When I was working at the Perhentian Islands, seeing how much waste humans had produced every day, and how much trash we had collected from beach cleanups, I had begun a mini recycling project (read this if you are interested to know how it all began). Instead of just removing marine debris and transferring them to landfills, I thought there could be better ways for us to recycle or reuse some of the things we had picked up. Some of the things that we recycled had required more research like recycling used cooking oil into candles, while some others like sea-glass accessories and magazine-made earrings were easier to make.
Now that I live in a town, blessed that the local municipal council keep most of the housing areas spotless. With regular cleanups by the local government, it does feel like we are living in a clean environment. It is not until I go to the beach or river banks that I see unsightly rubbish being washed ashore. No matter how regular the cleanups are, there are always constant supply of trash from the sea, although they definitely came from land. Not only that, it is really a challenge to recycle most things that we throw away.
I have been looking for places that accept recyclable items, but honestly recycling is not made easy or convenient in a town like Kuala Terengganu. In fact, Vincent Chung, the founder of Sampah Menyampah, shared that “there are seven types of plastic, but it’s only practical to recycle three types in Malaysia”, meaning only “plastic under the categories of one, two and five are 99% recyclable” here (click here to read more).
In a country where an effective and functioning recycling system is not in place, most of us simply have no clue how to appropriately discard unwanted things. During spring cleaning before Chinese New Year every year, I would stare at the stuff I put aside, scratching my head figuring out ways to donate or give away clothes, bags, belts, shoes, books, etc. Sometimes I give them to friends who are in need of these things, but I throw most things away. They are either junk in my home or waste in landfills, and neither is better.
So, to produce less waste means reusing whatever we have and not buying more things. I stumbled across this webpage showing 100 Steps to a Plastic-Free Life, and I thought wow, there are actually so much more I could/need to change in my lifestyle if I want a plastic-free life. A lot of them are pretty much going back time, living like how our parents had lived just a few decades ago like packed lunch in a 4-tier stainless steel food container, nasi lemak wrapped in leaves and newspapers, freshly-baked bread packed in paper bags, heavy metal iron, etc.
Nowadays, it is not easy to entirely avoid plastic when buying products. For example, I still have to buy Milo in plastic wrapper (but not the 3-in-1 that comes with more wrappers) until I can find a shop that allows me to bring my own container for Milo refill. Nonetheless, I decided to be more conscious of plastic use, especially single-use plastics.
Always carry my own water bottle
I almost always carry a water bottle with me when I leave the house. It is not like I drink a lot, rather it is the fear of not having any water to drink when I am thirsty. A water bottle is a must on travel. I always look out for water cooler to refill my water bottle, and by doing so I can avoid buying bottled water. Reduce plastic water and save money.
Use stainless-steel or no straws at all
I bought a few stainless-steel straws, and have always carried one in my backpack. But then when I change to another bag, I often forget to take the straw along. Sometimes I remember but sometimes I forgot to tell the waiter/waitress that I don’t want/need a straw. When I think ordering hot drinks could be an alternative to no straw, but it is not always the case because there are places that serve hot water/herbal tea with a straw. Good thing that I rarely eat or drink out, but I do need to consciously remind myself not to use single-use plastic straws when I am out for a drink. I hope it will eventually become a habit.
Bring a bag while shopping
I still remember when I lived in Switzerland, my host mother would constantly remind me to bring along a grocery bag until it became a habit. Neither I or anyone in my family has this habit. Therefore, I like how Giant in Kuala Terengganu charges 20 cent for a plastic every Saturday. Upon paying at the cashier, one of us would noticed “oh, it’s Saturday and we forget to bring a grocery bag”. Since we didn’t want to pay for the plastic bags, we would push the cart to the car and load every item into the car booth one by one. If I am on my own, I would stuff everything into my bag, but grocery load on family shopping trips is always more than what my bag can contain. So, in order to remember grocery bags, I would put some in the car. That way, it is less likely to forget them.
The advancement of technology improves humans lives, but it doesn’t always improves the state of our environment. Plastic is perhaps the best invention for mankind, but it brings the worse consequences to mother Earth. I am still far from living a plastic-free life, but I will do my best to reduce plastic use and waste.