Reading space aims to make KL inclusive for underprivileged

by Gan Pei Ling, 25 Feb 2018 © The Malaysian Insight

IN downtown Kuala Lumpur, an outdoor mini library has become a reading haven for low-income families and curious tourists.

Housewife Nur Hidayah, 28, from Sabah was browsing through the book collection with her husband and three young children when met on Saturday evening.

“I have been looking for a place (like this). I want to bring my children to the library but am afraid they will be told off for being noisy,” she told The Malaysian Insight.

Her two children – aged four and six – were badgering her to read them the books they found while the youngest, aged two, held on to the father quietly.

Equipped with a random collection of fiction, magazines and children’s books mainly in English, the cosy open-air library in front of the Pit Stop community cafe in Jalan Tun HS Lee was set up by the Malaysian Institute of Planners (MIP) in early February.

“Previously this was just an empty, idle space. We have a lot of such inactive spaces in KL that can be converted into community spaces,” said the project coordinator and MIP sustainable development committee member Juwariyah Ho.

She said the space, called Lanai MIP, was meant to be a showcase for the World Urban Forum that took place in the capital from February 6 to February 13.

“We’re pleasantly surprised that a lot of people are using it. We hope DBKL (Kuala Lumpur City Hall) will let us transform it into a permanent structure,” said Ho.

She said they have received requests to stock more books in Malay and Mandarin and host community activities at the space.

Cities for all

Aside from serving as a free educational space aimed towards younger people and underprivileged communities, Ho said Lanai MIP could also be a case study for town planning students.

“We have brought town planning students from UIA (International Islamic University Malaysia) here. They have only studied in theory about place-making, here they see what it means (in real life),” said Ho.

She explained that place-making is a concept in sustainable development to create inclusive spaces for all, including for the least privileged members of society.

“We hope this would be an eye-opener to local councils. Previously some people were skeptical about our initiative, warning us that the books would be stolen.

“But what we have found is that people would actually ask for permission from our volunteers to read the books,” said Ho.

A week after they removed the volunteers, the space remained well kept and free from vandalism.

Ho said the Petaling Jaya and Shah Alam local councils have also expressed interest in creating such community spaces in their cities.

“Hopefully it will help us bring back the culture of reading,” she said.

Tourist attraction

A mini bus installation at the site has also become popular with local and foreign visitors.

Dozens of tourists paused to take photographs with the installation in the span of less than two hours of The Malaysian Insight’s visit to the site.

“A lot of young people didn’t know that this was a mini bus hub. Only the older generation appreciates the historical value of this space.

“If you tell them Bangkok Bank, automatically they will remember this was a mini bus hub but the young people don’t,” said Ho.

As such, she said MIP is also considering installing an actual mini bus to house the books should DBKL allow the institute to maintain the space for a few years, if not permanently.

“We could have a gallery to educate the young about the mini bus. It’s part of the city’s heritage,” said Ho, a town planner with more than two decades of experience.

MCA chief stands on shaky ground in inflation-hit Bentong

by Gan Pei Ling, 29 Jan 2018 © The Malaysian Insight

ASK most locals in the town of Bentong, Pahang, what they think of MCA president Liow Tiong Lai and almost every response will be of approval and praise.

Liow, the member of parliament for Bentong since 1999, is credited with his attempts to boost the local tourism industry in the town, and is described as “down to earth”, “approachable” and “diligent” in his weekly visits and walkabouts.

However, Liow’s constituents’ fondness for him may not necessarily translate to votes at the 14th general election, as concerns of the rising cost of living and inflation have caused many locals to question their earlier support for the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition.

The owner of a Chinese restaurant, located just a stone’s throw from Wisma MCA in Bentong, said profits have dropped by up to 60% in the last three years because of the rising cost of ingredients, and with fewer people dining out as many tighten their belts.

“People prefer to eat at home to save cost. Property prices, including shophouses, in town are beyond the reach of people like us,” she said, adding that she has been renting her shop lot, located just a stone’s throw from Wisma MCA, as she cannot afford to buy it from the owners.

This growing discontent, echoed by many others who spoke to The Malaysian Insight during a visit to the town centre, is something the opposition hopes to use to their advantage.

Last night, DAP launched an offensive into the town best known for its lush, rolling hills, fresh produce and the hilltop casino resort of Genting.

DAP has declared its intentions to take down Liow along with MCA deputy president Wee Ka Siong in Ayer Hitam, Johor, in GE14, which must be held by August.

Liow’s position was already shaky since he retained Bentong by a paper-thin margin of 379 votes in 2013, a marked decrease from the thumping majority of 12,549 votes in 2008.

Bentong is one of only seven parliamentary seats that MCA managed to retain in the 2013 polls. It also managed to win 11 state seats nationwide.

No to party loyalty, yes to help

When asked if they thought DAP stands a chance to take over Bentong at the next elections, locals remained tight-lipped on which party they vote would for but told The Malaysian Insight they just wanted a leader who could address and alleviate their economic hardships.

The owner of a coffeeshop, who only gave her surname Lok, said most are grateful to Liow for developing the town.

However, Lok said, while there are more tourists, the prices of goods have skyrocketed and affected locals.

“It’s good that the town is more happening now but food prices like roti canai and durians have increased a lot,” she said.

She added that with the shrinking value of the ringgit, people have to tighten their belts.

“Last time, when we go shopping, RM100 is more than enough to fill the trolley, now even RM200 may not be enough.”

An MCA party insider conceded that it would be a close fight for Liow in the next elections.

“The locals are okay with him but their children who work in the Klang Valley tend to be anti-BN and might sway their parents to vote against Liow,” said the source.

The Chinese restaurant owner, who has been a long-time MCA member, said while Liow is an affable and diligent representative, he has neglected small businesses like hers in his haste to try and bring in larger-scale developments to the former mining town.

This, she said, could well be what sways her vote at GE14.

“It’s not just about the party. It’s about who can solve our problems.”

Charity homes running on empty

by Gan Pei Ling, 6 November 2017 © The Malaysian Insight

GROWING public apathy is pushing some charity homes in the Klang Valley into debt, as personal and corporate sponsors cut back on financial support in the light of rising cost of living.

For the Kirtarsh Home for Children with Disabilities, electricity and water cuts have become a regular occurrence recently, said owner Judith Pamela Muthiah.

Judith, 45, said the home which houses 50 orphans, senior citizens and people with disabilities aged between seven and 102 needs up to RM25,000 a month to cover food, utilities and staff salaries.

She said the amount was already considered small, as rental of the home’s premises is a mere “RM1” token fee to the owner.

Still, obtaining funding to cover the monthly expenses has become near impossible, she said.

“At best we get ‘durian runtuh’ (one-off donation) of a few thousand ringgit, especially during festive seasons, and we’ll use it to pay the urgent bills first,” she said.

“Sometimes we do receive calls from companies, but when they find out we’re in Bukit Beruntung, they said they would look for charities nearer to them,” she said.

The home has tried to appeal to the Social Welfare Department and corporations for regular financial support to no avail.

Judith quit her full-time job as a preschool teacher several years ago to help her husband Mani @ Wannan Kanan, 49, run the home.

Mani’s late brother, a person with disability, started the home in 1999 to help others like himself.

Apart from the husband-and-wife team, the home has four staff members, who are former residents of the home, trained to become caretakers and driver.

Judith said the home has had to delay paying their salaries because of the shortage of funds.

“Fortunately, they have been very understanding,” she told The Malaysian Insight.

“We have hired caretakers, but we found that they abused the residents when we are not around, so we no longer hire outsiders.

“This isn’t a job you can do if you just want to earn money,” she said.

Charity homes that do not have land tenure security like Kirtarsh have chalked up even larger debts from rental arrears, and most can ill-afford to even hire full-timers.

S.K. Manimaran, 51, founder of the Siddharthan Care Centre in Petaling Jaya has accumulated RM120,000 in rental debt.

The centre, which was set up in 2008, currently cares for 19 orphans and children with disabilities aged between six and 12.

“The rental is RM3,500 a month. Luckily, the landlord has been understanding,” said the freelance marketing executive.

The centre does not have any staff. To save cost, his wife, sisters, daughter and in-laws double up as caretakers for the children.

Murugan, a Komuter train driver and founder of Pusat Jagaan Sai Annai Illam in Pandamaran, Port Klang, 54, makes do with just one full-time staff member.

“The other (full-timer) is my wife. The others – me, my daughter (22), son (21), and brother-in-law are all part-time.”

He has accumulated two years’ worth of rent amounting to RM19,200, and owes electricity provider Tenaga Nasional Bhd and water supplier Syarikat Bekalan Air Selangor Sdn Bhd at least RM1,000 each in arrears.

Despite the tough times, Murugan still dreams of building a permanent home for the 30 orphans, single mothers and senior citizens he and his family members are looking after.

“I just need the land. I already have contractors who offered to provide free cement to help me build the shelter,” said Murugan.

The three homes are part of a group of 10 charities in the Klang Valley which banded together for the first time to jointly organise a fundraising concert on November 25 at Stadium Melawati, Shah Alam.

Francis Siva, 58, the founder of Independent Living Training Centre which trains people with spinal cord injury to live independently, said they hope to raise at least RM1.2 million from the concert so that each charity can take home RM100,000.

The cost of organising the concert is estimated at about RM200,000.

“The RM100,000 is a lifeline that will help sustain us for the coming year,” he said.

His centre, which currently has 10 residents, receives donations from regular donors and foundations, such as the Kuok Foundation, but these, too, have declined over the past two years due to the economic downturn.

Besides supporting the concert, Judith said any good Samaritan or business that could adopt the homes’ monthly utility bills, rental, staff salary or other regular expenses would be offering a huge financial relief to the founders.

“We also need tutors for the children and doctors for the senior citizens, to just visit once a week or month would be great.

“That would help us save on tuition cost and transport cost and time to the hospitals.

“And to play games with them (the residents). They would really appreciate it,” said Judith.

APEC customs officials learn best practices for detecting illegal timber products

31 August 2017 ©

More than 100 customs, forestry, and anti-corruption officials and civil society representatives from countries in the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum met in Vietnam from 18-19 August 2017 to share best practices for identifying illegal timber and wood products.

Speakers at the Workshop on Customs Best Practices to Identify Illegal Timber and Wood Products

“Customs are at the frontline of combating the illegal logging and associated trade,” said Jennifer Prescott, Assistant US Trade Representative for Environment and Natural Resources. “The illegal wood trade has grown in sophistication. So too must the customs.”

The illegal timber trade deprives economies of revenue from legally, sustainably managed forests, undermines legitimate businesses, threatens the livelihoods of local communities and harms biodiversity.

The workshop in Vietnam was an opportunity for officials from APEC countries — which account for 80% of the global timber trade — to discuss tools and resources available to assess the legality risk of wood products.

Davyth Stewart, Manager of Interpol’s Natural Resources Division, introduced Project LEAF (Law Enforcement Assistance for Forests), which Interpol launched in 2012 to combat illegal logging and related crimes including corruption.

It supports investigations, coordinates international networks for information sharing, and supports cooperation between civil society and law enforcement. “Our work is to provide behind-the-scenes support,” said Stewart. “The credit goes to the frontline enforcement officers doing the work on the ground.”

Project LEAF’s work with countries has led to 549 arrests, mostly in Latin America and Africa, and the seizure of timber worth US$1.48 billion and equivalent to 16,888 hectares of forests.

Stewart said, however, that almost half (48%) of the arrests were low-level offenders such as truck drivers, and another 40% were facilitators. Only 10% were company owners or managers and just 2% were the masterminds. “We need to see more prosecution at the higher level to have a real impact in curbing the illegal timber trade,” he said.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) set up a Container Control Program in 2003 in collaboration with the World Customs Organisation (WCO) to identify high-risk containers in four countries. Since then, 40 more countries have joined the programme and another 14 are keen to participate, said Long Nguyen of UNODC.

While the programme’s main focus is to crackdown on drug trafficking, it also strives to detect illegal wildlife and timber shipments as well as shipments containing weapons, alcohol, counterfeit medicine, electronic waste, among others.

Nguyen said the programme helped Sri Lanka to seize 28 containers of illegal Madagascan rosewood worth US$7 million that was in transit from Tanzania to Hong Kong in 2014.

It also helped Dutch customs to bust an importer of West Indian mahogany (Swietenia mahagoni) logs from Suriname. Trade in this species is controlled under the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and the shipment lacked the relevant CITES permit.

Marie Wong of the WCO Regional Intelligence Liaison Office for Asia and the Pacific said the WCO has also set up ENVIRONET, an encrypted network for customs officials to share real-time information on illegal timber seizures and possible ongoing trafficking.

One of the big challenges customs officials face is identifying the tree species from which wood originates. To help address this, the UNODC last year published the Best Practice Guide for Forensic Timber Identification.

It contains detailed information for law enforcement, including rapid-field identification techniques, collecting and preserving evidence. It also includes information for scientists, such as forensic methods for timber identification and resources for acquiring reference material and data, as well as guidance for prosecutors and judges.

The guide was so popular at the 2016 Conference of Parties to CITES in South Africa that it is temporarily out of print, said Shelley Gardner, coordinator of the US Department of Agriculture Illegal Logging Program.

Dr Eleanor Dormontt, a researcher in DNA identification and forensics at the University of Adelaide, Australia, who helped developed the guide explained why it is challenging to identify illegal timber products.

“Without the leaf, flower and other parts of the tree, it’s already difficult even for wood specialists,” she said. “It’s almost impossible for customs officials to identify the species just from the bark. Another reason is illegal timber is often mixed with legal timber products.”

Dormontt urged customs officials to tell scientists which priority species they need help identifying during raids, so that more research can be dedicated to such species.

In Vietnam, the Research Institute of Forestry Industry and TRAFFIC Vietnam have produced a guide to identify 35 regulated and prohibited wood species. The guide is used as a training resource for forestry and customs officials, who have requested more and longer training sessions so that more staff can learn to identify more wood species.

“Forestry officers from illegal timber trade hotspots were especially interested,” said TRAFFIC Vietnam program officer Nguyen Thanh Thuy. “They have never used magnifiers for wood identification. Most of them relied on on-the-job experience, smelling or observation.”

TRAFFIC Global Timber Programme leader Chen Hin Keong also shared an overview of WCO timber trade guidelines that can be localised to suit the needs of domestic authorities.

“Customs officials are not supposed to work in isolation,” said Chen. “They need to be aware of the tools that will help them do their job better. As such, they also need inter-agency and stakeholder support.”

There is also a need for importing countries to do more to recognise timber trade restrictions in exporting countries, said Dr Federico Lopez-Casero from the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies.

“A number of economies have banned roundwood exports,” he said. “Yet their roundwood continues to register in the import statistics of their trading partners.”

Lopez-Casero hopes more importing economies would instruct their customs official to respect such export bans and to stop granting import licences for these illegal products.

Kerstin Canby, Director of the Forest Policy, Trade and Finance Initiative at US-based non-profit Forest Trends also highlighted the importance of having stronger timber-import legislation in Asian economies.

She pointed out that countries such as Thailand, South Africa, the Philippines, the Solomon Islands, Mozambique, Fiji, India, Cambodia and Laos have not traditionally supplied the US and Europe, and that regulation by Asian markets would provide the trade leverage needed to incentivise legal harvesting.

Senior customs officials from the US, Canada, Russia, China and Vietnam, representatives from two voluntary certification programmes — the Program for the Endorsement of Certification (PEFC) and the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) — also shared their experiences of safeguarding timber legality.

More information
Presentations and more information about the workshop are available here.

The workshop was sponsored by the United States and co-sponsored by Australia, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, and The Philippines. It was implemented with support from APEC, Interpol, the EU FLEGT Facility and The Nature Conservancy through the Responsible Asia Forestry and Trade (RAFT) Program.

His side of the story

By Razak Ahmad and Gan Pei Ling © The Star 13 August 2017

Thirty years ago, a soldier armed with an assault rifle ran amok in Kuala Lumpur. The case created an urban legend linking the rampage to a rumour against a Sultan that has never been properly addressed until now. A book based on interviews with key figures involved in the case shines a light on what really happened.

ON Oct 17, 1987, Adam Jaafar, a 23-year-old soldier with the rank of Prebet, stole an M16 rifle and a motorcycle from his army camp in Ipoh.

The army Ranger Regiment sharpshooter travelled to Kuala Lumpur at a time when political tension was high. The next night, he wrote a message on his hotel room mirror: “A damned night for Adam. Mission: to kill or be killed.”

He left his hotel and went on a shooting spree in the city’s Chow Kit area that left one person dead from a bullet ricochet and several others wounded.

Prebet Adam shot at cars and at a petrol station fuel tank which burst into flames. He eventually surrendered and at his trial, his lawyer argued a defence of temporary insanity.

The case gave rise to one of Malaysia’s most enduring urban legends – that his rampage was allegedly an act of revenge for the death of his younger brother at the hands of the then Yang di-Pertuan Agong.

Rumours went around back then that Adam’s brother was supposedly a golf caddy who had laughed when Sultan Iskandar Ibni Almarhum Sultan Ismail of Johor missed a shot.

The late Sultan had supposedly hit Adam’s brother on the head with a golf club and the caddy died, according to the rumour.

It’s been three decades but the urban legend still survives, spread at first by word of mouth, then on the Internet.

Google the case and one will get a long list of results drawn from blog entries and Facebook comments, with some insisting it is true.

The urban legend on what drove Adam to run amok was raised at a forum on Monday night to discuss a book written about the case.

“It’s true Prebet Adam has a younger sibling who died, but it was a sister, who died in a fire when they were children.

“Prebet Adam did not have any sibling who died at a golf course,” said Syahril A. Kadir, the author.

His book, Konfesi Prebet Adam, was published last year by DuBook Press Sdn Bhd. It was followed by an English translation, “Amok at Chow Kit”, last month.

The book is based on interviews with key figures in the case. It includes first person accounts by Adam himself, his lawyer Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah and Leftenan Jeneral (R) Datuk Abdul Ghani Abdullah, the military officer who managed to persuade Adam to surrender.

Syahril, Shafee and Abdul Ghani were present at the forum but notably absent was Adam himself.

Copies of various documents are also in the book. Most striking is a signed statutory declaration by Adam in which he denied having a sibling who worked as a caddy in a golf club and who was apparently hit by Sultan Iskandar.

If the late Sultan of Johor had nothing to do with triggering Adam’s rampage, what did?

The answer lies in Adam’s traumatic childhood and abuse he later suffered in the army camp which drove him over the edge.

Adam grew up in extreme poverty. And when he was 11, he witnessed the death of his six-year-old sister Azimah during a fire that razed their squatter home in Simpang Lelong, Penang.

“She was just a few steps away from us, when suddenly the roof gave in and fell heavily on her small body,” Adam recounted to Syahril in the book.

“Azimah was found by the firemen underneath all the rubble in a devastating condition.

“One of her arms and legs were torn from her body. I could not bear to talk about the rest of her remains. My heart hurts at the thought of the pain my sister must have felt,” Adam added.

He suffered a head injury when a beam fell on him during the fire. Earlier in his teens, he suffered a wound to his head when he got into a fight in which he got hacked with a machete that left him with a three-inch scar.

Being accepted into the army brought the promise of a better future for the depressed young man.

Adam was desperate for a life of dignity but his joy over being in the army was shortlived. Having spent some time in the reserve army, Adam expected some ragging by seniors. But he did not expect the sadistic brutality they would resort to.

“My hands got burn marks from being treated as a human ashtray. I was forced to lick the bottom of a slipper like a dog and drink water mixed with soy sauce, vinegar, belacan, curry and sugar,” he recalled.

Some of his seniors would also bring their civilian friends to witness it.

He was beaten up regularly. The last straw was when his tormentors forced him to perform oral sex on one of the soldiers.

During Adam’s trial, psychiatrist Tan Sri Dr M. Mahadevan, who would examine Adam and testify in court during his three-year trial between 1988 and 1990, explained how Adam’s childhood trauma, head injuries and brutal abuse in camp had affected his mental state.

Justice Datuk Seri Shaik Daud Md Ismail in his verdict ruled that Adam was not of sound mind when he committed the shooting.

He ordered Adam to be sent for treatment at a mental hospital where he was kept for close to 10 years.

The former soldier insists that he is not seeking public sympathy by telling his life story.

What he hopes is to dispel the urban legend, clear the names of those unfairly implicated and apologise to the kin and family of the late Che Soh Che Mahmud, the young man he accidentally killed during his rampage.

“I apologise from the bottom of my heart for what had happened. I swear by the name of Allah, I never intended to shoot him.”

He has also forgiven his abusers in the army, who were subsequently tried by a court martial, found guilty, and sentenced to prison.

“To the officers who demeaned and abused me when I was in camp, I forgive them and everything they had done.

“I just hope they realise that they can do whatever it takes to produce strong and excellent soldiers, but never deny them their dignity, love and pride they have in beloved Malaysia,” said Adam.

The men behind Prebet Adam’s freedom

PREBET Adam Jaafar owes his life to two key individuals.

If it was not for Leftenan Jeneral (R) Datuk Abdul Ghani Abdullah who persuaded Adam to surrender peacefully, he could have been killed during his standoff with the police on Oct 19, 1987. And if it was not for his defence lawyer Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah who convinced the judge he was not of sound mind when he ran amok, Adam might have been doomed for the gallows.

Abdul Ghani was the Assistant Commander for the Ground Forces Operation when he received news of a soldier going on a rampage in Chow Kit.

By the time he arrived near Wisma Sabaruddin where Adam had hid himself, sharp-shooters from the police force had positioned themselves around the vicinity.

Abdul Ghani tried using a loud hailer to persuade Adam to surrender but to no avail.

Undeterred, Abdul Ghani told Adam that his family and girlfriend wanted him to stop the madness. He volunteered to meet Adam alone.

He sent back an army officer who tried to follow him into Wisma Sabaruddin to protect him.

When he came face-to-face with Adam, he took off his bullet-proof vest to gain his trust. He addressed Adam as a Ranger.

“This act softened his heart and demeanour little by little. During the negotiation, Adam looked lost, scared and confused,” Abdul Ghani recalled in the book Konfesi Prebet Adam authored by Syahril A. Kadir.

Shafee, who is a former student of the Royal Military College (RMC), said he decided to take on Adam’s case pro bono after getting a call from a fellow lawyer and officer in the army reserve.

Shafee would spend more than RM100,000 on Adam’s case, including to hire experts like psychiatrist Tan Sri Dr M. Mahadevan to defend Adam.

“I took on Adam’s case as it was a big challenge and because he would have been hanged if I didn’t help him,” Shafee said, adding that as a former RMC student, he felt he had a responsibility to do what he could to help a military man in trouble.

One of the biggest mysteries about the case has been about the urban legend that linked the rampage to the then Sultan of Johor. This was not true.

How then, did the urban legend come about?

In the book, Adam in his own words claimed that he first heard of the allegation during a police interrogation that baffled him until now.

“Every time I was interrogated, it was always prefaced with ‘I pity you, Adam… it was because of the Agong that you’re in this state,” Adam recalled.

He did not identify who the interrogators were but explained that when he finally gave in and began nodding to the officers’ questions to implicate the royalty, the officers began theorising that his rampage was a conspiracy.

Adam claimed to the author of the book that the interrogators theorised that the conspiracy was orchestrated.

“They alleged that individuals were behind my action in a bid to divert public attention away from the problems that were plaguing the Malaysian leadership at that time,” the book quoted Adam as saying.

Asked about the conspiracy theory, Shafee said the matter was never raised in court by the prosecution. The defence also did not raise the issue.

Shafee said Adam could not remember a lot of what happened due to his state of mind at the time, and his defence partly relied on this.

“If we showed that Adam could remember such details about the interrogation, it could have prejudiced his defence.”

Shafee said that Adam’s case was investigated by the police Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and that his case also involved the Internal Security Act.

“It was not the CID who were asking questions about the conspiracy.

“It was as if there was an attempt to create a presumption and plant the idea in Adam’s head that his brother was supposedly killed by the then Sultan of Johor.

“The person or people who tried to put this idea in Adam’s head knew he already had a problem with his state of mind, so someone took advantage of this.”

Shafee said after Adam’s release from Tanjung Rambutan, Adam would look him up whenever he had a case in Penang.

He said there are lessons to be learnt from the case, including the importance of listening to both sides of the story.

“To me, Adam is a victim of circumstance; all he wanted was to be good soldier but he was bullied to such an extent.”

Picking the pack that grows back

15 February 2017 ©

The pressure is mounting on companies to source paper from responsibly managed forests. Here is how packing giant Tetra Pak plans to double the recycling rate of its cartons by 2020.

Students from the International School of Kuala Lumpur learning how to turn used cartons into decorative trees at Sunway Pyramid on 11 November 2016. Image: Cohn & Wolfe.

Many consumers might not know this, but on some beverage cartons lurks a little symbol that tells you whether or not they are made with paper from wood that comes from responsibly managed forests.

This symbol is none other than the FSC logo, a little tree with a tick, by the Forest Stewardship Council, an independent, non-profit organisation based in Bonn, Germany that offers one of the most credible forest certification schemes for businesses. Besides conserving high biodiversity value forests, the certification scheme aims to ensure that businesses respect the rights of workers, communities and indigenous peoples.

As awareness grows globally about the need to protect the world’s forests, this FSC logo has become ever more important in enabling consumers to choose wood and paper-based products that support responsible forestry.

All Tetra Pak paperboard now comes from FSC sources.

Brian May, managing director of Tetra Pak Malaysia, Singapore and Philippines told Eco-Business in a recent interview that about 41 per cent of Tetra Pak cartons in Malaysia now carry the FSC label, a steady increase from 14 per cent in 2015 and 33 per cent last year. The company aims for an eventual 100 per cent by working closely alongside its customers in driving the sustainability agenda. Major industry names that pack their products in Tetra Pak cartons include Ace Canning, Dutch Lady, F&N, Marigold, Nestle and Yeo’s.

May was speaking on the sidelines of a recent event held in Malaysia in partnership with FSC to launch a campaign called “The Pack that Grows Back”.

Held over 10 to 13 November at Sunway Pyramid Shopping Mall at Kuala Lumpur, the campaign sought to raise consumer awareness of the FSC label.

Visitors took part in an interactive exhibition where they could follow the process in which their drink cartons were created; from the forest to the factory where the paperboard is made, to the retail stores, and finally, to the recycling station.

Consumers were also invited to design their own beverage cartons, and say how they could transform them into eco-wallets, namecards or baskets.

May explained that currently, the company’s packaging carries the “FSC Mix” label, which means its paper fibres are sourced from a mixture of FSC certified forests, recycled materials and low-risk forests.

As of April this year, Tetra Pak has delivered 200 billion FSC-labelled cartons to its clients.

“Imagine if 200 billion decisions were made to buy products with an FSC label to ensure they come from well-managed forests,” said FSC’s Asia Pacific regional director Alistair Monument. “This would send a strong message to the markets and governments.”

Consumer awareness of the FSC logo can be improved, he added. Tetra Pak’s Environment Research 2015 found that two out of five consumers look for environmental logos when they shop. However, less than a quarter of the 6,000 consumers across 15 countries surveyed recognised the FSC logo.

Beyond certification  

Paperboard is the main material used in a Tetra Pak package, making up more than 70 per cent of it. Since 2015, all of the paperboard Tetra Pak has used to make its cartons comes from FSC-certified and controlled sources, said the company.

All of Tetra Pak factories and market companies worldwide have secured FSC’s Chain-of-Custody (CoC) certification. The CoC certification prevents untraced wood products from being mixed with FSC-certified products in a supply chain.

“We have had to sort out our rules in FSC in 2005 to make such a large-scale certification possible,” he added.  As one of the early adopters of the FSC certification scheme, Tetra Pak has worked for almost a decade to achieve one of FSC’s largest multi-site certifications. It was the first to start the process to certify its supply chains in 92 sites worldwide in 2007, said Monument.

Tetra Pak sources its wood from forests in countries such as Sweden, Finland, Russia and the USA: “Now most of the plantation forests [they buy from] are certified, it has driven real change on the ground,” said Monument.

Tetra Pak has stationed an environment team in every country to lower the overall ecological footprint of its business operations. In Malaysia, the environment team has developed a recycling system for Tetra Pak cartons.

Terrynz Tan, environment director of Tetra Pak Malaysia, Singapore and Philippines, explained that since the company’s cartons are not 100 per cent paper-based, it was initially difficult to establish a recycling system.

“When we first approached local recycling mills, they didn’t know if it was possible to recycle it. But eventually, they found a way and now we have 500 collection points in Malaysia,” she said.

A quarter of Tetra Pak cartons are made of plastic (polyethylene) and aluminium. These are separated from the paperboard via the hydra pulping process in recycling mills.

The paper fibres recovered are turned into pulp sheets again to make paper products. The residues – polyethylene and aluminium – are recycled into light, highly compressed boards that can be used as panel boards in furniture, roof sheets or other items.

About one in three cartons in Malaysia are recycled, translating to 477 million cartons saved from landfill in 2015.

Globally, Tetra Pak aims to double its cartons’ recycling rate from 20 per cent in 2010 to 40 per cent in 2020, an equivalent of recycling 100 billion cartons a year.

Tetra Pak has also introduced a fully renewable plant-based package to the market in 2014 to improve the sustainability of their products’ life cycle.

This new package called “Tetra Rex” was first introduced in retail stores in Finland in January last year. May said Tetra Pak expects to deliver more than 100 million packs by the end of 2016 due to strong demand in Finland, Sweden and Norway.

“We believe it makes good business sense to be environmentally responsible,” May said.