Lynas: An unsolved conundrum

by Gan Pei Ling / 29 July 2013 © The Nut Graph

IT’S been more than two years since The New York Times first broke the story on the construction of the Lynas rare earth refinery in Malaysia. Groups like Himpunan Hijau and Save Malaysia Stop Lynas have since organised several rallies and even taken the government and company to court. In response to public uproar, the Malaysian government invited international experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency in 2011 and set up a parliamentary select committee in 2012 to review the plant.

(© cumi&ciki | Flickr)

(© cumi&ciki | Flickr)

After many road bumps, Lynas Corp finally secured a temporary operating license and began operations in November 2012. The company is also monitoring radioactivity levels at Gebeng which it periodically publicises.

However, there are still many questions about what will happen to the low-level radioactive waste that the plant produces. How will the hazardous by-products of a rare earth refinery be dealt with? And how are the government and anti-Lynas groups responding to these developments?

Recycle? Ship abroad?

Lynas Corp is confident that it can recycle the low-level radioactive residue into commercial products. The company intends to dilute its radioactive water leach purification residue into road base material and recycle its neutralisation underflow residue into fertilisers.

But as The Wall Street Journal pointed out in an 11 Dec 2012 report, such technology has yet to be tested. Additionally, it remains to be seen whether Lynas can find buyers to make its recycling proposal commercially viable.

The Atomic Energy Licensing Board and the Department of Environment are also still reviewing the recycling proposal. And even if the proposal is approved, Science, Technology and Innovation Deputy Minister Datuk Dr Abu Bakar Mohamad Diah told Parliament on 19 July 2013 that “these products must leave the country”.

In other words, Lynas must find international buyers for its recycled products. And should the recycling plan fail, the waste must be shipped abroad. But where to?

Permanent dumpsite

Australia is unlikely to take back the waste. And one wonders which other country would willingly import such waste and risk its citizen’s ire? At this stage, I think we should be prepared for the worst-case scenario where the waste is stored locally.

Indeed, on 2 July 2013, the Australian company submitted its plan for a permanent disposal facility. However, Dr Abu Bakar has declared that Lynas has no plans to permanently store the waste in Malaysia but that international procedures require the building of a permanent disposal facility. In the meantime, ministers have refused to disclose the plan and the potential locations for such a facility, likely fearing more protests from communities in any of these locations.

The Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Datuk Dr Ewon Ebin said on 5 July 2013 that the government could not reveal identified locations as it was “not finalised”. Six days later, the Energy, Green Technology and Water Minister Datuk Seri Dr Maximus Ongkili was reported to have said the government need not disclose the plan since Lynas might be able to recycle the waste.

What is apparent is that there is no guarantee Lynas will be able to recycle the waste or to ship it out. Indeed, it’s clear that no matter what our political leaders say publicly, the company in consultation with the government seems to have prepared a contingency plan for the waste to be stored in Malaysia permanently.

(© existangst | Flickr)

(© existangst | Flickr)

Learning from past mistakes

It appears that the government has yet to learn from its past mistakes. The Lynas controversy stemmed from the government’s foolish move to approve the construction of the rare earth refinery without public consultation. Most Malaysians were only aware of the plant after the The New York Times report. If the government wants to restore public confidence, it must be transparent in all its future dealings with Lynas and the public.

Even if the final location of the permanent disposal facility has yet to be determined, the government must guarantee that it will consult the relevant state governments and local communities before a location is finalised. The government must assure local communities that they will be treated and included as legitimate stakeholders when the time comes. This is especially so since there are real fears that the community’s livelihood and environment could be affected by a permanent disposal facility in their midst.

Compared to the government, Lynas Corp seems to be doing a better public relations job. On 10 July 2013, it dropped the defamation suit against Save Malaysia Stop Lynas. Apart from that, it’s clear Lynas has a business to run. Hence, it must manage its relationship with stakeholders carefully if it’s to continue running its business.

(© existangst | Flickr)

(© existangst | Flickr)

Continued protests

To keep public attention on Lynas, Himpunan Hijau is running a campaign to collect one million Malaysian signatures to shut down the plant. The petition will start on 24 Aug 2013 and the signatures will be presented to among others, Parliament and the financial institutions that back Lynas. Himpunan Hijau chairperson Wong Tack has also announced that the coalition might take to the streets again in October.

Meanwhile, Save Malaysia Stop Lynas lead campaigner Tan Bun Teet has vowed to continue its international campaign against Lynas. The group has also mobilised local residents to file for judicial reviews in an attempt to revoke Lynas’s temporary operating license. Clearly, the parliamentary select committee and the approval of international experts has not been sufficient to convince skeptics of Lynas’s safety.

What needs to happen next? The government needs to be honest with the public. How feasible is Lynas’s recycling plan? Should it fail, is it really possible for Lynas to ship the waste abroad? If no, will Lynas store the waste locally? Or will it close down the plant after the temporary operating license expires in September 2014?

These are legitimate questions that the public deserve answers to. Will they be forthcoming? Past experience suggests the answer will be “No”. And if past experience is anything to go by, then the government will have to brace itself for more protests and bad press over Lynas.

Gan Pei Ling is going abroad to pursue a one-year master’s degree on the environment. She hopes the government will sort out Lynas’s waste management plan before she returns in September 2014.

Who cares about green lungs?

by Gan Pei Ling / 24 June 2013 © The Nut Graph

A fight to defend one of the last remaining green lungs in Istanbul sparked nationwide protests in Turkey recently. Despite that, the Turkish government has yet to reconsider its plan to turn Gezi Park into a shopping centre.

The same story occurs in most cities worldwide. When land becomes limited in urban areas, forests and parks are razed to make way for condominiums, malls and offices.

Looking at the Klang Valley, are we not losing our green spaces to commercial development as well? What are the benefits of retaining such spaces, and what can be done to preserve them?



Documented benefits

One of the reasons green spaces tend to be undervalued by town planners may be because scientists have not been able to prove its connection with our well-being until recently.

A study published in the Psychological Science journal in April 2013 found that city dwellers who live near green spaces tend to be happier than those who don’t. Tracking 5,000 households over 17 years, researchers from the University of Exeter Medical School found that respondents living in greener areas reported “less mental distress and higher life satisfaction”. The positive impact is equivalent to about a third of the impact of being married and a tenth of the impact of being employed.

“These kinds of comparisons are important for policymakers when trying to decide how to invest scarce public resources, such as for park development or upkeep, and figuring out what bang they’ll get for their buck,” lead researcher Dr Mathew White said in a press release.

Another new study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine in March 2013 confirmed that taking a stroll through a park helps to ease brain fatigue far better than walking through shopping or commercial districts.

If those studies weren’t enough, older research has discovered that children with attention deficit problems tend to focus better after walks in a park. “The researchers found that ‘a dose of nature’ worked as well or better than a dose of medication on the child’s ability to concentrate,” The New York Times reported in its health blog in 2008.

Defending green spaces

Kota Damansara forest (Wiki commons)

Kota Damansara forest (Wiki commons)

A new government under the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) in Selangor after 2008 saw the Kota Damansara forest and the Ayer Hitam forest in Puchong gazetted as permanent forest reserves in 2010. A plan to develop the Subang Ria Recreational Park – the only open space left in Subang Jaya – was also defeated in 2011.

However, the people of Selangor should not take it for granted that the PR government will always defend green spaces. In the dispute over the Kelana Jaya sports centre, the state administration chose to ignore the Petaling Jaya Local Plan Two, in which the field was classified as an open space. It has refused to direct its state subsidiary to scrap its redevelopment plan.

In our capital city, Kuala Lumpur City Hall has yet to gazette Bukit Kiara as a forest reserve. While the Petaling Jaya side of Bukit Gasing is protected, the Kuala Lumpur side of the forest has been making way for housing projects.

Bukit Gasing residents who protested against a hill slope development project over safety concerns lost their legal battle in October 2012. To add insult to injury, the Kuala Lumpur High Court on 2 May 2013 allowed the developer to seek damages from the residents.

Participatory local governance

It is heartening that there are still citizens who would speak up, join forces and campaign hard to preserve the shrinking forests and parks in the Klang Valley. However, I think citizens need to be more proactive. Get to know your local councillors, state and federal legislator. Ask them about your area’s local plan. Find out what development plans are in store that would affect your neighbourhood.

In other words, build a relationship with your local council’s officers and your elected representatives. Don’t scream at them only when you discover the playground facilities near your taman have been vandalised, or when another high-rise building is coming up in your already congested town centre.



Keep an eye out for public briefings or dialogues held by your local council on development projects that would affect your area. Attend the budget dialogues held by local governments under the PR. Ask them how much they are spending on parks and playgrounds.

Hold political parties accountable. Make sure they appoint development experts, lawyers, economists, environmental experts and NGO representatives as local councillors to provide sound advice to your local government.

For far too long, citizens have left the responsibility of town planning to local councils. What sort of development do you want for your area? How many green spaces do you think should be preserved? What other facilities does your area need?

If our citizens do not invest time and effort to organise themselves and engage with local councils, the policymakers will implement development plans according to what they think the people need and want. But by building an active, working relationship with local governments, the people can keep the politicians and civil servants on their toes. Their voices against controversial projects will also carry more weight in time.

Gan Pei Ling believes an idle citizenry in a democracy breeds authoritarianism and irresponsible governments.

PR Manifesto: Sustainable?

by Gan Pei Ling / 18 March 2013 © The Nut Graph

THE Pakatan Rakyat (PR) released its manifesto amid much fanfare at its national convention on 25 February 2013. The coalition promises to raise Malaysian household incomes to at least RM4,000 a month, increase the minimum wage to RM1,100 and create one million jobs should it come into power.

On the environmental front, the federal opposition pledges to halt the Lynas rare earth refinery’s operations in Gebeng, Pahang, review a multibillion petrochemical project in Pengerang, Johor, and the mega dams in Sarawak. It targets to reduce traffic congestion in the Klang Valley and other major cities by 50% during its first term via investments in public transport. Furthermore, it says it will reform existing logging laws and activities.

Granted, the manifesto is an improvement from Buku Jingga, the common policy platform the PR unveiled in 2010, which neglected the environment and indigenous rights entirely. But it remains lacking in many areas. What else does the PR need to consider to demonstrate they are able to plan for the future and provide sustainable development if voted into power?

Food security

The PR laid out several measures to reform our economy but completely ignored the agriculture sector in its manifesto. This is problematic as Malaysia has become a net importer of food. The country spent some RM221.8 billion on food imports in the past decade.

We have chosen to specialise in cash crops such as oil palm and rubber at the expense of food crops, according to Professor Dr Fatimah Mohd Arshad from Universiti Putra Malaysia. Nearly 84% of our agricultural land is used for export crops, with oil palm taking the lion’s share of 63.4% in 2005, she pointed out in an article, Global Food Prices: Implication for Food Security in Malaysia, co-written with Anna Awad Abdel Hameed.

Prof Dr Fatimah (Source:

Meanwhile, federal allocation for agriculture plunged from 17% of the annual budget in 1990 to 5.8% in 2005, Fatimah and Anna Awad highlighted in their piece published in the Journal of Consumer Research and Resource Centre in 2009. And while the federal government dished out generous cash subsidies to paddy farmers, it left other food sectors out in the cold to develop with minimal support.

With supermarkets easily available around town, living in the city creates an illusion that food supply remains abundant. But the rate of global population growth has long surpassed the rate of agricultural production, Fatimah and Anna Awad noted.  Global food prices will continue to rise as an unpredictable climate further reduces crop yields. Low-income households, who spend the bulk of their income on food, are the most vulnerable to food price hikes.

What will the PR do to reform our agricultural sector and feed Malaysia’s growing population, which is approaching 30 million people, with nutritious, affordable food? What steps will it take to encourage organic farming and sustainable fishing practices? How much will it invest in agricultural research and development? These are just some of the questions the PR needs to deal with.

Renewable energy

Another important sector neglected by the PR in its manifesto is the power industry. Aside from a pledge to scrap independent power producers’ gas subsidies and divert it to lower electricity tariffs, the coalition makes no further mention of the energy sector.

Despite it being a necessity in modern life, some Malaysians, particularly indigenous people and communities living in remote areas, still do not have access to electricity. What will the PR to do ensure every citizen enjoys reliable, affordable power supply?

Datuk Seri Peter Chin (Source:

Malaysia is expected to become a net oil importer in two years, according to current Energy, Green Technology and Water Minister Datuk Seri Peter Chin. Our country relies largely on gas and coal for power. An overdependence on fossil fuel has resulted in renewable energy sources taking a back seat, the minister conceded in 2012.

In the face of depleting local gas resources, what will the PR do to ensure Malaysia’s energy supply? Will it import more coal? Will it consider nuclear as an option? How much will it invest in renewable energy sources such as solar, biomass or other options?

In addition, the level of Malaysia’s energy consumption versus productivity remains low compared to countries like Singapore and Japan. What innovative measures will the PR implement to cut wastage?

Meaningful public participation

The PR also needs to assure the public that it will hold genuine public consultations before approving major projects. Decades of local governments approving “development” projects without taking into account the existing capacity of roads, drains and other infrastructure has resulted in traffic congestion and flash floods becoming the norm. Coupled with the lack of green spaces, the quality of life in most cities is deteriorating.

Proper public consultation and provision of information will help towards gauging the potential environmental and social impact of a proposed project. It is thus surprising that the PR’s manifesto is silent on the abolition of the Official Secrets Act and the enactment of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Some PR politicians said the manifesto should be read together with the Buku Jingga, which does mention freedom of information. But wasn’t the manifesto built on the Buku Jingga? How is it that the FOIA was excluded?

Comprehensive government

There are many other environmental issues a PR federal government will have to face. For instance, whether controversial projects already in operations, such as the gold mine in Raub and aluminium smelter in Sarawak, will be reviewed; and what to do about the increasing occurrence of flash floods and how to work with our regional neighbours to avoid the yearly haze.

The aluminium smelting plant in Mukah, Sarawak (Source:

The young coalition has been commended by economists for advocating for a clean government. And some may feel that if the PR can implement what’s in their manifesto, it will already be an improvement from the existing Barisan Nasional government. But responsible governance is not just about outdoing your predecessor. It is about governing comprehensively, and thinking long-term. This encompasses what we will eat and how we power our homes.

Should it come into power in the upcoming elections, the PR needs to address these elephants in the room if it is serious about delivering the best to Malaysians.

There are about 100 Green Parties worldwide. Gan Pei Ling recommends that the PR look into their manifestos for bold ideas and inspirations to improve their own.

Learning from green movements in the US and China

by Gan Pei Ling / 18 February 2013 © The Nut Graph

A Fierce Green Fire: The Battle for a Living Planet, a documentary chronicling the rise of US environmental movements, was released in 2012. The film tells inspiring stories of citizens rallying against dams at the Grand Canyon and battling against toxic waste dumped in their backyard.

In the US, newspaper advertisements were used to raise massive public support against the dams at Grand Canyon

Another 2011 feature film, Waking the Green Tiger, documents Chinese activists and journalists’ triumphant campaign to stop a dam at the Tiger Leaping Gorge.  The government-backed mega project at the upper Yangtze River would have displaced some 100,000 people.

After watching the two films recently, and given the on-going campaigns in Malaysia against environmentally-destructive projects, I think there are lessons that local environmental groups, and our state and federal governments, can draw from the US and China.

Love Canal: The signature fight against pollution

Film posterThe Love Canal tragedy is now a well-known environmental disaster in the US. An elementary school and homes were built atop a dumpsite of 20,000 tonnes of hazardous chemical waste in upstate New York. Women living there recorded an unusually high level of miscarriages and birth defects among their children.

But in the 1970s, the working class neighbourhood organised several protests, and even took two federal officials from the Environmental Protection Agency hostage, to pressure the government to investigate the extent of the disaster.

Lois Gibbs, one of the leaders, recounted the residents’ disappointment in the film when they submitted their health survey results to the government: “The Health Department literally threw the health study on the floor…and said it’s useless housewife data, collected by people who have a vested interest in the outcome.”

Back here, Barisan Nasional politicians have also intially rubbished claims of health problems by villagers living near a gold mine in Raub, Pahang. The Raub Australian Gold Mining Sdn Bhd began operations in early 2009. Residents have protested over the use of cyanide in the extraction process.

However in July 2012, the Health Ministry finally formed a health study team to find out the source of ailments. The ministry accepted two out of five experts nominated by the citizen-led Ban Cyanide Action Committee. It rejected the nomination of toxicologist cum PAS lawmaker Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad as well as cardiologist and PSM parliamentarian Dr Michael Jeyakumar on the basis of their political affiliations. Most puzzling though, is the ministry’s rejection of renowned US mining expert Dr Glenn Miller on the grounds of lengthy bureaucratic approvals needed to secure his work permit.

Regardless, the Bukit Koman residents have at last made some headway in their struggle. Meanwhile, indigenous villagers next to an aluminium smelting plant in Balingian, Sarawak are still living with air pollution in silence.

The convergence of environmental, class and political struggle

In the US, African Americans often bear the brunt of environmental pollution. Dr Robert Bullard, a leading campaigner against environmental racism, notes in the documentary that most dumpsites and incinerators are located next to predominantly Black neighbourhoods. These are usually working class communities that do not have a voice in mainstream politics. It took two decades but their struggle gave rise to the environmental justice movement.

Environmental issues are inevitably linked to politics and economic distribution. Some local conservationists tend to shun politics but if we do not elect environmentally-conscious politicians into power, who will speak out for communities affected by pollution and deforestation in state assemblies and the Parliament? Who will we lobby to enact and enforce laws that ensure companies and industries adhere to the highest environmental standards?

Waking the Green TigerIn China, the enactment of an environmental law that mandates public consultation was instrumental in the anti-dam campaign’s success. It created unprecedented democratic space for citizens to speak out against the project at the Tiger Leaping Gorge. The Chinese government listened and scrapped the project.

These stories give us pause to re-think the assertion that environmental causes should not be ‘hijacked’ by politicians. As unpalatable as it may be to some, such occassions give citizens the opportunity to hold elected representatives accountable long after ballots have been cast and the business of ruling and governing begins.

Democratic reforms, though hard and slow to push through, will eventually lead to better environmental governance. Successful environmentalists must be able to see the big picture and work together with others, be it political or indigenous activists, to achieve common goals.

Environmentalist and author Pawl Hawken mentioned in the US documentary that some of us tend to look for leadership in the wrong places. Most of us look to our political leaders for the initiative to change. We have forgotten that in democracies, people are the bosses. It is the citizens who are leading and must continue to lead the struggle for a healthier, cleaner, happier planet.

Dr Robert Bullard said in the film that if you breathe air, drink water and eat food, you are an environmentalist even if you don’t know it! For one needs a clean environment to have access to clean air, water and wholesome food. Gan Pei Ling can’t agree more.

Environmental “hot potatoes” in 2013

by Gan Pei Ling / 28 January 2013 © The Nut Graph

POLITICIANS today ignore environmental issues at their peril. The year 2012 saw major environmental protests against controversial projects in Malaysia. Thousands protested against the Lynas rare earth refinery, the use of cyanide at a gold mine in Pahang and the multibillion petrochemical complex in Pengerang, Johor. In Sarawak, indigenous peoples reluctant to be uprooted from their ancestral homes to make way for the Murum Dam mounted a blockade at the site for almost a month.

It is heartwarming to witness the rise of resistance from environmental groups towards potentially hazardous mega projects in this country. Our citizens are asserting their rights, and holding governments and corporations accountable to the people and the environment.

Kenyahs, Kayans and Penans protesting on 20 Jan 2013 near the proposed site of the Baram Dam.

With the general election looming, activists will likely ramp up their respective campaigns. What environmental “hot potatoes” will politicians have to deal with carefully this year to avoid public anger and opposition?


The Lynas rare earth plant has been a major rallying point for environmental issues. Himpunan Hijau successfully staged several anti-Lynas rallies in 2012. There was a protest in Kuantan in February 2012, a 300km march from Kuantan to Dataran Merdeka in November 2012, and a rally at the refinery’s door step on New Year’s Eve.

It is unlikely the protests will stop there. Despite the opposition, Lynas Corp began production in November 2012 after obtaining the official Temporary Operating License (TOL) from the Atomic Energy Licensing Board (AELB) in September 2012. Federal ministers have repeatedly claimed the company must ship its waste abroad, but Lynas Corp insists there is no such requirement under the TOL.

It remains to be seen whether Lynas will be able to recycle its low-level radioactive waste into safe commercial products. It can also help sooth public concerns by being transparent about its waste management process. As the regulator, the AELB must also play its part to ensure the company deals with its waste safely and responsibly. Many activists, however, are still adamant the plant should be shut.

Sarawak mega dams

Construction work for the 944MW Murum Dam is expected to conclude this year. About 1,400 Penans and Kenyahs will be resettled to Tegulang and Metalun – 46km upstream from the dam.

It may be too late to stop the Murum Dam, but I think campaigners still have a fighting chance to pressure the government to scrap the upcoming Baram Dam. The 1,000MW hydropower project will displace some 20,000 natives currently living in Baram and submerge 412 square km of forests – nearly double the size of Kuala Lumpur.

Indigenous people in the hornbill state formed the Save Sarawak Rivers Network (Save Rivers) in February 2012 to oppose the dams. The activists travelled to Australia last year and successfully pressured state-owned dam operator Hydro Tasmania to stop assisting Sarawak Energy Bhd. Activists have been visiting villages to mobilise the people and Radio Free Sarawak has been disseminating information via its short wave radio.

Baram Valley

The Sarawak government proposes to build a total of 12 mega dams under its Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy (SCORE) plan to “transform Sarawak into a developed state” by 2020. However, the Bruno Manser Fund, an international charity, criticised SCORE in its November 2012 report as an “outdated” development plan. A policy paper published by the National University of Singapore in March 2011 also doubted SCORE’s viability.

Sarawak Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud has not bowed to public pressure to halt controversial projects. Nevertheless, the state’s indigenous peoples are increasingly bitter with his administration. They have already lost thousands of hectares of native customary rights land to loggers and plantation companies over the past few decades. Now, their homes are at stake due to the hydroelectric dams. Taib’s administration cannot afford to ignore the growing public dissent if it intends to stay in power.

Pengerang Integrated Petroleum Complex (PIPC)

The PIPC is an ambitious project to turn Pengerang into a petrochemical hub. Petronas is investing RM60 billion to develop the Refinery and Petrochemical Integrated Development (RAPID) project at the complex located at the southern tip of Johor. Some 3,000 residents from seven villagers, mostly fishermen and small-business holders, will have to be relocated to make way for the complex. A protest was held against the Pengerang project on 30 Sept 2012.

Environmentalists are also concerned that KuoKuang Petrochemical Technology Co will revive its controversial project, cancelled by the Taiwanese government in 2011, in Pengerang. A 2010 Chung Hsing University study found that the average lifespan of people living near the petrochemical project may be shortened by 23 days due to pollution. More protests may be in the pipeline if the government allows the Taiwanese company to resurrect its project here.

Moving towards sustainable development

An increasingly discerning electorate coupled with growing environmental awareness means that governments and corporations can no longer get away with sloppy environmental management. Instead of being defensive, the best way forward for the state and businesses is to engage the public proactively and be transparent about the details of the projects.

After all, if the mega projects are truly beneficial to local communities and harmless to the environment, they should be able to withstand public scrutiny, right?

Gan Pei Ling hopes the growing environmental resistance will help push the nation towards a more sustainable development path in the long term.

A green gift guide for Malaysians

by Gan Pei Ling / 17 December 2012 © The Nut Graph

FRENZIED shopping, overindulgence and food wastage are often associated with festive celebrations in Malaysia and elsewhere. With Christmas and New Year around the corner, are you wondering how to lessen your consumption impact on the planet?

From shopping local to donating to worthy causes, here’s a guide adopted with ideas from friends, The Guardian and The Daily Green to make your Christmas and New Year celebrations more meaningful and environmentally friendly.


  Wish lists

Ask for wish lists from your family members and friends so that you get them something they really want. Most of us have received gifts that we do not need or want, yet we are reluctant to throw them out or re-gift them for fear of offending the giver. At the same time, make it easier for your loved ones by providing them your own wish list in advance.

Then make a list of environmentally sound gift ideas. If you are considering electronic gadgets, for example, check out Greenpeace’s ratings, which rank companies based on their commitment to environmental protection and progress since 2006. For book purchases or wood products, look for products certified by the Forest Stewardship Council to ensure they come from well-managed forests.

  Shop local

Another way to reduce your ecological footprint is to buy from local businesses and communities. Etsy is a good place to shop online for handmade items. A couple of Malaysian sellers hosted their first market on 15 Dec 2012 at Damansara Uptown.

The other place that’s usually good for hand-made, locally designed arts and craft is at Art for Grabs, which is held regularly at the Annexe in Central Market, Kuala Lumpur.

My favourite retailer is Bisou BonBon, which sells handmade solid perfumes, soaps, mosquito repellent, lip balm, body scrubs and more at affordable prices. The founder, Dr Shelby Kho, also handles tailor-made gift requests for special occasions.

For indigenous craft, Gerai OA offers handicrafts made by indigenous communities in Malaysia. The nomadic stall is run by volunteers, so 100% of the basic item price goes back to the artisans. The products can also be purchased online at

  Go organic

Create personalised gift hampers with organic food and products from Justlife or Little Green Planet. Consider introducing family, friends and colleagues to eco-friendly household cleaning products available at Natural & Eco Republic at Jaya One, Petaling Jaya.

For families and friends with newborns, you can find eco-friendly baby products at Tiny Tapir at one of its two retail outlets – Ampang Park Shopping Centre and Bangsar Village Two – or shop at its online store.

For fashion lovers, check out Mell Basics, which sells organic t-shirts, turtle necks, harem pants and dresses for women; and Nukleus, which offers organic underwear and tees for both sexes.

  Make your own gifts or experiences

If you have the time, make your own greeting cards, bake cookies or cook a meal with your loved ones.

Take them on a trip to a waterfall, forest park or the beach to escape from the concrete jungle and electronic foliage.

  Minimise gift wrapping


Be kind to planet Earth. The Ecologist recommends we abandon wrapping paper, which is hard to recycle, clogs up landfills, and is pricey. Wrap your presents in fabric, posters, newspapers, magazine covers or used wrapping paper, and decorate them with reusable silk ribbons.

 Donate in their names

Last but not least, you can donate to a charity or a cause you know your loved ones support in their names. Be it incommunity development, nature conservation, electoral reformshuman rights advocacy or gender equality, there are plenty of causes in need of financial support.

In addition, charitable donations usually dip during economic downturns. Take this opportunity to scout and donate to a credible local welfare home in your city or town.

Above all, keep in mind that it is often not the gift itself but the thought behind the gift that counts. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, folks!


Gan Pei Ling is looking forward to a year-end holiday retreat with her loved ones.