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 Elevyn.com.

  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.

Ethical fashion: Greening your wardrobe

by Gan Pei Ling / 30 January 2012 © The Nut Graph


HAVE you ever wondered what your clothes are made of? How materials such as cotton or polyester are produced, and by whom? And do fashion companies pay our farmers and factory workers fairly for their labour?

I was oblivious to the environmental and social woes associated with conventional cotton farming until I read the book The Story of Stuff recently. The use of child labour and pesticides at cotton farms, the toxic processes involved in bleaching and dying the garments, and the use of sweatshop labour are just among some of the issues highlighted.

Later, I also learnt that processes to produce petroleum-based fabrics like nylon and polyester are energy-intensive and release greenhouse gas. It was perhaps naïve of me to have assumed that companies would uphold human rights standards and take care of the environment while attempting to maximise profits.

Troubled, I started searching online for better alternatives and stumbled upon the Ethical Fashion Forum – made up of businesses that aim to design, source and manufacture clothing in environmentally friendly ways, and which benefit local communities.

While many eco fashion labels have yet to make it to Malaysian shores, I found several online guides to sustainable fashion practices for consumers. I adapted them and formed four strategies to green my wardrobe before making new purchases for the year.

1. Cherish your current garments

A tree hugger (sxc.hu)

As Warren McLaren wrote in TreeHugger: “The greenest garments are those you already own. No more resources are required to get them to you. No more materials extraction, manufacturing, shipping, retailing, [etc.].”

Wear, wash and dry your clothing with care so that they last longer. When they become worn out, consider using them as rags instead of filing up landfills.

2. Reorganise your wardrobe

Running out of outfit ideas and tempted to buy new attire? Reorganise your wardrobe first so that you would have a clearer idea what you already own. Most of us own more clothing than we really need and have at least a few outfits that we rarely, or never, wear. Find new ways to mix and match your garments.

If you’re up for a creative challenge, select six garments – excluding underwear, shoes and accessories – and wear only these six for an entire month. Called Six Items Or Less, this global experiment started in 2010 aims to get the public to rethink what they are wearing and consuming. Document and share your experience. You’re likely to end up with several fresh ideas to mix and match your clothes and accessories after this special month.

3. Shop vintage and local

If you do have to buy, consider going vintage. From casual wear to evening dress, you’ll find many pre-loved items in good condition at affordable prices at local bazaars or online boutiques.

Buy classic styles and colours that will not age.

If you’re looking for accessories, consider buying reasonably priced handmade items fromindigenous people and local entrepreneurs instead of heading straight to departmental stores. The proceeds would support their livelihoods, preserve their crafts and cultures (for the Orang Asli/Asal), and encourage the growth of creative entrepreneurs.

4. Go organic and vegan

(Source: Nukleus Facebook page)

I’ve put this last as organic fashion brands are still relatively hard to find in Malaysia. The only two brands I’m aware of are Nukleus, which sells eco-friendly underwear, and Mell Basics, which offers organic t-shirts and dresses for women.

The truth is, organic wear tends to be pricier. Organic cotton is still costlier to grow, harvest and manufacture as the industry has yet to reach economies of scale. Nevertheless, if you can afford it, go organic.

From foodelectronics and cosmetics to clothing, the new consumption habits inspired by The Story of Stuffvideo and book are slowly changing the way I live.

True, I’m often upset to find out that the processes involved in making these products may have hurt local communities and the environment. Some may prefer to remain ignorant to spare themselves the guilt trip. But these human rights and environmental issues will not go away just because we refuse to acknowledge and address them.

Only when more and more consumers are aware can we encourage farmers, companies and governments to clean up the industry. Then we can wear our garments comfortably with a clear conscience that they were produced in eco-friendly ways.

Gan Pei Ling recommends Eco Chic: The Savvy Shopper’s Guide to Ethical Fashion by The Ecologist editor Matilda Lee to readers interested to learn more about sustainable fashion. She believes it is possible to live sustainably and be fashionable at the same time.

Ways to go organic

by Gan Pei Ling / 21 November 2011 © The Nut Graph

Organic pumpkins (© Richard Smith | Flickr)

WE are what we eat. But how often do we think about where our food comes from and how is it processed?

I started taking an interest in organic food due to health and ethical concerns. It is encouraging to observe growing consumer interest in organic products and the mushrooming of retail outlets such as Country Farm Organics, Justlife Shop and Little Green Planet.

But while organic food is increasingly accessible to the public, it is still not necessarily affordable for all. On top of that, I’m often put off by blatant claims like “100% Natural” made by certain farmers or manufacturers.

How do we know if the food is truly organic and what are some of the certification schemes we can rely on? Is it possible for consumers to go organic with a limited budget?

Organic certifications

A common misconception surrounding organic farming is that it merely involves agriculture without the use of pesticides and synthetic fertilisers.

In reality, it is more complex than that and involves sustainable agricultural practices that should minimise soil erosion, protect water quality and wildlife as well as safeguard workers’ rights.

Well-known foreign organic certifications include, among others:

  • Australia’s National Association for Sustainable Agriculture (NASAA),
  • Japan Agricultural Standards (JAS),
  • the US’s National Organic Program (NOP),
  • Sweden’s KRAV; and
  • Netherland’s Skal.

L-r: NASAA logo (source: nasaa.com.au); JAS logo (source: maff.gov.jp/jas); USDA logo, KRAV logo and Skal logo (source: skal.nl)

Skim Organik Malaysia (source: doa.gov.my)

While previously it was free-for-all in Malaysia, since 2011 only products certified under the Agriculture and Agro-Based Industries Ministry’s Skim Organik Malaysia(SOM) can be labelled as “organic”.

Those who claim their products to be “organic” without SOM certification can be fined up to RM5,000 for breaching Food Regulations 1985. However, consumers should still be wary.

“Discerning consumers should be careful and ask for certification,” said Centre for Environment, Technology and Development, Malaysia (Cetdem) chairperson Gurmit Singh in an email interview.

Gurmit Singh (file pic)

The veteran environmentalist also advises the public to read product labels and encourages them to visit organic farms and even grow their own produce.

Cetdem operates an organic farming community centre and regularly organises Organic Day in the Klang Valley, which allows consumers to meet organic farmers, producers and retailers. It also published a local organic guide book in 2009.

Shopping organic on a limited budget

“As a beginner, you can stretch your dollar by buying local fresh fruits and vegetables and cooking at home,” said Justlife Shop chief executive officer Callie Tai.

Eating fruits and vegetables, even conventionally grown, is still better than consuming processed foods and other less healthy alternatives, according to the US-based Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) 2011 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticide in Produce.

Organic pineapples (© Noah Markus | Flickr)

The 2011 guide shows fruits and vegetables that have the most pesticide residues and are therefore the most important to buy organic. The top three are apples, celery and strawberries.

Alternatively, consumers can switch to the least contaminated conventional fruits and vegetables like sweet corn, pineapples, avocados, asparagus and mangos, as ranked by the US-EWG list. However, agricultural practices can differ from country to country and even from farm to farm, and consumers would do well to be aware of alleged claims by their local watchdogs about excessive pesticide use or other chemicals used to accelerate the ripening of fruits.

Next, Tai recommends switching the essentials such as cooking oil, rice, salt, sweeteners and condiments in your kitchen.

“These essentials may seem more expensive compared to conventional products but you don’t use a lot of it each time and you will stop feeding your body synthetic chemicals that can’t be metabolised,” added the social entrepreneur.

Eco-enzyme, for household cleaning (© Lainie Yeoh)

Subsequently, start switching your conventional synthetic chemical-based household cleaning products to eco-friendly ones such as baking soda, vinegar, lemon juice and eco-enzymes.

Tai pointed out that it would be more economical to go organic in the long run as one would end up saving on medical bills by having a stronger immune system and healthier body.

Changing conventional habits

“There is plenty of information about organic living in books and on the Internet. What is difficult is to inspire people to start reading and practising it,” said Tai.

Indeed, for people like me who have grown used to the convenience of fast food and processed food, it is difficult to switch to organic. In addition, I grew up in a quick-fix society that is often motivated by short-term, not long-term benefits.

But I do strongly believe in the core principles of organic agriculture, and that as intelligent beings, surely humans are capable of producing and consuming food without adversely affecting our own health and ecosystems.

By identifying real organic food via recognised organic certifications and by budgeting carefully to start shopping organic step by step, it is possible to lead a more sustainable way of life and leave a lighter footprint on Earth.

Gan Pei Ling plans to become an organic farmer one day so that she can produce healthy food for her family, friends and local community.

Wanted: Safe and eco-friendly cosmetics

by Gan Pei Ling / 25 July 2011 © The Nut Graph

BODY wash, hair shampoo, soap, facial cleanser, toner — most of us use these personal care products on a daily basis regardless of gender. Women are likely to use cosmetics as well in addition to these products, but have you ever stopped and looked at the ingredients contained in the products? The ingredients should be safe, right?

Not necessarily. It turns out that the multi-billion cosmetics industry might not always have consumers’ best interests at heart

Published in 2007, Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry exposed the pervasive use of toxic chemicals in personal care products. Written by former journalist Stacy Malkan, the book also exposed hypocritical cosmetics companies that brand themselves as pink ribbon leaders, yet continue to use hormone-disrupting chemicals or potential carcinogens in their products. The author is now one of the leading advocates for the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics in the US.

Another short film, The Story of Cosmetics, was released in 2010 to raise public awareness and rally support for the campaign. Although both the book and film were based on an American context, I think they are equally relevant to Malaysian consumers. Similar harmful products are being imported and sold in local stores, yet most of us remain ignorant of this.

So what are the ingredients that we should stay away from when shopping for personal care products? Are all products labelled “organic” or “natural” safe? And what are some of the local alternatives available to Malaysians?

Ingredients to avoid

“Cosmetics should be safe enough to eat,” Horst Rechelbacher, founder of one of the largest eco-friendly beauty salons Aveda, once told The New York Times in 1997. He was right, if you can’t eat it, why would you want to apply the ingredients on your body as the skin would absorb the ingredients and they would end up in your body anyway?

To help consumers search for safe cosmetics and personal care products, one of the key partners in the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics – the Environmental Working Group (EWG) — has set up a cosmetics database called Skin Deep in 2004Below is a list of ingredients to avoid in various personal care products compiled using resources from the database:

  • Soap
    • Bar soap — Triclocarban
    • Liquid soap — Triclosan
    • Toothpaste — Triclosan

Reason: Triclocarban and triclosan are chemicals used to kill off microorganisms such as bacteria and are toxic to aquatic environments.

  • Day-time moisturiser — Retinyl palmitate and retinol (Vitamin A)
  • Lip balm — Retinyl palmitate and retinol
  • Sunscreen — Retinyl palmitate and retinol, oxybenzone

Reason: Vitamin A is a nutrient but it may cause birth defects if pregnant women are exposed to excessive amounts of it. Oxybenzone is a common sunscreen agent that has been linked to hormone disruption.

  • Hair products – Fragrance, PEGs, ceteareths, polyethylene, parabens and DMDM hydantoin

Reason: Hundreds of chemicals can be included in the term “fragrance” while PEGs, ceteareths and polyethylene compounds are synthetic chemicals frequently contaminated with potential carcinogen 1,4-dioxaneParabens are commonly used as preservatives. Usually listed as methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben etc, these chemicals may disrupt the endocrine system. DMDM hydantoin is another preservative. It releases the carcinogen formaldehydewhen it decomposes.

  • Nail products – Formaldehyde, toluene and phthalates

Reason: Formaldehyde is a carcinogen while toluene is a potent neurotoxin. Phthalates are a group of industrial chemicals that may disrupt our hormone and reproductive systems.

Having trouble memorising all the chemical terms? So did I when I first researched this subject. But it also made me wonder what all these chemicals were doing in personal care products, some of which we use on a daily basis.

It was not pleasant to discover methylparaben and ethylparaben as listed ingredients in my facial cleanser and body wash, so I went on a quest to look for paraben-free and safer products.

Local handmade personal care products

I stumbled upon two female entrepreneurs who make their own skincare products at a flea market at Jaya One, Petaling Jaya last month.

Shelby Kho, 30, is a doctor who makes bath scrubs, bath salts and other body products as her passion. She learned to make them during college and used to make these body products as gifts for her friends. It did not occur to her to sell the products at flea markets to a larger audience until December 2010.

She does not use any artificial fragrance, preservatives or colourings in her products. Natural ingredients such as manuka honey are used as preservatives and essential oils as fragrance.

Bisou Bon Bon (pic courtesy of Gan Pei Ling)

Kho calls her line of products Bisou Bonbon (which means “candy” in French). Best of all, her products are reasonably priced, ranging from RM9 for a lip balm to RM28 for a jar of body scrub.

RM40 trial set of a 3-in-1 facial cleansing powder, scrub and mask and a 2-in-1 toner and moisturiser.

Meanwhile, Sal, also 30, is a homemaker from Petaling Jaya. She started making her own facial products when she began to develop sensitive skin at the age of 25 and the condition did not improve after she tried different commercial brands.

After experimenting with various recipes, Sal developed her own skincare line called Back to Basicswhich includes cleanser, toner-cum-moisturiser, treatment powder and face serum. Similar to Kho’s body products, Sal does not use chemicals in her products.

“Sometimes I’ll modify my products to suit the customers’ needs as some of them have more sensitive skin,” she said when met at the flea market in June.

Apart from these handmade products, Malaysians may also find safer and biodegradable commercial products at The Body Shop and TNS Skin Lab but their products may of course be pricier.

Gan Pei Ling is still searching for safe and eco-friendly personal care products, especially local handmade ones. Drop her a line at editor@thenutgraph.com if you know of any.

Green issues: Top 10 in 2010

by Gan Pei Ling / 24 January 2011 © The Nut Graph

WHAT were the environmental highlights and low points of 2010? Do we stand a chance in conserving Malaysia’s amazing biodiversity and rich natural resources?

With the help of several “greenie” friends, I made a list of 10 major environmental happenings in Malaysia in 2010. These events give us an indication not only of how the environment continues to be under threat in Malaysia, but also how efforts are being made to combat that threat.

What stood out for you environmentally in 2010? What appalled, encouraged or enlightened you? List them down so that we may have a better picture about how we Malaysians are caring for our environment.


1. Nuclear power plants

(Pic by merlin1075 / sxc.hu)

The federal government decided to go nuclear, announcing in May 2010 that Malaysia would build a nuclear power plant by 2021. Serious concerns were raised regarding safety and feasibility, considering the disastrous effects of accidents and shoddy radioactive waste management. Activists also questioned whether the government had exhausted renewable energy options, especially solar and biomass.

Despite this, Energy, Green Technology and Water Minister Peter Chin announced in December 2010 that Malaysia intended to build two plants, the second expected to be ready a year after the first.

To date, the government has not made public its nuclear waste management plan or emergency plan detailing what steps it would take in the event of a radioactive leak or natural disaster.

2. Sabah coal plant

Meanwhile, the federal government is planning to build a 300-megawatt coal plant on Sabah’s pristine east coast. Environmental coalition Green Surf and other activists have been campaigning tirelessly against the plant, reminding the government to consider cleaner alternatives like biomass and geothermal.

The plant’s detailed environmental impact assessment was rejected by the Environment Department. However, Chin said last December the proposed coal plant would go ahead, claiming it was the best option to ensure uninterrupted power supply.

3. Bakun Dam

The flooding of the Bakun Dam began in October 2010. The flooding of the 69,000ha area, roughly the size of Singapore, to the top of the Bakun Dam wall, about half the height of the Petronas Twin Towers, is expected to take over seven months.

Disputes over compensation for the approximately 10,000 indigenous peoples displaced from their land remain unresolved. The construction of the Bakun Dam began in 1996, and its cost was reported to have ballooned from RM4.5bil to RM7.5bil due to cost overrun and compensation for delays.

Despite that, Bakun is just the beginning. The 944-megawatt Murum dam is currently being constructed, and it was announced in February last year that five more dams with a combined capacity of 3,000-megawatts are in the pipeline.

4. Renewable energy bill

(Pic by ronaldo/sxc.hu)

The long-awaited Renewable Energy Act was finally tabled in Parliament in December 2010. Once passed, the Act will enable the public to sell electricity generated from renewable energy, most likely solar, to the power grid through the feed-in tariff scheme. Tenaga Nasional Bhd (TNB) will buy user-generated electricity at above-market rates. Concerns, however, are that TNB might pass on the cost to consumers by raising general electricity tariffs.

Other than the feed-in-tariff, it is unclear how the government intends to fulfill its target of generating 11% electricity from renewable energy by 2020.


5. Rejang river logjam

This bizarre incident last October involved Malaysia’s longest river, the Rejang. Logs and debris choked the mighty river for 50km, making many places inaccessible by boat.

The Sarawak government tried to pass off the incident as a “natural” disaster due to floods. A BBC report, however, quoted the blog Hornbill Unleashed, which blamed poor infrastructure and excessive logging for the logjam.


6. Capture and trial of wildlife trafficker Anson Wong

In August 2010, Wong was caught with 95 boa constrictors in his bag at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport. I, personally, was delighted when the High Court substituted a Sessions Court sentence of six months’ jail and a RM190,000 fine with a five-year jail term. The heavier sentence will be more likely to serve as an effective deterrent.

In addition, Parliament passed a tougher Wildlife Conservation Act, which came into force in December 2010. Punishments include fines of up to RM500,000. and up to five years’ jail for smugglers of protected species like tigers and rhinos.

7. GM mosquitoes

(Illustration by Nick Choo)

Dengue, carried by the Aedes mosquito, has been endemic in Malaysia for years. Genetically modified (GM) mosquitoes have been proposed as a solution to curb its spread. The mutant male mosquitoes do not produce any offspring and help lower the mosquito population.

Great fears, however, have been expressed over this experiment as experts say removing the mosquito from the ecosystem could wreak havoc on other species, and ultimately, the environment.

Despite these concerns, the Health Ministry intended to release GM mosquitoes in Bentong, Pahang and Alor Gajah, Malacca. Protests from local and international groups resulted in a cancellation of the programme.


8. Selangor State Park

The federal government intends to build the Kuala Lumpur Outer Ring Road (KLORR) through the Selangor State Park to ease traffic congestion. This is in spite of the park being categorised as an Environmentally Sensitive Area (Rank 1) under the National Physical Plan-2. It serves as an important water catchment area, and as such, no development, except for eco-tourism, research and education purposes, should occur there.

The highway was originally designed to cut through the park and a potential Unesco World Heritage site,  the Klang Gates Quartz Ridge. The Selangor government convinced the developer to dig a tunnel to avoid damaging the quartz ridge last November. But it remains to be seen whether they can persuade the developer to re-route KLORR away from the state park, too.

Public outcry, not just from environmental groups but also concerned residents, continue. It remains to be seen whether the federal government will scrap its plans.

9.  Kuala Langat South peat swamp forest

Wong (front) visiting the Kuala Langat South peat swamp forest in December 2010.

The Selangor Agricultural Development Corporation proposed in 2010 to convert the 7,000ha Kuala Langat forest reserve into oil palm plantations. The clearing of the forest could reportedly generate RM1bil in timber revenue.

Selangor executive councillor for the environment Elizabeth Wong has led opposition to this proposal. A biodiversity audit, done with the assistance of environmental groups, found tapirs, sun bears, white-handed gibbons and rare trees.

The audit report has yet to be presented to the menteri besar, but I’m hopeful he will make the right decision. After all, the Pakatan Rakyat-led government promised to ban logging for 25 years when it came into power in 2008.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

10. No plastic bag day

The no plastic bags campaign, pioneered in Penang in 2009, is now nationwide. Plastic bags are no longer free on Saturdays except in Penang, where they’re not free every day.

Plastics manufacturers’ indignant reactions amuse me. Although the campaign may reduce our reliance on plastic bags, it is mainly symbolic. The campaign helps us rethink the impact of our use-and-throwaway consumption on the environment, but is unlikely to eliminate all use of plastics bags, or plastics, in our lives. Perhaps the manufacturers need to start listening and evolve in accordance with consumer demand for more sustainable products.

Although I initially found the above list a bit depressing, I realised that the story of public resistance against potential ecological destruction echoed throughout. And there are many more environmental heroes that did not make it into the list. A rural Kelantan community that successfully solved the human-elephant conflict in their village, for example. Or the Bukit Koman community that continues their attempts to protect their village from pollution from a gold mine.

And I’m sure there are many, many more such stories.

Again, Gan Pei Ling finds herself more inspired by grassroots communities and individuals than governments in 2010.

Plastic matters

by Gan Pei Ling / 22 November 2010 © The Nut Graph

SELANGOR’S No Plastic Bag Day campaign recently came under attack in a report on online news portal The Malaysian Insider.

Elizabeth Wong

The 9 Nov 2010 report claimed that “hypermarkets and retail shops” in Selangor have suffered up to 30% decline in their businesses on Saturdays since the Selangor government implemented the campaign in January 2009. In a 12 Nov 2010 report, the news portal also rubbished Selangor executive councillor Elizabeth Wong‘s claim, that plastic bags are an environmental problem, by citing environmentalists and scientists.

Are The Malaysian Insider reports accurate? Are they doing what good journalism is meant to do — hold public officials accountable for the decisions they make that affect public life? Or do the reports miss the point by taking things out of context?

Sloppy reporting

Interestingly, even though Penang has been more aggressive in implementing the campaign, the Selangor government has suffered most of the brunt from The Malaysian Insider’s reporting.

More interesting was how the news portal attempted to be critical of the Selangor government’s campaign. The news portal only cited three supervisors in its 9 Nov 2010 report that claimed “hypermarkets and retail shops” in Selangor had suffered up to 30% drop in businesses on Saturdays. It also quoted only customers that were unhappy with the state’s campaign.

A customer in Carrefour Market helps herself to cardboard boxes provided as an alternative to plastic bags — the mini hypermarket in Bangsar South has a no-plastic-bag policy (© Lainie Yeoh)

In comparison, The Star‘s 11 Jan 2010 report in the campaign’s early days found that even though some shoppers were caught unaware, many were still supportive of the campaign. In addition, retailers like Tesco, Giant, Jusco and Ikea actually started encouraging its customers to use reusable bags even before the state government began its campaign.

It is also problematic when the reports stress a 30% loss in business on Saturdays without asking the question whether that loss in business has been compensated in an increase on other days. If it has, then the alarming claims that business has been affected by an environmental-friendly policy may be misguided and mischievous.

The Malaysian Insider report misses the nuance and context of the criticism by scientists; they are against focusing solely on banning plastic bags.

On top of that, The Malaysian Insider claimed in its 12 Nov 2010 report that scientists and environmentalists have dismissed plastic bags as a “non-issue”. To put things into context however, it is true that scientists and environmentalists have been critical of governments but only of those that focus on banning plastic bags alone without implementing more concrete and comprehensive plans to save the environment.

Hence, it is only problematic if the No Plastic Bag Day campaign were all that the Selangor government was doing in its effort to conserve the environment. That isn’t the case at all.

The Pakatan Rakyat-led government enforced a moratorium on logging in Selangor as soon as it came into power. The Selangor Forestry Department is taking various measures to prevent illegal logging.

The Selangor government also gazetted the Kota Damansara forestAyer Hitam forest, and the firefly sanctuary in Kampung Kuantan in 2010. The state is engaging on a long-term plan to rehabilitate the Klang River as well.

There is much more the Selangor government could do to conserve the environment but I believe credit should be given where it is due, too.

Small steps

The Petronas Twin Towers during Earth Hour 2009 (© Lai Seng Sin | Wiki Commons)

Sceptics often criticise campaigns such as No Plastic Bag Day and Earth Hour on the basis that they merely create the illusion that small steps can make a difference. On my part, I would not be so quick to dismiss these small steps because they do help to increase awareness.

Additionally, reducing waste requires consumers to be constantly mindful of the impact of our actions so that we can choose to reduce our consumption at many levels. Symbolic campaigns like No Plastic Bag Day and Earth Hour may not save the planet, but I think they do serve to inspire consumers to a certain degree to rethink the impact of their consumption patterns on the environment.

Any environmentalist will tell you there is no one way to save the planet. Solving our impending environmental crises requires a fundamental shift in the way we think about and treat our environment.

Despite the urgency of these problems though, such change is expected to take decades. The least the media could do is to report on the issues as accurately and fairly as possible to contribute to meaningful debate and greater awareness about how our personal consumption choices can accumulatively save or destroy our planet.

Gan Pei Ling does not fancy picking up plastic bags or bottles in a beach or waterfall clean-up. She salutes those who do so regularly.

Related post: The plastic menace