Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Helping Hands at the MNS Urban Community Forest

By Wong Ee Lynn
<wongeelynn@yahoo.com / gl.mnselangor@yahoo.com>

"Take care of the land and the land will take care of you."
~ H. Bennett.
What if we told you that you didn't have to go on a long holiday to a place far away in order to help volunteer for a project that helps the environment? What if we told you that you could volunteer any weekend you please, and still have time for your other activities, tuition classes or music lessons after helping out for a few hours on a Saturday morning? What if we told you there is a place in the city where you can volunteer to help the environment and plant rainforest trees on Saturday mornings and learn more about trees, gardening and the environment? What if we told you there is a place in the city where your club, society, class or Scout/Guide troop can visit and volunteer and learn about trees and nature, without much hassle or expense?
At the MNS Urban Community Forest located at the Malaysian Nature Society Headquarters in Jalan Kelantan, Kuala Lumpur, you can do just that!
There is an ongoing initiative by our MNS Head of Conservation Mr. Balu Perumal to plant Merbau saplings from seed at a nursery set up at the MNS Urban Community Forest. Merbau trees are endangered due to logging and deforestation. The Merbau saplings grown at the MNS Urban Community Forest will be replanted in forest reserves, parks and other places upon request from schools, societies, and volunteers.
Planting over 5,000 seeds is a lot of work! Some trees will make it to adulthood. Some will not. The important thing is to keep planting as many as we can, in the best conditions possible to improve their chances of survival. Merbau trees need sunlight but not too much water. They do not grow well in soggy and muddy soil.
MNS Selangor Branch's Green Living Special Interest Group has been asking Mr. Balu for young trees to be replanted at the Kota Damansara Community Forest in Petaling Jaya, Selangor. So far we have replanted over 70 trees.
On 28th May 2016, Green Living held a "Give-Back Day" at the MNS Urban Community Forest to help Mr. Balu plant Merbau seeds and transplant Merbau saplings at the nursery to return the favour for all the lovely young trees he has given us. Mr. Balu plants the seeds and tends to the plants at the nursery every Saturday morning from 9.00 - 11.00 a.m.
Around 18 volunteers, including 5 schoolchildren and their dedicated teacher, Cikgu Aminah, and another 2 children accompanied by their father, Dr. Sanath, came to help us on Give-Back Day.

Merbau seeds look like pebbles, don't they? They are hard and need to be soaked before they can be planted. (Photo credits: Sunrise Seekers Sayli)
Very young Merbau seedlings. Don't they remind you of the giant beanstalk in 'Jack and the Beanstalk'? (Photo credits: Sunrise Seekers Sayli)
The schoolchildren admiring the pebble-like appearance of the Merbau seeds.
Mr. Balu explaining what we need to do for the day.

The Merbau saplings in the nursery are arranged according to the month they were planted. Some need more sunlight than others.

The cheerful young volunteers helped us move the 3-month-old saplings to another area where they can receive more sunlight, so that we can free up space for the new saplings we were about to transplant.
The children used spades to help break up and loosen the soil for better drainage, so that the tree roots can breathe and would not be waterlogged in heavy clumps of soil.
The children filled up each planting bag halfway through with soil and carried them to the adult volunteers, who had to carefully dig out each young plant and transplant them into the bags.
A group photo of some of the volunteers who had worked so hard all morning! Never underestimate the difference children can make! Little hands do important work, too!
If you would like to assist and volunteer, please contact the MNS office at 03-22879422 and ask for Mr. Balu.
The MNS Urban Community Forest and office is located at  JKR 641, Jalan Kelantan, Bukit Persekutuan, 50480 Kuala Lumpur.
If you or your parents are on Facebook, please visit and click 'Like' on  MNS Urban Community Forest's Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/MNS-Urban-Community-Forest-134370753634265/?fref=ts

Monday, July 11, 2016

Green Living Column: Alternatives to Antibacterial Soap



Maybe you’ve heard how the overuse of antibiotics is causing the rise of antibiotic-resistant “superbugs.” The same can be said of antibacterial products such as antibacterial shower gel, hand soap and hand sanitisers.


As epidemiologist Allison Aiello explains to Scientific American, most antibacterial soaps contain the ingredient triclosan. When the bacteria are exposed to triclosan, they can undergo genetic mutations. These same mutations not only protect them from triclosan (or whatever other antibacterial product you are using), but can make them more difficult to kill with antibiotics!


In animal studies like this one at the Journal of Toxicological Sciences it was found that triclosan altered the hormones in rats, causing an estrogenic effect. The FDA says that animal studies aren’t always indicative of what will happen to humans, but even they recommend reviewing the risks further and say that concerned consumers should use regular soap instead.


A study, reported in Smithsonian Magazine, found that triclosan “hinders human muscle contractions at the cellular level and inhibits normal muscle functioning in both fish and mice.” The researchers weren’t even exposing cells to super-high dosages during the study. They used levels of triclosan similar to what we experience every day.


Further, there are a lot of theories about why allergies are on the rise, and one is that the overly-sanitized environment that we live in is harming the development of our immune system. A study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology furthers this theory. It found that the triclosan commonly found in antibacterial products causes mutations, which may lead to food allergies.


Antibacterial soap is not only bad for human health, it is bad for the environment. When you rinse your hands of antibacterial soap, it doesn’t just disappear down the drain. It gets into our environment and could have disastrous consequences. As Eco Watch reports, the antibacterial chemicals in soap aren’t completely removed by wastewater treatment facilities. The chemicals get transferred into sludge, which is then put on agricultural land and could contaminate surface water.


Several studies,including one published in the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy and another in the Oxford Journal of Infectious Disease, have looked into the effectiveness of antibacterial soaps. It was reported that antimicrobial soap was “no more effective than plain soap” at preventing infectious illness.  This shouldn’t be too surprising considering that most diseases are caused by viruses and NOT bacteria, so antibacterial soap isn’t effective.


Alternatives to antibacterial soap include the following:


1. Wash your hands thoroughly and frequently. It’s not the type of soap that prevents the spread of bacteria and viruses, it’s how you wash your hands. Lather up and rub hands together vigorously for 20 seconds. Don’t forget the spaces between your fingers, your wrists, and under your nails. Rinse thoroughly. Dry hands well and launder hand towels often in hot water.


2. Choose a nontoxic cleaner: Shop for biodegradable, plant-based, environmentally-friendly cleaners that do not contain triclosan, triclocarbon, chlorine, lye, glycol ethers, and ammonia. You don't need these strong disinfectants to get surfaces clean.


3. Disinfect objects that come into contact with raw meat, fish, or eggs, such as cutting boards and utensils. Scrub cutting boards and wipe down kitchen counters with a non-toxic disinfectant. You can find such cleaning products in the organic products sections, or make your own by using white vinegar followed by 3% hydrogen peroxide (available at the pharmacy). Keep the liquids handy in separate spray bottles. It doesn't matter which one you use first, but both are much more effective than either one alone.


 4. Disinfect sponges and kitchen rags by microwaving them for 30 seconds on high power if dry, longer if wet -- sponges for one minute, and rags for three minutes.


5. Clean bathrooms and kitchen hard surfaces using a store-bought non-toxic cleaning solution, or make your own. Borax disinfects but is milder than bleach. It’s also effective on mildew, especially combined with vinegar. You can make a cleaning solution by adding 1/2 cup of each to a gallon of water. Hydrogen peroxide will reduce microorganisms on surfaces. A 50/50 vinegar/water solution will clean tile, counters, cabinet fronts and soap scum in the shower. A baking soda and water paste will clean stuck on gunk in the shower and tub (use vinegar instead of water for really tough stains). Many people find the smell of vinegar to be unpleasant. You can mask the smell by adding a few drops of essential oils (e.g. lavender, tea tree or citronella) to the vinegar.


6. Add essential oils to your natural cleaning products as a disinfectant and deodorant. A few drops of mint or lavender oil added to a natural plant-based hand soap will add fragrance and kill any possible bacteria. Citronella or lemongrass oil added to a liquid cleaning solution can keep insects off your floor and kitchen counters. Tea tree oil will inhibit fungal growth in your bathroom and kitchen tile grout and around your sink. Add a little lavender oil to your laundry detergent to make your clothes smell fresh without resorting to harmful chemicals and artificial fragrances.