Every little bit counts. You may think that one person isn’t going to make a difference, but several budding environmentalists beg to differ.
Tin Fong Yun, 29, challenged herself to live a zero waste life in 2016 as a one-year experiment.
The year came and went, and Tin is still living a zero waste lifestyle.
“I was an environmental journalist before, and I was writing about all these environmental issues while contributing to the global waste problem with a trash bag full of plastic wrappers.
“My lifestyle just wasn’t reflecting what I was writing about,” she said.
In 2016, Malaysia produced approximately 38,000 tonnes of waste per day. That is equivalent to over 3,000 garbage trucks filled with rubbish being sent to the landfill daily.
Zero waste means not sending anything to the landfill, so Tin practises the four “Rs”: Refuse, reuse, recycle and rot.
“I would refuse things like plastic bags, takeaway containers and plastic bottles. I would also buy my groceries without packaging from the market or bulk food stores, and go shopping at second-hand stores,” she said.
Her food scraps are composted, while other non-compostables and non-recyclables go into her jar of waste.
Tin said that most Malaysians have been supportive of her zero waste efforts.
“A lot of shops have been very accommodating of my requests, they allow me to have my bubble tea in my own glass jar, and fast food outlets have served my fries in my own container,” she added.
Shops have also given her discounts or extra food after learning of her zero waste journey.
Tin is one of the founders of the Facebook page Zero Waste Malaysia, where followers post their own efforts at reducing waste or going zero waste.
“The great thing is that anyone can go zero waste, whether you are old or young, rich or poor,” Tin said.
“We (the Zero Waste Malaysia group) try to raise awareness about the waste crisis and environmental issues.
“We don’t want to force people to go zero waste. We would rather show by example. If people want to follow, they can,” she explained.
According to Tin, Malaysians are becoming more environmentally conscious, and there have been more environmental movements and groups to raise awareness.
“Awareness is the first step. The next is taking action,” she said.
“Imagine if more people start cutting down their household waste – if you cut down your waste by just 1% or 20%, that will make a big difference.”
The average Malaysian produces over 1kg of waste every day. So that is more than 365kg of waste a year!
“Between my husband and I, we produced around 100g of waste in two years.
“That’s a huge difference from the average 365kg,” said Tin.
“It just goes to show that you do have the power to make a difference.”
Environmental organisation EcoKnights is trying to nudge Malaysian youth and corporations into becoming more environmentally conscious.
“My dream is for Malaysia to focus on the environmental sector. We are surrounded by amazing biodiversity and I hope that we can carry out environmental education to teach Malaysians how to appreciate and protect our environment,” said EcoKnights outreach officer Mok Yi Ying.
Mok, 25, reaches out to companies to try and incorporate environmental elements into their business models. “It is about balancing economic, environment and social factors, and having effective communication between the different areas,” she said.
“I hope to see the Government create policies to protect wildlife and gazette national parks, as well as fund research and conservation projects,” she added.
EcoKnights education officer Nabila Shohimi finds that environmental education is important to create awareness on the environmental issues our planet faces.
“The level of awareness varies in different areas. Waste segregation awareness in Malaysia is relatively high, but wildlife and river conservation is low,” said the 25-year-old.
EcoKnights economy officer Emirul Redzuan, 24, said the mindset of Malaysians has to change.
“They have to realise that their actions can create an impact and they can be part of the solution,” he shared.
“We have to be aware of the environmental problems we are facing, and care enough to do something about it.
“We should be creating a better future for the next generation. Things have to change,” he added.
Conserving nature’s gifts
Budding conservationist Shauna Tay, 25, has been involved in many conservation projects over the years after studying wildlife conservation at the University of Kent, Britain.
“Growing up in Malaysia, you become really exposed to the challenges that wildlife face,” she said.
Species like the Malayan tiger, Malayan tapir, black shrew, Sumatran rhinoceros, Borneo pygmy elephant, orangutan and several species of marine turtles are some of the country’s critically endangered wildlife.
Despite her youth, Tay has already gained experience at a number of conservation and environmental organisations. She worked with abused and “retired” elephants at the Elephant Valley Project in Cambodia; turtle conservation and ecotourism work at Perhentian Island; and sun bear conservation in Sabah.
Tay also worked with Malaysia’s Department of Wildlife and National Parks, Fuze Ecoteer and Dr Jane Goodall’s youth environmental programme Root & Shoots.
“I plan to start a project of my own in Malaysia, but I haven’t found my animal yet. I want to continue working with people and maybe do some more hands-on research in the field,” she said.
Tay’s goal is to fight for the conservation of Malaysia’s local species.
“We really need to stay here and fight for what we have. If we don’t fight, one day we are going to lose some of our local species forever,” she warned.
In 2018, Tay hopes everyone can make small lifestyle changes that can make a “big difference”.
“Little things like being more mindful about your waste disposal, being kind to animals, or researching for responsible animal attractions when you holiday can make a difference,” she said.
“You might think that one person isn’t going to make much of a difference – but a small change can make an impact,” said Tay.
What’s on the horizon
• Zero waste advocate Tin Fong Yun, who helped organise Kuala Lumpur’s first Zero Waste Festival in December 2017, said there will “most likely” be a second Zero Waste Festival in 2018.
• EcoKnights will also be holding their annual Kuala Lumpur Eco Film Festival (KLEFF) in the last quarter of 2018. “There are so many great films out there, and KLEFF is a great place to raise awareness on the environmental issues we face and reach out to people and businesses,” said EcoKnights education officer Nabila Shohimi.
• We can also expect to see our critically endangered Malayan tiger in the spotlight this year, with the theme of World Wildlife Day on March 3 being the “Big Cats” celebration.
• Other prominent days includes World Oceans Day that falls on June 8 to raise awareness on the importance of conserving our oceans, and International Day for Biological Diversity that falls on May 22 to increase understanding and awareness of biodiversity issues.