A touch of green: Waste not, want not

The Ghazipur landfill site in New Delhi. Worldwide, food waste takes up over 1.4 billion km2 of land emitting approximately 3.3 giga tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. — AFP pic
The Ghazipur landfill site in New Delhi. Worldwide, food waste takes up over 1.4 billion km2 of land emitting approximately 3.3 giga tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. — AFP pic

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 24 — Waste may not be the most glamorous of subject matters even when it comes to going green.

However, waste is a major contributor to air and land pollution and the resulting increase in landfills takes up precious space that could be put to better use.

It is high time we started taking waste seriously. Here are some potentially shocking facts that will make you sit up and take notice of just how much we are wasting:

It is estimated that on average Malaysians produce 33,000 tonnes of waste a day, that’s over 12 million tonnes of waste a year!

Of that amount, 8,000 tonnes a day comes from food waste. This is enough food to feed around six million people! In fact, food waste is the largest contributor to all solid waste produced in Malaysia accounting for 45 per cent of all solid waste.

Worldwide, food waste takes up over 1.4 billion km2 of land emitting approximately 3.3 giga tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent.

Despite what technological advancement would have you think, worldwide use of paper has risen by 400 per cent in the last 40 years.

50 per cent of the plastic we use, we use just once and throw away. In fact, enough plastic is thrown away each year to circle the earth four times!

Now that you understand the severity of the waste problem we are facing, let us take a look at what we can do about it:

Plastic-free

An estimated 1 trillion plastic bags are used worldwide annually, that’s around two million plastic bags per minute!

These are some scary numbers as plastic bags can take up to 1,000 years to completely break down and when they eventually do, they form the smaller fragments which soak up surrounding toxins leading to soil, waterway and animal contamination.

Nonetheless, we are already on the right track with the “No plastic bag days” already a mainstay at most hypermarkets. To take it a step further, you can use reusable bags for all your shopping needs. Placing a few reusable bags in your car will help inculcate the habit.

Beyond bags, where possible we should avoid using other plastic goods such as plastic water bottles or cups by bringing along your personal tumbler.

Paper-free

Even in this digital era, we are still very wasteful when it comes to using paper. This is particularly evident in offices, where paper accounts for over 50 per cent of all office waste. This wanton use of paper is detrimental to our trees and water supply.

Over 40 per cent of the world’s industrial logging goes into making paper, and this trend is set to continue, rising to 50 per cent in the near future. Also, did you know that it takes 10 litres of water to make one sheet of A4 paper!

Some simple ways you can cut down on paper use is to reuse paper. Utilising paper which has only been used on one side as a notebook is a great way of reducing paper waste. Also you should avoid printing as often as possible, be it documents in the offices or bills and statements at the bank. Instead, opt to receive statements online and share documents through email.

Meat-free

Animal agriculture, the breeding of domestic animals for consumption, accounts for 20 per cent of man-made greenhouse gas emissions. A simple way to cut down on this, is to cut meat out from our diets.

However, not all of us have the willpower to say goodbye forever to ayam goreng or daging rendang, so for a start, you could try a “veggie night.” By just adding a single meatless meal a week to your diet, you will be doing your part to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Hence to reduce your waste and waist, try reducing your meat intake for healthier environment and healthier self.

Kitchen-waste to garden-kitchen

If you have a green thumb and you are left with a sizeable amount of food waste, instead of throwing this waste away, you could turn to composting to get the best of both worlds. A significant amount of food waste can be used in composting and they make for great natural fertilisers for your garden.

In fact, composting adds organic matter to your soil thereby increasing its nutrient content giving you healthier plants. Compost also helps soak up water, releasing it slowly to plants and thereby effectively reducing the amount of watering that needs to be done; saving you time and shaving a little off your water bill.

Think before you bin

Recyclable items are so common that on average between 60 to 70 per cent of waste in your bin can be recycled. Unfortunately, recycling rates in Malaysia are only at 10 per cent. However, with the introduction of the mandatory waste separation programme, this rate is set to increase significantly.

Starting September 1, residents of Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya, Pahang, Johor, Malacca, Negeri Sembilan, Perlis and Kedah will have to separate their waste accordingly. This initiative is estimated to see recycling rates reach 22 per cent by 2020. With these higher take-up rates, we could see the amount of solid waste sent to landfills reduce by 40 per cent.

Besides your usual recyclables, unused clothes and other items can be handed down to siblings or donated to charities. If you are economically savvy, you could even make a little money back by selling these items at a flea-market or a thrift store.

In fact, creative minds thinking out of the box with recycling can invent all-new uses for recyclable materials. For instance Kloth Malaysia recycles 100 per cent post-consumer plastic bottles into eco-friendly fabrics such as stylish dresses, home textiles and accessories.

These are some simple tips that we urge you to incorporate into your daily lives. Keeping our planet clean is a responsibility we all should shoulder. In essence to help lower waste output, all you need to do is to stay true to the time-tested mantra of Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.

Want to know more?

For more ways to reduce waste and save the environment, visit the International Greentech and Eco Products Exhibition and Conference Malaysia (IGEM) 2015 on September 12, 2015 at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre.

Organised by the Ministry of Energy, Green Technology and Water together with Malaysian Green Technology Corporation, IGEM 2015 is expected to attract 400 exhibitors featuring the latest eco-friendly technologies from around the world. Admission is free!

For more information on IGEM 2015, please visit www.igem.my.

* For our final week, we turn our attention to conserving water, our most undervalued yet precious natural resource. Stay tuned and remember to add a touch of green into your life.

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