards into strips, or using the cardboard tags from your new clothes or shoes as bookmarks. Don't use rubber bands or paper clips as bookmarks, as rubber bands can melt and leave stains and paper clips will rust and damage paper.
- Keep your hands reasonably clean while handling books and reading. If you are in the habit of snacking while reading, keep a washcloth or handkerchief nearby to wipe your fingers on.
- Don't roll up your books or stick them into your pockets. Hold them in your hands or store them in a bag or backpack instead.
- To avoid your books getting dirty, crumpled or mixed up with other things in your backpack, store them in a paper or plastic bag before stowing them in your backpack. This will prevent the book from opening up or getting creased, torn, dirty or dog-eared in your backpack.
- If you read in the bathroom, take your book out with you so that it will not be damaged by the moisture in the bathroom. If you have a designated stack of reading materials in the bathroom, put up a shelf or rack for the books, away from water and areas where they are likely to get splashed or sprayed with water.
- If you use cookbooks in the kitchen, you might want to save a few large transparent plastic bags (e.g. the kind that new shirts come in) to put your book in when you open it up to the page you want. This way, you can hold the pages open with pegs, clips, a skirt hanger or heavy items like salt and pepper shakers, but the pages will not be damaged.
- If you have children who love to acquire and accumulate books, you may want to create an incentive for them by putting up the books they no longer read for sale on secondhand books forums or social media. The better the condition the book is in, the higher the price you can quote. Your child can keep 50% of the proceeds of sale. This will be an incentive for him or her to keep his or her books in good condition for resale and donation.
- Store your books upright or lying flat down, never slanting or sloping, as this will put pressure on the pages and increase the risk of pages getting torn or the books getting bent out of shape. Keep your bookcase clean and free from dust and damp. Store books away from open windows where they might get wet during rain or discoloured by sunlight, or refrigerators and vents where they can get damaged by heat. Your book storage area should ideally be a cool, clean and dry area.

4. Furniture
- Use a furniture protector spray or polish to protect fabrics and upholstery against stains. Be sure to read the label carefully, and choose the product with ingredients that cause the least harm to the environment and human health.
- Get washable, removable slip covers made for your sofa, armchairs and seats.
- Lubricate moving parts such as drawer rails so that they roll in and out smoothly, thus preventing rough handling.
- Polish wooden furniture with wood polish (environmentally-friendly options include beeswax polish, and olive oil if you are vegan) to protect and waterproof their surfaces and hide scratches and dings.
- Cover shelves, table tops and insides of drawers with plastic or linoleum sheets cut to size to protect them against dirt, dust, moisture, and scratches.
- Tighten the screws and joints of furniture from time-to-time to ensure they don't wobble and crack. Try not to overload shelves. Keep the heaviest loads on the lowest shelves to prevent furniture from falling or tipping over and to protect furniture joints and supporting columns.
- Try to keep wooden or steel furniture off the floor to prevent damage from water, e.g. during mopping. Elevate furniture off the floor using castors, rubber risers (available in hardware and home improvement stores) or tiles.
- Use furniture corner protectors (from hardware or home improvement stores and baby goods sections) for furniture items that frequently get bumped into or that hit other surfaces, for example, cabinet doors that swing into the wall when opened too quickly.

5. Toys
- The fewer toys a child has, the better he or she is able to care for them. Buy only the best quality toys available and rotate toys regularly (e.g. store a box away in your closet, ensure child has no more than 30 toys to play with at each given week and switch the toys around when he/she is tired of the existing ones).
- Create an incentive system to encourage your child or teen to part with his/her old toys. Have him/her clean up and repair/restore old toys and locate missing pieces and parts. Put the toys up for sale via social media, online forums or a yard sale. Your child/teen gets to keep an agreed percentage of the proceeds of sale. This will motivate him/her to keep toys in good condition and ensure parts and pieces do not go missing. Unsold items can be donated to charitable organisations. Too often, toys donated to charity are broken, dirty, torn or incomplete.
- Wash soft toys by hand in cold soapy water to remove dirt and stains. Sometimes, you may need to undo a few stitches, remove damp and contaminated cotton/stuffing, and restuff the soft toy with clean stuffing once the toy is dry. Ensure all tears and holes are patched or stitched up before they are beyond repair.
- Wipe down battery-operated toys, particularly toys that are taken outdoors such as remote-controlled cars. This will prevent a buildup of dirt that can wear down moving parts.
- Wash plastic toys and sports equipment in soapy water and allow them to dry. This will keep them looking new longer and prevent dirt from wearing down moving parts or damaging grooves, joints and stitches.
- Have a proper place to store toys that break easily, for example, kites, paper lanterns and vintage toys.
- Keep toys organised and sorted into proper containers or boxes. The more messy a collection of toys are, the more likely it is that parts and pieces will go missing, rendering the rest of the toy or game useless.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Green Living Column Dec 2014: Making Possessions Last Longer (Part 1)

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Letter to the Editor: Inappropriate to misrepresent sale of sharks as ecotourism

There is nothing ecologically responsible in your recent article on 'ecotourism' in Kuala Sepetang (Oct 14, The Star). The picture of the business owner, Tiong Kawi, holding what looks like a baby blacktip reef shark or spot-tail shark for sale, in an article which is ostensibly about ecotourism, is misleading and harmful, as it creates the impression that the sale and consumption of wildlife constitutes ecotourism. 

The consumption of wildlife, even those that are not critically endangered, is incompatible with the principles of ecotourism. Ecotourism, by its definition, is responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and sustains the well-being of local people. When implemented properly, ecotourism can encourage local guardianship of natural resources, habitats, and wildlife. Ecotourism should inculcate concern about the plight of wild animals and the environment, not promote the consumption of wildlife. 

Very often, instances of abuse and exploitation of wildlife are passed off by irresponsible tour operators as ecotourism. Tourists often consent to sampling bushmeat, sharks' fin soup and other wildlife products in order to have their “money’s worth” from the holiday package. There are insufficient regulations on what businesses may use the label of ecotourism, despite the existence of a National Ecotourism Plan and a relatively sophisticated legal framework where wildlife and the environment are concerned. 

Blacktip reef sharks and spot-tail sharks are listed as near-threatened on the IUCN Red List. Sharks play a vital role in the oceans. As top predators at the pinnacle of the marine food pyramid, sharks directly or indirectly regulate the natural balance of these ecosystems. As they usually hunt old, weak or sick prey, they help to keep the prey population healthy and strong, enabling these more naturally fit animals to reproduce and pass on their genes. The effects of removing sharks from ocean ecosystems, although complex and rather unpredictable, are very likely to be ecologically and economically damaging. Sharks regulate the behaviour of prey species, and prevent them from over-grazing vital habitats. 

From a human health point of view, heavy metals and other environmental toxins accumulate in plant and animal tissues through the well-documented process of bioaccumulation. Sharks are prone to bioaccumulation through diet, as they incorporate metals very efficiently and eliminate them slowly. Eating shark meat exposes the consumer to these potentially dangerous toxins, in particular, high levels of the methyl mercury. While a certain amount of mercury in the environment is natural, growing worldwide pollution of our oceans is increasing the risk of high mercury levels in the fish we eat, particularly fish at the top of the food chain like sharks. Consuming sharks will increase the level of mercury one ingests, which will in turn increase one's risk of neurological disorders, autism, infertility, coronary heart disease or even death. 

Despite being portrayed in popular culture as merciless killers, sharks are an incredibly fragile 'keystone species', partly due to the fact that sharks are slow growing animals that mature late, live long, and have a low reproduction rate. The depletion of shark populations may cause the entire marine food web to collapse, resulting in the loss of commercially important fish and shellfish species as well. 

As a reader concerned with fair and accurate reporting, I urge The Star to refrain from using terms such as 'ecotourism' and 'eco-friendly' loosely. A travel destination is not made environmentally responsible merely by virtue of being near natural spaces. Consumers should be mindful of what actually constitutes 'ecotourism' or sustainable nature tourism before paying for services and experiences that may in fact harm animal populations, the natural environment and the local community. 

As a basic guide, the following activities cannot constitute ecotourism: The consumption and harvesting of wildlife, the feeding of wild birds, marine animals and wildlife, driving off-track to harass animals, rides on elephants and other wildlife, animal performances such as snake charmer shows and dancing bears, and photo opportunities with wildlife, especially restrained wildlife such as chained tigers and bears. 

True ecotourism will take into account natural resource and waste management, provide empowerment and economic opportunities to indigenous and local communities, minimise environmental impact, and foster environmental awareness and respect for the environment, local population and animals. Good ecotourism practices may include activities such as beach and reef cleanups, tree-planting, data collection work and other hands-on activities that enable holidaymakers to make a positive difference to the ecologically sensitive site they are visiting. 

We urge all travellers and netizens to avoid engaging in practices such as consuming wildlife and endangered species, whether or not marketed as part of an ecotourism activity. The trade in and consumption of wildlife should be reported to WWF Malaysia, the Department of Wildlife and National Parks or the Malaysian Conservation Alliance for Tigers (MYCAT) Hotline. Cruelty to and mistreatment of wildlife should be reported to the Department of Wildlife and National Parks and the state SPCA, which can then assist in investigations and lodge an official report with the Department of Veterinary Services. Any offence involving marine life should be reported to the Department of Fisheries and Marine Parks. We should be responsible, considerate and mindful enough to appreciate nature and the animal world without having to eat, own, destroy, harass, control or exploit them. 


Friday, October 3, 2014

Green Living Household Tips

Pencinta Alam Newsletter October 2014
Green Living Column

Green Living Household Tips
Compiled and edited from

1. The ultraviolet radiation from the sun can be a natural and effective way to deodorize and kill smelly bacteria in hard-to-wash household items.  On a sunny day, bring items like rugs, yoga and workout mats and throw pillows outside.  Place them on a clean tarp away from animals and cars emitting fumes into the air.  Allow them to absorb the sun’s rays for several hours to fully deodorise before bringing them back inside the house. 

2. If rust has encrusted gardening equipment such as trowels, shovels and shears, brew a pot of strong black tea (about 4 teabags) and allow the tea to cool. Pour the tea into a bucket and fill it with cold water.  Soak the tools for about 1-8 hours, depending on how rusty they are. As the rusty tools soak, the tannic acid in the tea is gently attacking the rust and making them easy to scrub clean. Remove the tools and scour with a coarse brush or sponge and dry off with a soft towel. 

3. If wearing perfumes triggers headaches or makes you feel ill, there are two options for you.  One is to look for USDA certified organic scents, which use food-grade natural oils free of any synthetic chemicals. But if you can’t find an organic scent you like, consider wearing single note scents or absolutes.  Traditional perfumes use about 200 chemicals to create their complicated scents; a single note —like Mint, Sandalwood or Lavender — uses significantly less and may be a calmer alternative to help you smell delicious and fresh. 

4. One way to conserve water when watering your garden is to water early in the morning or at night when the sun’s rays are not at their hottest and won’t quickly evaporate the water droplets. 

5. Donating used items to charity is a great way to find a new home for your old things and help a worthwhile nonprofit raise funds.  However, not everything can be donated to charities, so it’s best to ask before you drop off. Mattresses and boxsprings, for example, are difficult to give, due to sanitary concerns. Used electronics have become very difficult to donate, since prices have come down and functionality is constantly evolving at a rapid pace. It’s best to bring old electronics to recycling centres to be stripped for recycling and materials recovery instead. 

6. Many people are juicing fresh fruits and vegetables at home to create delicious and healthy beverages. But what can you do with all the dry pulp from all that juicing?  One idea is to semi-compost it in your potted plants.  Simply rake the top of the soil of your plants and sprinkle the dry mixture into the soil.  Rake again until it is fully incorporated into the soil.  Very quickly, the organic mixture will break down and become beneficial mulch for your plants.  They’ll thrive and you’ll find a way to deliver great nutrition to your plants via juicing, too.

7. A simple way to keep your stainless steel appliances at home looking clean, shiny, streak-free and almost new is to use olive oil. If you have stubborn stains, watermarks, and fingerprints that just won’t go away, grab olive oil and a microfiber towel. Pour a few drops of oil onto your microfiber towel and buff away. It will help shine the stainless steel all while removing grease and dirt.  The microfiber towel has millions of microscopic fibers that grip onto the surface and absorb grime. Olive oil works as a lubricant that will not leave surfaces greasy.

8. Each rechargeable battery inside a smart phone can be recharged about 1,000 times before it needs to be replaced.  One way of extending the life of these batteries is to do just a few easy things that help to preserve the lifespan of the battery. One easy tip is to never put your phone’s ringtone on “vibrate” mode. The buzzing motion actually uses more power than ring tones. Silent mode is, of course, the most energy efficient.  Also, disable any screensavers that are animated. A still image uses far less energy than one that moves and can also help extend the life of the rechargeable battery. 

9. You’ve heard of staycations, but have you heard of traincations?  When traveling for work or play, choosing a train instead of driving or flying is the greenest way to go. The carbon emissions savings by using a train instead of a car is about 50%; instead of flying saves a whopping 68%.  Plus, not to mention the ease of train travel: most major cities have train stations in the heart of the city, unlike airports that are often far away.    In addition, instead of the stress of driving in bumper-to-bumper traffic, you have views from a comfortable seat where you can also plug in personal electronics.  Remember, half the fun is getting there, so why not try a traincation?

10. Going camping for the first time?  Are you a white water rafting virgin?  Instead of buying all new gear and spending on equipment you may or may not use again, think second-hand instead.  Trawl local flea markets such as Secondhand Suq for bargains. Look in online sites like to find lower prices on lightly used gear such as backpacks, life jackets, tents and other things you need for your first adventure in the Great Outdoors, or ask around in hiking & camping forums and environmental organisations' social media groups.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Simple Household Greywater Systems

By Wong Ee Lynn
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The call for water conservation and wise use and management of water is now more urgent than ever, especially taking into consideration the recurring water crisis in Selangor. In the past, homeowners were often urged to collect and harvest rainwater for household use. However, deforestation has led to reduced rainfall and we are not able to collect rainwater as frequently as we used to.

Many MNS members have expressed an interest in installing greywater systems and reusing greywater. 

Greywater is water from non-plumbing systems such as hand basins, showers, baths and washing machines. It is safe for use in the garden and for flushing toilets with. It should never include water from toilets, kitchen sinks or washing diapers, as these often harbour pathogens. Greywater should never be used on fruits, vegetables and anything you plan to eat.

Most homeowners and building occupants are deterred by the high cost involved in installing greywater systems. The greywater tank system in the picture below, for example, involves quite sophisticated plumbing and pipes and takes up a significant amount of space. 

A greywater tank at the Eats, Shoots and Roots edible garden premises. 

Even simple retrofit systems such as the Toilet Lid Sink in the picture below are not easily available in Malaysia or within the economic means of the people who need it the most to keep their utility bills down.
A toilet lid sink, by SinkPositive
(Image credits:

What can you do to collect and reuse greywater, if you are renting, living in a small space, living in shared accommodation or simply not inclined to install a complex plumbing system or purchase expensive equipment? Here are some tried and tested tips which may seem inconvenient in the beginning when you first implement it, but will soon become second nature, just like sorting your recyclables and taking your reusable shopping bag with you when you leave the house:


1. Use phosphate-free and biodegradable soap, shampoo, detergents and household cleaning solutions whenever possible. White vinegar is an excellent cleaning agent for glass surfaces and mirrors, for example. This is to ensure that the water collected will pose less harm to the environment and to human and animal health when used.

2. If you have a wide and sturdy tub, you can stand in it while showering and let the water collect. The advantage of this is that there is usually a very short distance between the shower and the toilet, so the greywater collected can then conveniently be used for flushing the toilet with. 

3. For general household cleaning tasks such as cleaning the windows, mopping the floor and wiping down tables and furniture surfaces, let the water from cleaning and rinsing collect in a basin and then pour it into a bucket or pail that can then be put in the bathroom or outdoor areas for reuse. You can also collect water directly into a bucket or pail by washing and rinsing directly from a standing tap or hose. To filter out hair, lint and other dirt, you might want to put a piece of fine wire mesh, mosquito screen or an old piece of muslin, cheesecloth or light bedsheet over the opening of the bucket. Use pegs or clips to hold the cloth or screen in place over the opening of the bucket. This way, the piece of screen or cloth acts as a sieve to filter out dirt from the greywater.

4. Some items such as delicate items of clothing, shoes and rugs may need to be handwashed. Pour away the water used for soaking these items, as the water in the earliest stage is likely to be dirty and contaminated. Collect the water from the subsequent rounds of washing and rinsing for reuse in the bathroom or garden. 


1. It is safe to use greywater on trees, ornamental plants and non-edible plants. There is some degree of risk to watering vegetables and herbs with greywater that comes from the bathroom and kitchen. If you do insist on using greywater on edible plants, pour the water into the soil / at the plants' roots, and not all over the leaves and edible parts of the plants. 

2. The average person flushes the toilet 5 times a day. Toilets make up 31% of household water consumption. If you were to place a greywater bucket and scoop by the toilet and encourage those who use the toilet to flush using greywater, you can potentially save over 70 litres of water per person per day. Ensure that the greywater is free of grease, lint and dirt that may clog up the plumbing. The last person to use the toilet that night should flush it with the water in the cistern to 'rinse' the toilet and therefore prevent dirt and stains from building up in the toilet. 

3. If you have pets, you can use greywater to wash cat litter trays, or to flush away animal waste. Use clean water from the tap only for rinsing after soaping and scrubbing the litter trays. 

4. Use greywater to flush or wash the driveway or other outdoor areas. Use clean water from a tap or hose only for the final rinse to ensure that the floor does not end up slippery, stained or dirty when dry. 

Do you have any ideas to share or feedback to provide on greywater collection and reuse? If so, please email us at!

Friday, August 8, 2014

Eco Kids Column: Keeping Cool In The Heatwave

Eco Kids Column, Pencinta Alam Sept 2014

Keeping Cool In The Heatwave
By Wong Ee Lynn

The recurring hot and dry season can be a source of discomfort and frustration for many. Some people complain that they are unable to sleep at night without an air-conditioning unit in their bedrooms. If you are one of those people, you may want to consider these tips to help you keep cool:

If you do not have an air-conditioned bedroom:
1. Keep the house shut tight during the day. Don't let in unwanted heat and humidity. Open up the windows to ventilate at night either naturally or with fans. 
2. Install awnings on windows to provide shade.
3. Plant trees for shade around the house, especially as ‘sun-breakers’ outside windows.
4. Install window shades or mini-blinds. Mini-blinds can reduce solar heat gain by 40-50%.  
5. Have a cold shower or a cold drink before bed to help bring your temperature down.

If you do have an air-conditioning unit in your home:
1. We hope it is a high-efficiency air conditioner with Energy Star ratings!
2. 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. 
3. To reduce energy wastage, seal all air conditioner ducts.
4. Keep the thermostat set at 23 degrees Celsius or higher if using ceiling fans. Don't air-condition unused rooms.
5. Maintain your air conditioners properly to maximise efficiency. Clean the filters every month if you use it frequently. Normal dust build-up can reduce airflow by 1% per week.
6. 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%.
7. Consider sharing an air-conditioned sleeping space with your parents or siblings to reduce the need to use an air-conditioner in more than one room. 
8. Use the timer to switch your air-conditioner off after 1-2 hours, when the room is sufficiently cool and you are already asleep. Keep your fan on to ventilate the room. The room should be able to remain cool until morning. 
9. Switch on the air-conditioner only after you have entered the room. Don't keep an air-conditioner running if there is no-one in the room. Always switch it off when the room is sufficiently cool, and do not keep it running longer than is necessary. 

Here is a DIY Project called a 'Poor Man's Air-Conditioning Unit', which has proven popular with students and renters! The best thing is that it uses items you already have, or items that would otherwise be recycled or discarded. 
You need:
1. 2 or more beverage bottles. Fill with water and freeze. 
2. A table or standing fan.
3. Boxes, step stools or books to bring the bottles to the same height as the fan blades.
4. Trays or plastic takeout containers.

1. Freeze the bottles of water way ahead of time. The bigger the bottle of water, the longer the cooling effect will last. The trouble, however, is that not many people have the room to fit 2 large 1.5 litre soda bottles in their freezer! The cooling effect of 0.5 litre bottles like the ones in the picture will last at least for an hour.
2. Use the boxes, books or stepping stools to bring the bottles up to the height of the fan blades. Place the bottles upright in front of the fan so that the wind will blow through the column of frozen water bottles.
3. Put the bottles standing upright in the trays or takeout containers to capture the condensation and stop the water from damaging books and furniture.
4. Switch the fan on and allow the wind to blow through the column of frozen water bottles and at you. In the morning, remember to put the bottles back into the freezer so that they will have time to freeze and you will be able to use them again the following night.

Stay cool, use energy and resources wisely and tread gently on the good Earth!

Collaborative Consumption and an introduction to the Green Living Little Free Library

Green Living Column for Pencinta Alam Sept 2014

By Wong Ee Lynn

As individuals concerned about the environment, many of us are aware of the adverse environmental impact of excessive consumerism. At the same time, we also realise that increased economic prosperity since the middle of the 20th century means that we are often surrounded by an abundance of assets. Many of us acquire or possess items that are infrequently used -- such as electric drills, power washers, holiday homes, books that are read only once and toys and bicycles that are outgrown. 

As communities become more aware of this abundance of assets, many initiatives have been set up around the world by organisations and individuals to share such assets. The advantages of a sharing economy, also known as collaborative consumption or a collaborative economy, are that it reduces the impact of consumerism on the environment (i.e. reduced need for materials extraction, production, consumption and disposal), saves money and resources, and connects individuals and communities. 

Examples of collaborative consumption include the following:
1. Community edible gardens where residents and volunteers grow fruits, herbs and vegetables in a public space and enjoy the harvest together;
2. Community co-operatives, secondhand sales, and jumble sales; 
3. Peer-lending programmes and borrowing shops, such as this one in Berlin;
4. Car-sharing and bike-sharing programmes
5. Couchsurfing and vacation rental initiatives such as AirBnB;
6. Homeschooling cooperatives and childcare services such as daycare and preschool cooperatives run by parents;
7. Little Free Libraries that do away with traditional membership and book return rules.

The Green Living SIG recently set up a Little Free Library outside the Malaysian Nature Society Headquarters at JKR 641, Jalan Kelantan, Federal Hill to advance the cause of collaborative consumption and also to share reading materials. It is located in the porch, outside the front door, right by the mailbox.

The rules of the Little Free Library are as follows:
1. No due dates, deadlines, recording system or membership system.
2. No opening hours or closing times. Just drop by the porch, pick a book or two, and leave other books for others to enjoy. The night watchman will be around to ensure that people don't hog all the books or clear the entire bookcase! (P/S: A coffee or a kind word for the night watchman would be nice)
3. Feel free to donate any books or magazines, and spread the word.
4. You can decide to return the book you took, donate another book in its stead, donate the book you took to a worthy cause, or keep it if you really love it. This is a non-profit collaborative consumption initiative, so please don't destroy, discard or sell the books from the Little Free Library!

We wish you many happy hours of reading and hope you will drop by to take and exchange books. We also welcome suggestions for future collaborative consumption ideas (e.g. A community edible garden outside the MNS HQ? A Facebook Collaborative Consumption group offering pre-loved assets for sale/rental/barter/borrowing?), so please email us at or leave a post on the MNS Green Living Facebook group with your fantastic ideas, and we promise you we will try to discuss and consider each one!


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Green Living Visit-and-Volunteer Session at the 'Eats, Shoots and Roots' Edible Garden

Activity Report: Green Living Visit-and-Volunteer Session at the 'Eats, Shoots and Roots' Edible Garden. 
By Wong Ee Lynn 

Our physical health is interconnected with that of our environment and immediate community. This explains, in part, the rising popularity of edible gardens and community gardens. Gardening benefits our physical and mental health; growing our own food even more so. Edible gardening teaches us self-sufficiency, brings us satisfaction, helps us reconnect with the Earth, and puts food on the table that isn't laden with chemicals, heavily packaged, transported across miles or produced by agricultural giants and biotech companies. Community gardening enables us to learn from one another and affords us the companionship of like-minded persons. 

MNS Green Living members and supporters paid a visit to the 'Eats, Shoots and Roots' ('ESR') Edible Garden in Petaling Jaya to learn more about edible gardening for urban households and to contribute our time and energy as volunteer gardeners on Sunday, 6th July 2014. 

ESR is a social enterprise based in Petaling Jaya with the objective of empowering urban communities and individuals with the skills and tools to grow their own food, and to develop a sense of resilience in the city. It was one of the 6 recipients of the Arthur Guinness Fund and British Council Social Enterprise 'Entrepreneurs for Good' Award in 2013. In the course of our 2.5-hour session at the ESR garden in a residential home in Petaling Jaya, we learned about different types of garden beds, gardening methods, the uses of many beneficial edible plants and the ideal growing conditions for various types of plants. 

MNS members Pasupathy and Sally even brought plants to share and swap with the group. There was much laughter and camaraderie and the session was concluded with a small tea party during which plants were exchanged and vegetable seeds were given out to the thrilled participants. 

Green Living would like to express our heartfelt appreciation to Shao-Lyn and Beatrice of ESR for their time, patience, guidance and companionship. 

To learn more about 'Eats, Shoots and Roots', please visit their official website at and 'Like' them on Facebook at

Photos of the Visit-and-Volunteer Session: 

Tour of the front garden. 

Old glass bottles are repurposed as garden borders. 

Shao-Lyn explained how a Hugel Bed works. A Hugel Bed is basically a raised garden bed, with logs buried underneath, to grow a garden without irrigation or fertilization. 

Herb Spirals are space-saving and water-saving as they are constructed vertically. Plants that need the least water, e.g. rosemary, are planted at the top, with the plants that need the most water, e.g. aloe vera, planted at the bottom, so that the water trickles down from the plants on top to the ones at the bottom. 

A little garden pond with kangkung (water convolvulus) and water lettuce. 

A greywater harvesting and reusing system. 

Container gardens for edible gardening are perfect if you live in a small rented space or in an apartment. Save your carrot tops and plant them in pots like ESR has done, and you will soon be able to harvest your very own crop of carrots.

The vermicompost bin is constructed out of salvaged wood and a bathtub that one of the ESR members found by the roadside. The Red Wrigglers in the bin have turned kitchen and garden waste into rich, fertile mulch. 

ESR's volunteer Beatrice demonstrates potting and replanting techniques.  

Joanne weeds the Hugel Bed. 

Beng Beng clears dead creepers from the fence. 

A group photo of the participants for posterity. 

Seed starter kits containing non-hybrid, non-GMO seeds for sale and distribution.