Monday, 26 October 2009

Cleaning Up Our World

Friday, 23rd October 2009: Jewel Goes Home

The Nuisance, (hereafter renamed "H.") came over to the BOQ on Friday night to pick Jewel up. I showed her how to feed and clean Jewel, what food and supplements to give, and what to do in case First Aid is required. H. was quite attentive and Jewel warmed up to her quite easily, as Jewel is still very young and trusting. H.'s work is so much easier now that Jewel has lost interest in being bottle-fed (she ripped the rubber teats off all her milk bottles), and could eat from a saucer and use the litter tray correctly.

H. reported over the next two days that Jewel is a hearty eater who enjoys variety and has been having milk, wet food and kitten kibbles. Jewel plays all day until she is tired, eats well, uses her litter tray and enjoys being held. You couldn't ask for a better kitten.

Sometimes all that is required is for people like H. to be shouted into assuming responsibility. Once H. has been intimidated and threatened into assuming responsibility, she saw that it was enjoyable and not too onerous and that she could handle it herself without foisting all her problems onto others. H. loves animals and keeps her companion animals indoors. I am sure that Jewel will be fine. I will be collecting Jewel in 4 weeks for her first vaccination.

Sunday, 25th October 2009: Cleaning Up the Kanching Recreational Forest

Months ago, I joined a Facebook group called "Save Our Waterfalls", set up by nature-lovers and adventure tour guides who were concerned over the state Malaysian waterfalls were in. A grassroots action group was set up to organise nature clean-ups and to assist the indigenous communities whose territories we visit and trash.

When "Save Our Waterfalls" decided to organise a clean-up campaign at the Kanching Recreational Forest, I was one of the first to register as a volunteer, as I had spent many happy weekends in my childhood at the said Forest.

It was a matter of happy coincidence that the cleanup was planned to take place on October 25 in conjunction with the International Day for Climate Action ( Over 350 volunteers signed up online to participate in the cleanup exercise and to pledge to take action to reduce their carbon footprint. I can't think of a better way to spend one's Sunday morning.

Volunteers in their campaign t-shirts and tucking into breakfast at the event grounds at 0730h. I was pleased to bump into some of my friends from the Malaysian Nature Society there. I guess people like us do move in the same circles.

Bottoms Up! Volunteers digging up trash to be removed from the picnic sites. I had the dual role of removing rubbish and talking to members of the public about keeping our places of natural interest clean. Not everyone was as comfortable about public speaking as I am, so I gave them a short guide as to what to say when we encountered picnickers and litterbugs. Many picnickers were receptive to our message and were courteous and cooperative.

We were divided into teams to clean up different levels. The garbage bags would be collected at designated areas and transported down via a human chain.

I found housekeys! I don't think the poor soul who left these behind intended them to be litter, though.

A wild inflorescence surprised me with its beauty as I was picking up bottles.

Our beautiful and pristine Kanching waterfall: Let's keep it that way!

As we ascended the upper levels of the Fall, I told my friend Kim that I would like to enter the trail alongside the falls to collect some Styrofoam packaging I saw there. I made my way carefully down the rocky slope to pick the litter up. As I looked over the edge of the Fall, I went woozy with fear. It was such a steep drop, at least 4 storeys high. There was no pool to dive gracefully into below, only huge rocks and boulders. I wasn't even standing on solid ground, but on rocks covered with slippery leaf litter and other dirt. I looked up and yelled at Kim to give me a hand. Her back was to me and she couldn't hear me over the roar of the waterfall. My knees went weak. I pulled and crawled my way carefully back onto the trail. How could I have been so reckless as to venture into such a dangerous spot? I could have died over a few pieces of litter and no-one would have known. I still get panic attacks thinking about it. Each time I look back on the said incident, my chest tightens with fear and I find it difficult to breathe. It will be some time before I decide to be that adventurous again.

We formed a human chain to carry the rubbish down from each level. Along the way, some of the bags would break and spill their contents, and we would rush to double-bag the broken ones. It was back-breaking work and it took approximately 2 hours even though there were at least 350 of us.

We did it! We managed to bring almost 400 bags of waste down from the waterfalls and form a giant 350 with the bags! I am squatting at the crook of the "5" in the picture, but of course, you won't be able to spot me.

"350" stands for 350 parts of CO2 per million, which is the target environmental groups have set for the international community.

Now that we've had a day of hard work, it's time for tea and a bit of fun! I received the blue Bros bottle as a door gift for registering early, and I won the grey one in the Lucky Draw. What luck! I was sweaty, grimy, stinky and covered in mud, but then again, have I ever been anything but?

It is important for us to remember that our daily actions must reflect our environmental values. Let us lobby the governments to protect watersheds and rainforests, but let us also do our part in environmental conservation!

Monday, 26th October 2009: Letter to the Editor

On Oct 25, I had the privilege of participating in a waterfall cleanup campaign at the Kanching Recreational Forest together with over 350 other volunteers, as part of an environmental initiative by the Waterfall Survivors Facebook group.

The volunteers collected and disposed of close to 400 bags of rubbish, almost all of it litter left behind by picnickers over the years. While the effort by the group is commendable and praiseworthy, I worry that not enough is being done by the authorities to deter visitors from leaving litter behind in recreational parks and forests. Environmental action groups appear to be preaching to the converted, and a vast majority of Malaysians still lack the maturity and mindfulness to keep places of natural interest clean out of their own volition.

I urge the Ministry and NRE, Department of Wildlife and National Parks and management bodies of parks and recreational forests in Malaysia to look into long-term solutions to the perennial problem of littering in Malaysia. I appreciate that enforcement is a problem, as there can never be enough manpower to issue fines to culprits. Therefore, I propose the following measures for your kind consideration:

1. To charge a deposit on all food and beverage containers and disposable packaging brought into park premises. In order for this measure to be effective, all concession and snack stalls must be outside park premises. Park attendants can check the belongings of all visitors and charge a deposit of, say RM1, for each cigarette packet, plastic bag and food and beverage container or packaging brought into the park at the entrance counter and inform the visitors that they will get their deposit back if they were to bring the items back for disposal upon exit. To ensure its effectiveness, all unofficial entrances to parks will have to be closed off and the park gates must be closed at night, not only to maintain the cleanliness of the area, but also to prevent the parks from being utilised for vice, illegal activities and drinking sessions after which broken bottles are left lying around.

2. To impose a higher fee on plastic bags and Styrofoam packaging to reflect their cradle-to-grave cost and the true environmental cost of cleaning up clogged drains and rivers. This will, in turn, encourage manufacturers, retailers and consumers to look for alternatives to disposable and non-biodegradable packaging.

3. To institute a nationwide deposit system for recyclable items such as aluminium cans, PET bottles and beverage cartons. The cost of purchasing packaged food and beverages in Malaysia does not reflect the cost of disposing of them and managing the waste generated. If a 20-sen deposit were to be charged for each unit of recyclable packaging, which will be claimable at designated recycling centres, it would create an incentive for people to collect and redeem their recyclables for cash, and this would also hopefully translate into less litter ending up on beaches and in parks.

It is my contention that Malaysians do understand that litter adversely affects wildlife and environmental quality, and as such, education and awareness campaigns will have little, if any, positive impact on an informed but apathetic population. As such, different strategies are required to deter littering. Although littering may not be high on the country's priority list, littering is a completely preventable and unnecessary activity that affects how a country or community views itself, and must, thus, be prevented and rendered needless.



Pat said...

Great work at the Kanching waterfall! I remember my dad taking us there when we were little: the lovely cold water, and splashing around and looking like a freshly plucked chicken!

Yes, we are a horrible lot, with our litter everywhere. The PD beaches are the same. After every weekend, the place is atrocious. Is it really so hard to just bundle up our own rubbish and drop it in a bin somewhere? There are lots of bins, and lots of rubbish strewn just outside them! Why are we like that, ah?

I don't know how to even begin to teach someone not to litter. It should be something we start when the kid is like 6 months old: "Put your muck here, baby. In this bag." And he takes it from there.

But I've seen people throw things out of their car windows, and I've followed a trail of manggis skins all the way from Nilai to the Seremban turn-off on the highway - and all behind a Singapore car! So obviously without their cops to keep them in line, the Singaporeans haven't actually 'learnt' anything about keeping the place clean.

~CovertOperations78~ said...

Thanks for dropping by, dear Pat! Most people need penalties and incentives before they could be motivated into doing the right thing. I don't care what their motivation is, truthfully, as long as they do it -- keep the place clean, take their trash out, stop endangering wildlife! Pat, please drop by my savoirvivrekl blog and drop me a line or two if you have the time, please please? Things are rather quiet over there.

Cat-from-Sydney said...

A big big hug to you because you (sort of) resolved the Jewel issue. Then you helped clean up the waterfall. It's one those my Mama went to when she was a kid. Her other favourites being Bukit Belacan and Pangsoon. My Mama said the Kancing one used to have a sign that said "Take nothing but photographs, Leave nothing but footsteps." Guess people just don't take heed of these things anymore.
Over here the parks' authority charges people for entering, so at least that will help pay for upkeep and maintenance. Lucky for us cats are not counted as "human head" so we could roam the parks freely. If ever you come visit we'll take you to Mount Annan Botanical Garden. It's beautiful and wonderfully maintained. purrr....

~CovertOperations78~ said...

Thank you dear Cats In Sydney! People are so much stupider than cats and dogs. Animals have been around so much longer than humans and can live that long and that well without having to change the entire landscape and trash the Planet. Cats and dogs should rule the world!

Mum said...

great work! fun blog!
now get to posting this as an entry...

I've just mentioned an angle you might like to take -- for your blogpost, back in my comment in my blog ( i know how convoluted!)

~CovertOperations78~ said...

Thanks, Mum-In-Malaysia! Unfortunately, the Blog4FT reviewing panel DOES look at the postcode of the destination/point of interest/event in question, so it would not qualify! But thanks for your support. There would possibly be other cleanup campaigns and community projects in KL that I could write about.

Unknown said...

It's been a looog time since I visited a waterfall. The ool water and sound of the gushing is really exhilarating:) Yes, it pays to be cautious b'coz of heiht s slippery surfaces etc.

Our litter campaigns have fizzled out. I've seen even outside a school piles of rubbish and wonder why it stays that way!! Educating children is so vital,it's worth the time and effort to do it right.

Ellen Whyte said...

When there is no emphasis on civic duty anywhere, litter is just one of the many things few bother about. nice to see you all make a difference!

~CovertOperations78~ said...

Thanks for stopping by, Keats and Ellen! Really appreciate it.

Thanks for the reminder about safety, Keats. It was really scary. I shouldn't have gone to the edge of the waterfall. It's the rainy season, and sometimes you'd get a sudden deluge of water cascading down. Even the bravest and strongest of swimmers would be rendered helpless. Shudder!

I think early childhood educators are doing a good job already teaching children about responsibility and cleanliness. It's the adults we have to train. I have seen children holding on to sweet wrappers because 'teacher says you have to put rubbish in the dustbin' and parents smacking the children's hands and making them drop their litter because it's dirty and a waste of time to hold on to litter. I witnessed a parent shouting at her son to stop being so foolish, that there are people paid to clean up after you, and that if you don't study hard and get good grades that's what you'll end up doing -- sweeping up other people's rubbish.

You're right, Ellen, with so much corruption and all the instances of violations of human rights in this country, littering really is the lowest of priorities. But it does reflect on the kind of people we are.