Green start to CNY

Posted on February 1, 2011. Filed under: Environment and Livelihoods |

-The Star -By MENG YEW CHOONG

Some people are marking the Lunar New Year in the greenest way possible. FENGSHUI practitioners say green is an auspicious colour this Chinese New Year. Some individuals, however, are not just donning green attire but greening their lifestyle. As Chinese households declutter and clean up in preparation for the coming new lunar year, a fair amount of stuff will be thrown out.

Knowledge management consultant Cheryl Teh does her spring cleaning differently. She sorts through her recyclables every month so that things are in order and neatly categorised. This kind of practice is what charitable organisations that depend on recyclables cherish. It leads to recyclables that are high in quality, which means things that are properly sorted, clean and dry.

Spring cleaning: This Chinese New Year, it is not just homes that deserve a good cleaning. Joe Yap, president of Waterfall Survivors, is leading a team to mop up Jeram Enggang in Jelebu, Negri Sembilan, this Saturday.

According to Sia Siew Chin, director of Beautiful Gate Foundation for the Disabled, an organisation that supports itself by selling recyclables, people should be more mindful of the things they throw. “Typically, those who do their clean-up at the last minute are only interested to get rid of everything in the most convenient way, which might mean that the things are mixed up with unusable items. It is preferred that you take a step back, and to think before you throw.”

December to January seems to be the peak period where people declutter, said Sia. In the last two months of 2010, Beautiful Gate’s Petaling Jaya operations collected 38 tonnes of paper waste, four tonnes of used clothing, and nearly 18 tonnes of scrap metal, among many others.

Chinese New Year celebrations can also generate more waste, especially food and beverage containers. “There will be many cans and plastic bottles. We hope that people can take the effort to send them to us. As for the abundance of mandarin orange peels, I hope that people will take the effort to compost them or to ferment them into garbage enzymes (a form of home-made vinegar).” (For the locations of Beautiful Gate’s recycling bins, go to english.beautifulgate.org.my/locations-recycle-bin)

Green advocate Teh is not into the habit of buying new stuff for the new year. Rather than buying, using and then recycle, she “reduces” first.

Charmaine Ho, 22, intends to put mandarin orange peels and kitchen waste to good use by turning them into compost for her potted plants.

“When my friends come over to my place, or when my family hosts guests, we serve only cordial or water, and refrain from buying packet or canned drinks. So, we don’t even need to think about whether a container is recyclable or not. And of course, we refrain from serving food and drinks using disposable containers.”

Teh will also cut down on meat consumption during the festivities. For the celebration dinner for members of the Selangor Philharmonic Society, of which she is chairman, she has drawn up a customised menu for the restaurant.

“The menu, while not entirely meat-free, will be friendly to vegetarians,” said Teh, who also managed to persuade her parents to eat less meat.

Insurance agent Tan Boon Kien, too, will not be buying soft drinks or processed beverages. “I am serving Chinese tea to my guests. This is far healthier than the sugary drinks that are on sale in the market,’’ said the father of three girls who also grows vegetables for his own consumption.

Other ways of going green may be just to cook the right amount of food. Tan’s mother, Yap Sin Kiw, 68, is no believer in cooking copious amounts of food just for the sake of ancient Chinese tradition, where it is believed that the abundance of food during reunion dinners signifies the abundance of blessings when a lot of food is left over until “the next year”.

“I believe in cooking just enough to minimise wastage, and so that everyone can eat freshly cooked meals, and not have to endure days of eating leftovers in the new year,’’ said Yap, who also grows her own veggies on an empty plot of land just outside her house.

There will be little, if any, food waste in Yap Sin Kiw’s home. She does not believe in cooking copious amounts of food just to signify abundance for the festival.

On the subject of food, there is no running away from the issue of serving shark fin soup. The debate may rage on between traditionalists and the enlightened, but one man is actively doing something during the festivity to get his message across.

Kirk Lee, 34, started a Facebook page to campaign against the consumption of shark fins during last year’s celebrations.

“I’ve always loved shark fin soup until I saw a video of a juvenile whale shark adrift in the ocean after having its fins cut off,’’ said the freelance swimming coach who is also an avid diver. “It never crossed my mind as to how the fins were obtained, and the rate of harvesting for these slow-to-mature creatures.”

Dining on seafood in a responsible manner is much more than avoiding shark fin, according to Worldwide Fund for Nature Malaysia. In its Save Our Seafood campaign launched last year, it distributed a pamphlet listing marine species that one should watch out for when feasting on seafood (saveourseafood.my/sustainableSeafood/whereToGetGuide.html).

“The list should be posted to the public because it will open people’s eyes about the seafood that they eat. I’m more aware about it now,’’ said Charmaine Ho, 22, who immediately shared the information with her elder sister when she came across the guide last week.

Other than spreading the word about sustainable seafood among friends and relatives, Ho intends to reduce food waste that ends up in landfills.

“I thought of making garbage enzymes from mandarin orange peels,” said the environmental management undergraduate.

The residents of Beautiful Gate Foundation for the Disabled in Petaling Jaya, Selangor, will appreciate clean recyclables and usable goods from those doing their spring cleaning.

Waterfalls are not forgotten this spring cleaning season. Over the past month, the group Waterfall Survivors has spruced up cascades in Sungai Lembing, Pahang, as well as in Ulu Yam and Serendah in Selangor.

Group president Joe Yap said this was a good time to give back to nature. “Most people just clean their own homes for Chinese New Year but forget that the environment could do with some cleaning too.”

On the third day of the new lunar year (Feb 5), the group will head to Jeram Enggang in Jelebu, Negri Sembilan, and on Feb 13, Sungai Liam in Selangor. “Thus far, we’ve left our footprints on over 70 waterfalls in Malaysia but this is our first concerted clean-up around the Chinese New Year period,’’ said the bubbly 32-year-old, a mother of one.

Yap added that small-town residents are generally receptive to their message on saving the environment. For example, at their recent visit to Sungai Lembing, they managed to persuade a resthouse owner to have his premise decorated with Chinese New Year paraphernalia made from old ang pow packets and other recycled materials. “We taught the local folk how to make origami items such as fish and paper lanterns.”

Another way to shrink the carbon footprint of the celebration is to refrain from giving out new banknotes in ang pows.

This not only reduces paper waste but also traffic congestion (which can lead to higher carbon emissions) around banks. Waterfall Survivors (waterfallsurvivors.com.my) is spreading the message that new notes have nothing to do with the significance of the event or the value of the red packet.

Instead, the truly green ang pow you can give to everyone and the planet is by being thoughtful in what you eat, drink, consume and ultimately, discard.

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