Green.

I can’t say for everyone but I do believe that there is a time in our lives that when we read articles about environmental efforts, we wonder if it’ll actually make a real impact. I know I always ask myself that. In fact, the disturbing thought will always be there when environmental discussions come up. It’s because with one effort we campaign, there are a thousand more that’s contributing to environmental problems. There’s also the dilemma of wanting to help, but can’t help contributing to the environmental issues because of various reasons. This dilemma is a personal struggle I fight every single day and I have no solution yet for it.

Last weekend, there was an event called the Cooler Lumpur Festival; a fest with forums, discussions, workshops and many more on shaping the future of our beloved capital city, Kuala Lumpur. It is my first time attending this sort of event in Malaysia and I must say that I am impressed with everything. They had good programmes going on for the weekend, not leaving out activities for kids and also small entreprises/home businesses. I attended 2 of the sessions, one on sustainability and discussion towards a greener future while the other was about writing across differences. While it is amazing to see Malaysian citizens coming together to tackle environmental issues, it is without any doubt that more needs to be done. And perhaps, even our focus ? The discussion on sustainability was attended by 5 experienced individuals; the person who initiated zero waste campaign in Malaysia which has over 4000 members in her zero waste community today, Aurora Tin, Angelia Chin who is actively involved in the Lost Food Project where they collect commercially rejected food and put them to good use, Danni Rais, a youth politician whose focus is on national empowerment, Tun Jeanne, wife to our fifth Prime Minister that encourages planting of trees movement and lastly, the famous Malaysian eco-activist, policy change-maker and a true eco warrior Gurmit Singh. Each of them had a lot to talk about on sustainability and their efforts in helping the environment, be it planting more trees, tackling food and waste management, nation empowerment and even policies.

Throughout the discussion, I realized that if I never attended the session in person I’ll never know the existence of these campaigns or efforts. For example, the Lost Food Project collected over 140 000 tonnes of food that is perfectly edible but rejected due to the appearance in the last 18 months. This is collection of food at certain state or areas, not even our whole country. To be honest, I was also taught to pick food before buying them especially fruits and vegetables. It did not occur to me that those fruits that weren’t pick by consumers would be thrown away instead of consumed. This project is amazing in the sense that it helps with the redistribution of food to those who needs it like orphanages, our food for homeless movements and many more. The zero waste campaign on the other hand, was impossible to believe at first but after the talk it got me thinking about how it could be done, what part of our lifestyle we can change to reduce our waste such as the choices of our snacks, the wrapping paper to our favourite chocolates and many more.

The session left me with a lot of questions and thoughts on how to change our lifestyles to eco living. Gurmit passed a remark to the audience about how those in the session knows the importance of saving environment but still, probably drove to Publika (where the event took place). It got me thinking if there was a way to go there by public transport but I had no clue whatsoever on any public transport that pass by that area. It then strike me that there’s a few problems in this thought itself. First of all, I can say that I was partly ignorant of the whole situation. Because I was carpooling with my friend, I took the easy way out and settled for the car, instead of googling the route using public transportation. In our daily lives, this is probably the case for most of us. We take the easy route because we own a car and it’s really more convenient going places with cars as you don’t have to walk under the extreme weather or share a space with people while travelling. We might know the fact the vehicles are highly related to global warming due to the contribution of carbon emission but because we don’t see with our naked eyes that it emits carbon dioxide we assume it’s okay. It is one thing feeling the rise in temperature but it is another to constantly notice and be aware of what causes it. Second, if I did took the public transport to the place of event on that day which is a combination of LRT and bus or commuter from where I am, I have to allocate about an hour or two for the commute while driving takes only 20 minutes or so. Now looking from the point of opportunity cost, not many of us would be willing to leave two hours before for the commute when we could be there in less than half an hour by car. Perhaps we are willing too but we may not have that much time to spare as we have other engagements to attend to. Even if I did take the public transport, there’s no way of knowing that I will arrive on time or if there’s a delay unless I’m at the station itself. So does this mean that driving is justifiable in this circumstances? For whatever our reasons are, one thing’s for sure that the moment we drive our cars it emits carbon dioxide. So even if we are fully aware of the situation, we may not be able to opt for public transportation due to various pressing reasons. For those who are well aware and are concern about the environment, they might do what they can to reduce environmental issues, but what about the general public? If you give a person these two options as means of travelling what will motivate them to choose one over the other? Some may argue that the role of a car is to take you to respective destination in a more convenient manner and at a faster speed too. So why opt for a less convenient method? Some may not even have the luxury of opting to commute because they need to be in few places in a certain period of time. Of course, I am sure that there are many people too willing to commute instead of opting for convenience at the expense of our environment but there’s always two sides of looking things the way they are.

Which then made me realize, that yes a car’s role is definitely to make our lives more convenient. What’s the point of owning a car if you need to commute for hours right? But then, using the public transport is also more convenient in the sense that you don’t have to worry about traffic or vehicle accident, though of course there are then other concerns relating to public transportation. My point is that, perhaps instead of focusing only on reducing the usage of cars, we should start thinking of how to develop green vehicles. I know some brands have their own hybrid cars but it may not be affordable for everyone and maintenance is probably costly too because the demand is not as huge as the normal vehicles we purchase. Also, since it’s a new technology there are still so much improvement to be made to bring down the cost and providing consumers with better quality. But this is definitely a technology we should focus on especially on making it affordable and accessible to as many people as possible. Even when we commute using the public transportation, we may still take the taxi or Uber or Grab to go to certain places. For example, you commute to go to your workplace and it’s fine if you’re all sweaty because your office have shower facilities but what about when you go to a meeting? Are you planning to ride a bicycle to a meeting in this weather? Chances are, you probably opt for taxi or Uber or Grab if there is no direct public transportation services to the meeting area. But that’s still contributing to the emission of carbon dioxide. If we instead have a taxi service that provide green vehicles maybe that will be a win win situation for both the environment and ourselves. Let’s not forget that we also use vehicles to transport goods. How are we planning to change that? We most likely can’t transport all types of goods using public transportation. So there has to be a real change on the supplier side too. I know it’s a long way to go when talking about innovation and green technology but we have to continuously encourage people to focus on tackling environmental issues from the perspective of suppliers and make them aware that this is also one of the methods we can approach to help the environment. As a consumer we can put pressure by stop using the products, but as a producer we can change people’s lifestyle through our production. It has to be the effort of both sides. Only then, consumers will not be in a dilemma whether to choose convenience over our beloved environment. But anyhow, I am amazed and truly humbled by the level of dedication some people put to help conserve the environment. Such efforts should be appreciated and in a way we do not want all these efforts go to waste. So, start today by thinking what’s your role in the society and how you can help in your current position. It always starts with yourself and what you can do.

(to be continued on dilemma on public transportation – user friendly ? a personal experience)

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A Paper Affair.

This is a post about my recent research on paper making and how it affects our Earth. We all know that it’s good to reduce paper usage and if you do, make sure you shred it and voila your duty is done. But this post will be more than just these two simple steps. It all started when I had to use papers during my internship. Back then I was doing a lot of company credit rating research so I had to read pages and pages of companies’ annual reports for my credit rating reports. It’s all finance stuff so if you’re not into finance, let’s just say that I had to read and research a lot. It gets tiring sometimes to continuously read reports on your laptop and makes it slightly difficult to discuss with your colleagues when you don’t have the printed copy. So, torn between wanting to reduce paper usage and getting the job done, I decided to print. Not all , though. The feeling still bugged me about reducing paper usage. Then I proceeded to the shredding machine where I make sure all my papers get shredded and not thrown into the rubbish bins. But it occurred to me, what happens then after I shred the paper? Will it help with the environment and where does all this shredded paper go?

At that time, it was just a thought which I forgot about later on. Then earlier this year, I had my final examinations and I printed some of my slides. I usually just use my tablet to learn but realized that I end up writing everything back while studying (not so efficient and very time consuming and I waste paper as well). So while printing them, the same thought occurred to me and I got a little distracted and frustrated with the amount of papers I used. I came home and with all the free time I had, I started reading up on the paper industry. I did my research and to be honest, it took me awhile before I came up with this post because I wasn’t sure about so many things with the industry. And this is what I found out from all the readings I did. It may not be complete with all the information about pulp and paper industry and this is a summarized/simplified version based on my understanding so if you are interested on this topic, you can definitely do a further reading.

papermaking

http://www.brdisolutions.com/what-is-the-paper-converting-industry

The diagram above is a clear process of how paper industry works and what is done when you recycle your paper. Starting with the collection of wood, following the brown arrow that leads to paper making which then is distributed out before going back to the industry as a recycled product. It’s pretty much straight forward and looks sustainable with very little environmental problems. That was what I thought when I first did my research. But if you look again at the process, these are some of the issues concerning the paper industry:

Cutting down of trees; the consequences of it. When you cut down trees, not just one of two trees but hundreds of them for paper production you not only disrupt the natural habitat for wildlife but also may cause soil erosion and contribute towards global warming. It may seem like a simple problem where you can solve by planting new trees to replace the ones you cut but it’s not. That’s the thing about natural resources and environmental problems, they’re all interconnected and you have to look at the bigger picture to connect the dots. The disruption of ecosystem can cause permanent effect to the wildlife and also may lead to extinction of some species. It’s not like as if a forest can be built within two weeks so should we be cutting down trees without waiting for trees to grow first ? The dilemma is always there. In fact, 40% of industrial wood is traded globally and this means that its not just a one country’s affair. People trade wood for production of paper, among other usage of wood. We cannot replenish the forest before cutting them down again at the rate we are consuming it. The question is, how do you shift the wildlife to a new habitat before cutting down the trees ? How do you counter back the issue with soil erosion ? At the rate we’re going, we’ll probably clear out all the forest and left with no more trees to harvest.

This is where the recycling part comes in. In today’s paper industry, there are two types of pulp used; virgin and recycled fibre. Recycled fibre is used in the paper production so that we can reduce the intake of virgin fibre which is a product made from the trees we cut down. So if you’re wondering what’s the purpose of shredding your paper, this is it. The shredded paper will go through a few process before turning back into pulp that is then used again for paper making.

sustainability-mobile-map stora enso paper

http://printingandreading.storaenso.com/sustainability

Chemicals and water pollution. The process of paper making, whether using virgin fibre or recycled fibre uses chemical and other materials. Transforming the wood to pulp usually involves cooking the wood chips in a chemical solution. Chemicals used, from what I read are often sodium hydroxide and sodium sulfide. After that, fillers are added such as chalk, clay, starch or titanium oxide. The materials vary based on the type of product produced and the company’s methods. Even with recycling paper, you have to remove the ink which involves bleaches or dyes then convert them back into pulps that can be rolled to papers or other products. This will lead to water pollution, no doubt. It is not easy to separate chemical solutions from the water again and it’ll eventually flow into the ocean, disrupting the aquatic ecosystem and also affecting the soil. In fact, based on research done, pulp and paper industry is one of the largest consumer of water used in industrial activities. There was an article by WWF about this industry and how it’s affecting the environment in more than just one way. It also said that paper mills discharge pollutants and this will lead to aquatic problems as well as health issues. Let’s not forget that we humans consume water too on daily basis and with all the pollution, the water needs to be treated first before it’s safe for us to consume. This adds to the social cost and consumer will have to bear the additional costs.

Apart from the obvious environmental issues I stated above, there are other concerns too such as illegal harvesting, regulations, irresponsible practices in the industry etc etc. There have also been development on producing paper using other resources as many people are becoming more aware of the issues in this industry. I found this while doing my research and it’s a really good website, do check it out !

zero-waste-cycle the poo project

http://thepooproject.ourproject.org/index.php?slab=about

The development of creating a sustainable environment is a continuous effort and requires lots of researches. But even the little things, if we are able to do it we should. Here are some suggestions on how to help:

  • Shred them papers ! If you don’t own a shredder, recycle them at the recycling centre. You can google the nearest recycling centre, I’m sure there’s one in each area. Don’t forget to remove paper clips or other non-paper materials before you recycle.
  • If you can avoid using paper, why not? Save you some pocket money too!
  • Responsible sourcing and trade of paper products. Know the brands you choose and choose a responsible one.
  • Ask for transparency in the sector, exercise your rights as a consumer! If you have questions about the brands you use, why not drop them an email for clarification?

Let’s not forget that wood is used for more than just paper. It’s also used to create furniture, construction of buildings and many other products. If we cannot avoid using those products, the least we could do is use it wisely and not practice irresponsible consumption. Remember, when you buy something, the company will have to produce more to replenish their stock. This means higher demand for wood and therefore, more trees being cut down. Not all products from wood can be recycled and reused as raw ingredient. If you buy just to realize later on that you have no use for it and end up throwing it away, that too can contribute to various environmental problems. Let’s together be a responsible consumer 🙂

It’s the little things that matters, the little effort that will bring changes to the world.