Yara Kerschot isn’t bothered that her latest online purchase is second-hand. After all, most items in her closet, including T-shirts, blouses and sneakers, are pre-loved.
The 10-year-old smiles gleefully at her latest acquisition, a grey sweater, featuring the icon of The Rolling Stones’ album, Forty Licks. It is eye-catching, with diamante and sequins, and the best thing is that Yara managed to acquire it at a fraction of its original price.
“There’s nothing wrong in using second-hand items, especially when they are still in good condition. It helps to promote the recycling habit. Plus, it enables Mummy to reduce our spending on clothing,” says Yara, who is able to grasp the enormity of environmental issues like global warming, acid rain and water pollution.
What sets the young girl and her family apart is they are acting on their conviction that that they need to help protect the environment.
Led by Yara’s mother, Mareena Yahya Kerschot, the family begun to seriously adopt green habits in their home.
Unlike most of us who think that we do enough by maybe carrying a recyclable bag to the grocery shop or separate our trash when it’s convenient or when we remember to, this family has consciously examined everything they do and use, and found ways to ensure they have minimised their impact on the environment.
For the past four years, the Kerschots have been practising zero waste in their home. Their aim is to reduce their waste to zero, and adopt a sustainable and ethical lifestyle.
One of the many things that sparked their zero waste efforts was a 2015 video featuring a turtle in Costa Rica with a plastic straw lodged in its nostril.
The reptile’s eyes welled up and nostrils bled as a four-inch straw was extracted from its nasal passageway. That heart wrenching video left a big impact on Mareena.
“Like others, I blamed the authorities and my condominium’s management for not dealing with our trash issues. But one day, I realised trash comes from my home too. I realised I have been taking things for granted and complaining too much. I finally realised this had to change,” says Mareena.
The recognition prompted Mareena to change her habits. She started off by reducing her plastic waste, so she began to be mindful when buying groceries. Instead of using plastic bags, she packs dry and wet food items in recyclable containers and newspaper.
The 45-year-old yoga instructor also makes a shopping list when she goes shopping which has helped to reduce unnecessary wastage and stretch her ringgit.
“We buy fresh produce at farmers’ markets, night markets and family-run grocery stores. It is nice to support small-scale business owners.
“Bulk buying is cheaper too,” says Mareena, who also buys personal care products and selected food items like cereal, jams and nuts from cooperatives that practise a zero waste approach to shopping.
They do not buy products in plastic packaging, and they have replaced their plastic containers at home with glass ones.
To avoid plastic packaging, Mareena makes yoghurt, cakes and cookies at home.
She also makes toothpaste for her family, using baking powder, peppermint essential oil and coconut oil.
To minimise wastage, 6Rs (refuse, reduce, reuse, repair, recycle and rot) are practised in the Kerschot household.
Food waste such as fruits and vegetables peels, as well as onion and garlic skin, is fed to the ducks that live across their apartment.
Orange peels are soaked in vinegar for two weeks and turned into an all-purpose cleaning product.
Used ground coffee is turned into fertiliser. Egg shells, which are dried and ground into powder, are used as nutrient for plants.
Newspaper, boxes and tetra pack items are sent to a recycling centre near their home.
Mareena also opts for cloth sanitary pads as disposable pads are non-compostable or biodegradable.
“Living zero waste is doable, really. It’s all about changing your mindset and thinking of ways to do your part with a little effort,” explains Mareena, who has managed to minimise the family’s waste to slightly more than a glass jar since last March.
Mareena is thankful her two children and Belgian husband Wald – a regional director of a telecommunications company – are supportive of her quest towards living a greener lifestyle.
These days, Yara refuses toys and unnecessary items as birthday presents.
Her six-year-old brother Emil has learnt to say no to party bags filled with single use plastics toys and candies.
“For my birthday, I request for money, rather than toys. I will save the money and use it to pay for a diving course or something beneficial,” says Yara, a student at Lycee Francais De Kuala Lumpur.
Mareena chips in: “Parents are responsible for teaching their children about litter and trash management. Get kids involved in keeping the home clean, be it their bedroom, bathroom and so forth. Slowly, children will understand they should not litter on streets and rivers.”
Changing the mindset
Last year, Mareena co-founded Sampah Meyampah, a community group set up to promote a cleaner and healthier environment.
The group also started the Tak Nak Straw (No To Straw) campaign, to discourage the use of plastic straws.
She believes everyone can adapt to a simpler life, reduce their household waste and manage their trash.
“There are so many alternative to plastic straws, such as those made of stainless steel, bamboo, paper and glass. These alternative straws are available at reasonable prices.”
She adds: “The Tak Nak Straw movement is moving very fast as Malaysians are now using this catchy line when they order cold drinks. We also have restaurants and cafes which have replaced plastic straws with straws made from eco-friendly material.”
But, Mareena feels a lot can be done to build environmental consciousness. What really irks her is our “tidak apa” (not bothered) mentality.
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“The mentality is that trash is to be picked up by the cleaners, municipal council and Alam Flora. We could build the awareness further by bringing back ‘gotong-royong’ to the community,” says Mareena, adding schools should have duty rosters to get children involved in cleanliness and trash management.
She encourages Malaysians to do their part and aim for zero waste.
“Start off with baby steps. Try to refuse plastic bags and plastic containers. Opt for soap bars.”
Mareena also advises Malaysians to re-evaluate their lives and dreams for the future generation.
“Respecting the environment is respecting our home. Education starts from home. Teach children why we shouldn’t litter and conserve the planet.”