Going green might just have been a buzzword decades ago, but with the erratic weather changes caused by global warming and depleting natural resources, more communities are warming up to adopting an eco-friendly lifestyle.
While that is applaudable, there is still loads more that can be done especially here in Malaysia. Our country has jumped on the eco-friendly bandwagon only recently with the implementation of Act 672 under the Solid Waste Management and Public Cleansing Act 2007. Implemented in stages, the law states that fines will be imposed if residents fail to comply with the waste separation system.
Apart from reusing stuff and recycling waste, there are plenty of other ways to make your day-to-day life more environmentally-friendly for which you don’t need to break the bank.
In the spirit of the Earth Day 2018 that was celebrated recently, we present 10 cost-effective eco-friendly lifestyle tips.
1. Get more clarity on what and how to recycle
Let’s start with some key numbers about solid waste management. According to Malaysia’s Global Environment Centre (GEC), less than 5 percent of the 23,000 tonnes of waste that’s generated daily in our country gets recycled. More alarming is the fact that 19 percent of that waste ends up in our drains which causes blockages and flash floods. Experts say that the amount of waste is expected to climb up to 30,000 tonnes by 2020 due to increasing population and development. If these numbers don’t immediately prompt you to start segregating your trash, we don’t know what will.
You may know by now that plastic bottles, aluminium cans, glass containers, and paper should be separated accordingly for recycling, but did you know that certain plastics or glass products can’t be recycled? Also, all bottles, cans, and glasses must be cleaned thoroughly before you recycle them? Did you also know that plastic grocery bags might potentially shut down an entire recycling plant?
It’s okay if you’re not 100 percent sure about the proper ways to recycle, chances are many of us don’t either. Hence, it is very important for us to educate ourselves on the do’s and don’ts of recycling. This table, although compiled by an environmental solutions provider in North America, can offer a better general understanding of what can or cannot be recycled.
Additionally, you can also refer to this table by GEC on how to properly recycle each product group. Local scrap and recycle specialist Thanam also highlights some other items that can be recycled on their website, which include electronic appliances, cardboard cartons, CDs and DVDs, scrap car, and even motor oil.
2. Eat less meat
How does the human population’s meat consumption affect the environment? According to a United Nations study, 30 percent of the earth’s land surface is currently being used to raise and sustain livestock. “The livestock sector accounts for 9 percent of CO2 deriving from human-related activities but produces a much larger share of even more harmful greenhouse gases. It generates 65 percent of human-related nitrous oxide, which has 296 times the Global Warming Potential (GWP) of CO2. The livestock business is among the most damaging sectors to the earth’s increasingly scarce water resources, contributing among other things to water pollution from animal wastes, antibiotics, and hormones, chemicals from tanneries, fertilizers and the pesticides used to spray feed crops,” the study notes.
While much-needed improvement plans are being carried out on the business front, we can also lend a hand by reducing our consumption of meat. You can try doing so by substituting meat-heavy meals with vegetables or sustainably sourced seafood.
3. Don’t waste food
Our diverse food culture is undeniably our pride and joy, but according to an article published by the Food and Fertilizer Technology Center for the Asian and Pacific Region, it is also slowly turning into a culture of waste. Statistics from a study conducted by Solid Waste Corporation of Malaysia (SWCorp) showed that 15,000 tonnes of avoidable food waste were produced daily in 2015, and 3,000 tonnes out of that amount were “still fit for consumption and should not have been discarded.”
Needless to say, much of the waste takes place in restaurants (buffets, anybody?) and supermarkets but you can do your part by only taking what you can finish when you’re enjoying a buffet meal and buying what you need when doing your grocery shopping. Also, ensure your kids understand the adverse impacts of food wastage.
You can also keep or freeze leftover food or repurposing scraps by turning it into a mini compost pile to grow your own food. Save money while saving the environment, it’s really a win-win situation!
4. Say no to single-use plastic items
First and foremost, the plastic bag, which takes 10-1,000 years to decompose in landfills. So you should really think twice about reaching for that plastic bag each time you check out at the local supermarket. Instead, why not use canvas or jute bags as an eco-friendly alternative? Sure, it might cost you a small amount but these biodegradable options are way sturdier than traditional plastic bags and it also comes in handy when you need a bag to store items away.
By using canvas bags, you can also take advantage of the small discount that most stores offer now when you bring your own shopping bag. Another option that can make a difference is to reuse plastic bags in your small trash bins at home.
Next, the plastic bottle. Like plastic bags, it takes years and years – 450 to be exact – to decompose, and due to the wasteful plastic production process, it requires three times the amount of water in a water bottle to produce just one unit. So instead of reaching for the two-ringgit bottle of mineral water to stay hydrated, consider investing in a BPA-free water bottle that you can reuse over and over again.
Then, there’s the plastic drinking straw that recently gained notoriety in a very unsettling video filmed by marine biologist Christine Figgener from Texas A&M University, in which she and her research team had to painstakingly remove a long plastic straw lodged in a sea turtle’s nostril. Plastic trash, especially drinking straw, is highly detrimental to marine life as they usually end up in our oceans due to our inability to dispose trash properly in provided bins.
In an effort to be more eco-friendly, more and more F&B establishments are now ditching the plastic drinking straws and swapping them for stainless steel ones that are reusable and more durable. You can easily purchase a set of stainless steel drinking straws online and use them at home or carry one with you when you head out.
5. Shop for second-hand goods
Cutting back on consumerism is probably one of the highly recommended ways to turn our ecological footprint around and you can achieve that by buying second-hand goods. With the exception of a few things (undergarment and beauty products such as cosmetics and skincare) for hygiene reasons, everything else you want or need can basically be pre-loved items from the wide network of charity shops, thrift stores, flea markets and garage sales around town as well as eBay.
It might require a great deal of patience sometimes to acquire something that you actually like but we reckon the cheap price tag will outweigh this tiny inconvenience. It’s a win-win situation now too with retro, vintage designs making a comeback in this era. Your inner bargain hunter will surely thank you for being a smart, savvy shopper.
6. Don’t buy household items. Try borrowing them
When it comes to household items like a ladder, wheelbarrow, blender, food processor and power tools, always ask yourself: How often will I really use it? If your answer is “Not a lot”, borrow the item from a relative or friend or even rent instead of spending a chunk of money on something that will spend most of its lifetime in your storeroom anyway.
7. Go DIY way for beauty products
We mentioned beauty products in one of the points above, but if you’re up for a challenge to further minimise your ecological footprint why don’t you consider making your own beauty products from scratch at home?
Do-It-Yourself recipes for skincare, body care, and hair care are easily searchable on Google and most of the time, the ingredients needed (think honey, coconut oil, oatmeal, yogurt, lemon, and sugar, just to name a few) can be found in your kitchen pantry. All natural and kind to your skin as well as your wallet, what’s not to love?
8. Reduce your home’s energy usage
First, the light bulb debate. Most of us are familiar with the ultra-cheap incandescent bulbs that we use at home, which are considered energy-inefficient by environmentalists as it produces light by heating up a filament wire with electric current. In the last decade though, scientists have developed compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs which use about 80 percent lesser energy and can last 20 times longer than traditional incandescent bulbs.
As with most eco-friendly gadgets, the downside of CFL bulbs is the price tag. One CFL bulb can easily set you back anywhere between RM16 and RM50 (depending on the brand) while a traditional incandescent bulb will cost you no more than RM3. There’s also another pricier option — the LED lamp.
But with lighting contributing to about 30 percent of the electric bill though, it might be wiser to opt for the CFL bulbs despite the steeper cost as this energy-saving option can help with long-term cash savings. You might also want to consider making it a habit to turn off the lights when leaving a room – there’s a reason why light switches are located by the door!
When it comes to energy-efficient electrical appliances for your home, you should always look for those with this Energy Star sticker label. The energy rating for each appliance is approved by the Energy Commission and is most commonly given to household refrigerator, fan, television, and air-conditioner. Sure, the energy-efficient variants might cost you a bit more but not only do they reduce electricity consumption (hence better savings over time), they also help lessen your carbon footprint thus improving your quality of life.
Another way to be more energy-efficient is hooking your appliances (with the exception of the refrigerator) to a power strip and turning them off every time they aren’t in use – that’s because most appliances tend to suck up electricity even though they’re switched off.
9. Go solar, instead
Considering that we get sunlight 24 hours a day, 365 days a year in Malaysia, you should really think long and hard about investing in solar panels for your home. While the installation fee may cost you quite a bit (despite declining installation charges in recent years), this eco-friendly method can help shave off a big part of your electricity bill and offer you years of savings, in the long run, thanks to its high durability.
Aside from that, you can also enjoy even greater savings by taking advantage of the Net Energy Metering (NEM) program if you’re a TNB customer in the peninsular (or SESB in Sabah or Labuan). Under the scheme, any excess energy produced by your home’s solar system can be exported and sold to the distribution licensee (TNB/SESB) at the prevailing Displaced Cost prescribed by the Energy Commission.
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10. Conserve water
Moving on to our water usage now, it’s all too common now for us to leave the tap running while we wash our face or hands, brush our teeth or even doing the dishes, but letting the water run can actually add to your utilities bill, not to mention depleting our already scarce water resources. Turning the tap off while not using it is super simple and not inconvenient at all, so why not make that one of your good habits? The same applies to leaving the water running while you’re lathering up in the shower.
When it comes to a leaky tap, you might be tempted to turn a blind eye until you find time to have the plumber over to fix it but letting it drip like that can waste about 530 litres of water a week – that’s a big number to the environment and your utility bills. Lesson of the day? Always repair that leaky faucet and check all fixtures and pipes from time to time.
We hope that our tips here will set you up on the right path to a more environmentally friendly and eco-conscious life. After all, as brilliantly described by this Native American proverb: “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children”. You should really let that sink in for a bit…
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