Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Eco Kids Column: Conifer Cones and Crafty Fun




1. Conifers (often called "pine trees") in tropical countries have their origins in a landmass known as Gondwana. India was detached from Gondwana approximately 90 million years ago. India then collided with Asia 30 - 45 million years ago and exchanged species. Later, as Australia - New Guinea drifted north, the collision of the Australian and Asian plates pushed up the islands of Wallacea, which were separated from one another by narrow straits, allowing an exhange of plants between Indomalaya and Australasia. Asian rainforest flora, including the dipterocarps, island-hopped across Wallacea to New Guinea, and several Gondwanian plant families, including podocarps (i.e. Southern Hemisphere conifers), moved westward from Australia-New Guinea into Southeast Asia.
(Many of the conifers you see in parks and gardens in Malaysia, however, are introduced species. Someone probably bought the young plants from a nursery and planted them there.)

2. Pine cones are the reproductive parts of conifers. There are both male and female pine cones. Male pine cones are soft and small. Female pine cones start out soft, green and sticky. They grow into hard brown woody cones to protect the seeds after they are fertilised.

3. The female pine cones grow for a few years while the seeds mature, then they open up to let the wind distribute the seeds.

4. Pine cones that you find on the ground are female pine cones that have completed their reproductive process, and so it is usually alright to pick them up.

5. Many species of birds, squirrels and tree shrews feed on pine cones. Humans also eat parts of the pine cones -- Pine nuts! Pine nuts are usually toasted to improve their flavour and texture. There are around 20 types of pine nuts that are edible by people.


Many people enjoy picking up pine cones to decorate their homes or make crafts with. Here are some guidelines as to what types of cones you may or should not pick up, and what you can do with the pine cones that you have collected.

1. Do not collect pine cones or seed pods from rare plants, or those that produce only a limited amount of seeds. If you are in the jungle with a guide, your guide will usually be able to tell you if a tree is rare. You can also refer to botany guidebooks. If the conifer is growing in a park, resort or garden, it is safe to assume that it is not a rare plant and you may collect its cones.

2. Collect only the pine cones that are ripe and have completed their reproductive process. It is safest to collect those that have already fallen to the ground.

3. Pick up each pine cone gently and check to see if any insects or small living animals have made it their home. If there are ants, worms, spiders and other animals living in the pinecone, then gently put it (don't throw or drop it) back where you found it so that the animals can continue living their lives in peace. After all, you would not like it if somebody came and uprooted your home and harshly shook you out of it!

4. Consider sowing and germinating any seeds you may find. The seeds are usually located under the pine cone scales. Shake the cones to collect the seeds. You can plant them directly in soil if you have the space to do it, or you can plant them into planters to be replanted at parks or roadsides to provide shade and beauty. You can even donate your plant to MNS to be planted in their office compound.


The woody brown appearance of pine cones make them ideal little owls. The eyes and beaks are attached to the pine cones using double-sided foam tape. If you wish to compost or plant your pine cone owls after you have grown tired of them, just peel off the tape, which is not biodegradable.

 Pine cones make popular decorations during Christmas because people associate them with winter and cold climates. Also, they look perfectly like miniature Christmas trees when placed upside down! Paint your pine cones with biodegradable paint (Tempera paint is non-toxic and usually safe for such purposes) and decorate them with glitter, cotton wool, mini pom-poms or colourful pipe cleaners to give them that festive look!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

MNS Green Living visits the CETDEM DDC

MNS Green Living visits the CETDEM DDC

CETDEM (Centre for Environment, Technology and Development Malaysia) is known for its organic gardening initiatives and periodic Hari Organik farmers' markets in the Klang Valley, but not many members of the public have visited its Demonstration and Documentation Centre (DDC) in SS2, Petaling Jaya.

Formally known as the Demonstration and Documentation Centre for Sustainable Energy Solutions for Urban Households, the DDC was initially set up as a 3-year demonstration, monitoring and result-sharing project on urban household energy efficiency funded by the Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA) for research and education purposes. 

MNS Green Living organised a visit to the CETDEM DDC for 26 members of the public including MNS members on 22 March 2014. While the powerpoint presentations were a bit too heavy on facts and figures for some of our youngest participants, nevertheless, everyone managed to learn a little more about environmentally-responsible home renovations, household energy audits, climate change and zero-cost and low-cost actions we can take to reduce energy and fuel use. 

Participants listening intently as CETDEM Executive Director Anthony Tan explains climate change and energy policy issues in Malaysia.

Solar heat is reduced in the CETDEM DDC through the special construction of the roof, which allows hot air to circulate and dissipate. The secret lies in the layering of the clay tiles with rockwool insulation, and  the ridge which lets hot air escape.

Photovoltaic panels are installed on the roof of the DDC as a source of renewable energy. We were further given a briefing on how the Feed-In Tariff system works. The photovoltaic panels could easily pay themselves off in a year or two this way.

Some of the Zero-Cost Actions we can take to reduce household energy use include the following:
Air-conditioning units:
1. Increase the temperature setting.
2. Reduce blower fan speed.
3. Reduce number of air-cond units switched on at any time.
4. Close doors and windows.
1. Add some leafy green plants.
1. Set to low or minimum speed.
2. Use a fan instead of an air-conditioner.
1. Carpool
2. Plan route well.
3. Switch to, or increase one's use of, public transport.
4. Clean your car's air filters.
5. Reduce your car air-cond use during the rainy season.
6. Walk or bike whenever possible.
Washing Machine:
1. Run on full loads and on less loads a week. 
2. Hand-wash similar items.
3. Separate light from heavy materials.
Water Heater:
1. Reduce heating time for central/tank unit.
2. Reduce temperature setting.
3. Reduce usage during the hot season.
4. Shorter showers.
Water Pump:
1. Clean filters more frequently.
1. Closing doors and windows during the daytime to prevent heat from entering the home.

Participants taking copies of the Household Energy Audit forms and guidelines.

A token of appreciation from Green Living to Anthony Tan, Exec Director of CETDEM, for giving up his Saturday morning to educate and enlighten us. 

CETDEM DDC's rainwater harvesting system.

A massive Rangoon Creeper plant climbs up an aluminium trellis and louvres put up outside the windows. The plant and louvres serve as "sun blockers" to prevent daytime solar heat from entering the house. 

Green Living would like to express its utmost appreciation to CETDEM and Anthony for their environmental education efforts in Malaysia.

If you would like to learn more about CETDEM, please visit their official website at http://cetdem.org.my/wordpress/.

The CETDEM DDC is located at:
17 Jalan SS2/53, 47300 Petaling Jaya.

DDC visits are arranged upon request only and are usually conducted on Saturday mornings. One week's notice period (minimum) is required. CETDEM also conducts briefings for interested homeowners, building professionals, government agencies and school/university groups. Minimum group size is 5, with 20 being the maximum.

Letter to the Editor: Water Rationing Not The Best Way To Manage A Water Crisis

Letter to the Editor: 
Water Rationing Not The Best Way To Manage A Water Crisis

Public response to the news that water rationing in Selangor would be extended until April 30 has been largely one of anger and frustration. Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) Green Living is strongly of the opinion that household water rationing is not the best way to manage a water crisis. There are serious doubts that the month-long water rationing exercise thus far has created any significant dents in water usage and wastage. Most households would have merely rescheduled their cleaning, laundry and water-intensive activities to days in which water supply is reconnected, and would have stored large amounts of water for use on dry days. 

In fact, it is observed that in most households, water wastage has even increased during the rationing period as taps have to be allowed to run for at least 10 minutes each time the water supply is reconnected to get rid of the muddy and contaminated backwashed water. There is nothing to suggest that water usage has reduced, as most residents affected by the water cuts would simply eat out at commercial establishments and use the bathrooms in offices, shopping malls and friends' homes that are not affected by the water cuts. In fact, household solid waste has increased during these inconvenient times as many people have resorted to buying disposable tableware and wet wipes to cut down on the amount of washing they need to do. This would, of course, hinder the Selangor State Government's goals of reducing plastic bag and polystyrene usage in the state. 

 The household water rationing exercise has been unnecessarily burdensome on Selangor residents. Hygiene and health have been compromised, while complaints of injuries resulting from carrying and transporting water are on the rise. Having to purchase more water receptacles, bottled drinking water and disposable goods are also added expenses that most households would rather do without. 

In developing a water conservation and management policy, it is critical that the government considers the protection of forests, rivers and watersheds as the foremost item on its agenda. The Selangor State Park comprising the Ampang, Ulu Gombak, Ulu Langat and Bukit Sungai Puteh Forest Reserves, for instance, has an important role to play as a vital watershed area. Deforestation and environmental degradation would foreseeably result in reduced air and water quality and increased soil erosion and sedimentation of waterways. There is no possibility that any Selangor resident can ignore the correlation between deforestation and declining water and air quality. Protecting our forests and maintaining the health of our rivers, wetlands and watersheds are therefore essential to ensuring that water resources are safe for us and can be sustained for future generations. 

 Among the measures MNS Green Living would like to propose to the state government as part of the state's water management policy would be to end the waiver for the charges for the first 20 cubic metres of water used by households in Selangor. While we understand that the waiver was instituted in 2008 to rectify the imbalance caused by the artificial inflation of water prices due to subsidies paid to water distribution concessionaires by the previous state government, it is a move that does not further the cause of water conservation.

MNS Green Living had in 2008 already recommended that the savings made by the state government from terminating the subsidies paid to water distribution concessionaires be channelled instead into improving and upgrading substandard and obsolete water storage, treatment and supply infrastructure, and minimising non-revenue water loss by putting a stop to water theft and replacing old asbestos water pipes with safer materials. 

Instead of offering reduced water charges to all Selangor residents, the state government should introduce a state-wide green rebate scheme such as that practiced by the Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ) and offer tax and assessment rebates to households and businesses with water and energy-saving initiatives, including those with low-tech, low-cost initiatives such as rainwater collection and greywater reuse using pails, to ensure that even low-income households can benefit from these rebates. More sophisticated rainwater harvesting systems and water-saving devices can be installed at government buildings, parks, animal welfare facilities, and commercial centres. 

It is further noted that a lot of water wastage occurs in commercial buildings, offices, factories and schools, since the building occupants and visitors are less likely to be concerned about saving water in a place where they are not responsible for the paying of the water bills. As such, it is recommended that measures and incentives such as green rebates and voluntary water reduction schemes be put in place to encourage homeowners, developers, commercial property owners and managers of public facilities to install water-saving devices such as aerated taps, dual flush toilets and low-flow showerheads, or even to just reduce faucet water pressure to prevent splashing. 

 The solution to our country's water problems lies not in the construction of an infinite number of dams, or in water rationing for domestic users, but in protecting vital watershed areas, repairing and maintaining the existing water supply infrastructure to minimise non-revenue water loss, and to promote and enforce more efficient water use. 

MNS Green Living,
Malaysian Nature Society