Tuesday, 7 September 2010

My "No Impact Week" Experiment (Part 1)

Although “No Impact Week” officially started on Sunday, 29th August, I commenced my week-long experiment in taking personal environmental action a day early to make a concession for Tuesday, on which I had to drive to the Bentong Farm Sanctuary.

Day 1: Consumption
(Saturday, 28th August 2010)

I am a reasonably mindful consumer and I usually only ever shop for essentials and groceries. Others might practice the 30-Day Rule or an annual Buy Nothing Day; I practice the 364-Day Rule and a bi-weekly Buy Nothing Day. I reduce and reuse to the point that I rarely ever contribute to the recycling bags in my bachelor pad anymore. Most of the items on my grocery list are locally grown or produced, and have minimal packaging. I do most of my shopping at the neighbourhood organic shop or the weekend night market after volunteering at the SPCA, as the night market traders are more amenable to my using my own shopping bags and food containers, and fresh produce at the night markets are not packed in plastic bags or foam trays.

I’ve done my shopping for the week and have enough fresh produce to last me a week.

I buy my bread from the organic grain shop within walking distance of my bachelor pad. The low GI organic multi-seed loaf I purchased was produced in Puchong.

My purchases for the week. Of course, the agar-agar mooncakes on the far left were completely unnecessary purchases, but I figured life’s not worth living if you’re not allowed the occasional dessert.

As per the instructions on the “No Impact Week” participants’ manual , I had collected all my trash from Day 1, which naturally leads us to Trash, the topic for Day 2.

Day 2: Trash
(Sunday, 29th August 2010)

The instructions I received were to collect all my trash from Day 1 and separate them into 2 piles: stuff that I used for more than ten minutes, and stuff you used for less than ten minutes, but none of my trash could fit into the 2 categories. I had nothing to recycle either as I did not accept, use or dispose of any packaging at all on Saturday.

We take our trash out only once a week nowadays, and over 80% of it consists of used kitty litter, as we have 6 cats at home. It would go against good taste to post a photo of what I had to throw away, so I’ll post a photo of a bag of shredded paper instead.

I use shredded paper for kitty litter for the following reasons:
(i) Alam Flora no longer collects the shredded paper from my office due to its low scrap value and lack of long fibres needed in recycled paper, so the shredded paper would have ended up in the trash if I didn’t take it.
(ii) Shredded paper is non-toxic, biodegradable, does not come in packaging, does not have to be transported to the stores using any vehicles running on fossil fuel and is lighter and therefore costs less to transport and dispose of.
(iii) Paper isn’t as good as covering smells as clay litter, so to eliminate the smell, I clean the litter trays twice a day and wash the trays with soapy water left over from washing my shoes/rugs/other items. I also sprinkle Arm & Hammer baking soda on the litter to eliminate odours.

My future plans are to acquire and install a Green Cone composting system, which, unfortunately, is not yet available in Malaysia, but if it were, it would help reduce my garbage by over 80% as the device retains sufficient solar heat to kill the bacteria in pet waste, thus making it a safe way of disposing of pet waste.

The rest of my rubbish for Saturday consisted mostly of fruit and vegetable peel...

... which goes directly into my compost heap.

The only non-compostable waste I generated consisted of 2 nougat wrappers, a sweet wrapper and the paper wrapping and bamboo ice lolly stick from an "ice cream potong" (i.e. Asian ice lolly). I suppose I could compost the bamboo stick, although it would probably take years to disintegrate.

The alternatives to dealing with 3 miserable sweet wrappers would be to:
(i) Give up confectionery altogether: But where's the joy in living without the occasional sweet?
(ii) Make my own packaging-free sweets: After which I would be too huge to fit in the door, and would have to break down a wall so I could enter my own home.
I believe in having all things in moderation, and sweets are no exception, although it would be good for me to:
(i) Reduce consumption of sweets and non-essential food items;
(ii) Choose sweets that come in minimal or biodegradable packaging (e.g. Mentos or Polos instead of individually-wrapped sweets); and
(iii) Lobby manufacturers to reduce packaging or switch to biodegradable packaging.

Day 3: Transportation
(Monday, 30th August 2010)

My Battletank has been retrofitted to run on Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) for greater savings and fuel economy, and because CNG vehicles, according to data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, have the following advantages over petrol ones:
* they reduce carbon monoxide emissions by 90-97%;
* they reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 25%;
* they reduce nitrogen oxide emissions by 35-60%;
* they potentially reduce non-methane hydrocarbon emissions by 50-75%
* they emit fewer toxic and carcinogenic pollutants;
* they emit little or no particulate matter; and
* they eliminate evaporative emissions.

Although there are arguments that choosing one fossil fuel over another is only delaying the solution (of finding cleaner, renewable, alternative fuels), alternatives are practically non-existent. Hydrogen fuel cell and compressed air vehicles are not yet on the market and public transport is largely unavailable at my workplace. No colleagues live close by enough to make carpooling and ride sharing a practical option.

On average, I drive a total of 274 km each week.
(To the office: 16km each way x 5 days a week = 160 km;
To the SPCA: 22 km each way x once a week = 44km; and
To the parental home: 35 km each way x once a week = 70 km)
All my shopping and other errands are carried out within the same route as the aforementioned 3 destinations, so the fuel miles I travel rarely exceed the calculation above.

Just for No Impact Week, I made an attempt to take public transport to work for 3 days, at great risk of life and limb. I had to cross one busy highway and several busy intersections to get to my office from the nearest monorail station. I was late to work and so covered with perspiration, grime and exhaust soot when I arrived that I must have looked like the Tar Baby in the Brer Rabbit story. There were no pedestrian crossings. The road shoulders and pavements were so narrow that I practically had to grip the edge of the curb with my toes -- arms flailing and windmilling wildly while each passing vehicle shaved a millimetre of skin off my stomach.

My office does provide a shuttle van service to the KL Sentral Transport Terminal for interns and interpreters every evening at 1700 hrs, but not in the mornings. If enough of us in the Staff Council are willing to lobby for a pick-up service in the morning (the van would, after all, have to make only one more trip each day), I would be motivated to manage my schedule in such a way that I am able to take public transport to work 3 times a week for environmental reasons, although it is much cheaper for me to drive on CNG fuel.

However, I believe the way to a cleaner, greener future isn't in compelling people to opt for public transport that is often unavailable or unreliable. It isn't in making cyclists and pedestrians out of all of us, not when it can often be unsafe or impractical to do so. Not everyone has a job that allows for working from home or telecommuting. It is not always convenient or practical to opt for non-motorised travel or public transport, and most people opt for private vehicle ownership because it affords them safety, flexibility and freedom. Green transport options should not cost the people their safety, flexibility and freedom. I believe that all the recommended actions can only complement the biggest challenge faced by our generation -- that of finding sustainable and renewable alternative fuels, and of making it available to all consumers through retrofitting and through laws, subsidies and tax relief. Governments should invest more in alternative fuel research than in constructing more highways. We need more efficient catalytic converters that won't end up belching laughing gas into the atmosphere. We need the legislation and technology to enable car owners to retrofit their vehicles with hybrid electric power, without having to go out and buy a Prius. We need non-fossil fuels that are more than just greenwash to shore up the price of failing agricultural commodities. The issue of green travel must be addressed with wisdom and consideration for the safety, needs and occupational requirements of all strata of society.

Day 4: Food
(Wednesday, 1st September 2010)

I compiled a food list of the food I ate the last 4 days in order to calculate my carbon "foodprint". Most of the grains and fresh produce I consume are locally grown (in Kajang, Semenyih, Sg. Buloh, Banting and Cameron Highlands) within 250 miles of where I live.

I bring my food to work in reusable lunch boxes, thus eliminating the need for packaging. Being vegetarian, I have also made the choice to consume fruit and vegetables in their least processed form, thus reducing fuel and energy use. I have also managed to replace imported fruits such as apples and pears with local seasonal fruits such as guava, papaya, bananas and dragonfruit, and purchase organic produce whenever possible.

I have mostly eliminated some of my favourite processed foods, including high-sodium and heavily packaged instant meals such as Aloo Gobi, curried spinach and curried chickpeas. Nowadays, I dine in at vegetarian Indian restaurants, and reserve instant meals for when I am travelling to places where vegetarian food is likely to be unavailable.

Following "No Impact Week", I have resolved to reduce/eliminate these 5 items from my food list:
(i) Red Bull, because I am just paying for fuel cost, packaging and artificial flavours and additives. (ii) Nachos and potato chips, because of the fuel miles they have to travel and they are packaged in non-recyclable plastic packets.
(iii) French fries, because potatoes are not locally grown and it's another one of those highly processed junk foods that I should be eating less of anyway.
(iv) Cheese - this is something I need to reduce as cheese production is incredibly energy intensive compared to just drinking powdered or fresh milk.
(v) Sweets: Refer to sub-post on Trash above.

(...To be continued in Part 2)


Cat-from-Sydney said...

Wow! Very intensive this No Impact Week thingy. We don't have your energy and dedication, unfortunately. purrr...meow!

Emily said...

Well done! don't hold your breath for my report!

One good I heard from vendors at the wet market I buy from every Sunday.... next year - no more plastic bags! Is this true?

Ellen Whyte said...

I admire the way you think about these things, but I lack the moral fibre to go the whole hog. One lucky thing: the cats always know what's in the fridge and we all love leftovers so we have no food waste!

Emily said...

E, do we have a local website as to what plastics and food packaging can be recycled and what are not?

Need to show my DH who is responsible for all the packaging brought into the house! Tks.

But at least he is into separating trash.....

Pat said...

What can I say, E?! This has been an education like no other. For me, at least.

~CovertOperations78~ said...

Dear Kitties-In-Sydney,

Environmental responsibility isn't an ALL OR NOTHING endeavour! We all do what we can! I just am very fortunate that I have access to information, to recycling centres, to organic shops and such-like! But there is still so much more to be done!

~CovertOperations78~ said...

Dear Emily,

Thanks! Was waiting for your report, actually. Hope we are not the only 2 Malaysians doing No Impact Week this year.

Plastic bags -- no directive from Ministry of Housing and Local Govt yet. I am keeping track. I would believe it depends on state govts. Penang and Selangor has taken the lead. Soon every weekend will be no-plastic bag day and many shops can switch to being bag-free stores, like Makro wholesalers used to be.

As for plastic bags and food packaging -- I have produced some literature on it, the publication of which was sponsored by the Ministry of HLG and the Danish Govt. I can hand you a copy if we can arrange to meet up. Most plastic bags and food packaging (Styrofoam fruit trays etc) are NOT RECYCLED, even if marked as recyclable, due to low scrap value, high labour and cleaning costs and high recycling costs. Recycling a plastic bag costs 5 - 10 times more than producing a new one out of crude oil. But this doesn't mean we should use more and more new plastic bags and dispose of the old. It takes 11 barrels of crude oil to manufacture 1 tonne of plastic bags, and we know how many wars are being fought over oil! It's best to always reduce, reduce, reduce.

Thanks for the effort you put into caring for Mother Earth!

~CovertOperations78~ said...

Dear Pat,

I'm learning too! Good to see you here! Please visit my previous post on our farm visit too -- you will love the cow!

Take care!

~CovertOperations78~ said...

Dear Ellen, Au and Target,

Pshaw! You don't need moral fibre to do all that! You just need to be infected with a bit of Tightwaditis! ;o) Many eco-bunnies, treehuggers and stinky hippie types develop Tightwaditis sometime in life! ;o)

No, seriously, you are doing a good job already although there is much more all of us can do without sacrificing comfort and convenience. Food wastage is a big issue with me -- and I am glad there's no (or very little, if any) food wastage in your house! Food is precious! How did we come to forget it?

Unknown said...

Like I said before, you're the one to lead the pack on 'No Impact Week'. Kudos! We try in our household. Letting go/ignoring the eco awareness is so easy :( I'm gonna have you in mind when I slip up!

~CovertOperations78~ said...

Thank you, dear Keats, but there is SO MUCH MORE I need to do that I haven't done yet. It's good to continually challenge ourselves!

louis said...

What incredible logging and recordkeeping, CO'78! It's impossible to imagine anyone adhering more closely to the spirit and letter of "No Impact". At the same time, you have not lost sight of the fact that life is for living, including dessert.

~CovertOperations78~ said...

Dear Louis,
Thank you for your encouragement. My No Impact Week is turning out to be one that is full of new revelations, action and impact. For the record, I try to restrict eating sweets to weekends, when my physical activity levels are higher, so it's not as though I have sweet wrappers to dispose of each day.

Emily said...

Will you be at SPCA this saturday as usual? If you are, I might pop in for a visit as SPCA was closed two sundays ago.

Wanna see if there are any good books to be rescued from the shop!

~CovertOperations78~ said...

Dear Emily,
The SPCA is never closed! We are open 7 days a week, 365 days a year! You must have arrived after 4 p.m.!

I will be there on Friday (tomorrow) afternoon around 1.30 p.m. onwards, as I have something to do in the Ampang area and this would save me a trip. But the Charity Shop won't be open on Fri... unless I ask them to let me open it so you can browse, hee hee hee!

Emily said...


bobbi said...

I'm sorry to have to tell you like this but I don't have an email address for you. Chaya (Pragmatist) passed away in her sleep on Sept. 8.

I know you were one of her favorite people and she would want you to know what happened.

You can get in touch with me through DD or welshamethyst@comcast.net


~CovertOperations78~ said...

Dear Bobbi,

Thank you very much for coming by. Anne (Becoming/Chamomile) informed me of Chaya's passing this afternoon via Facebook. I have left my final message for Chaya in her diary and Facebook page, and will do something in her memory this weekend. My heart is heavy although I know that age 85, Chaya has led a good life and has no regrets. I know she liked all the cards and little gifts I sent her, especially the books. I may buy some books for a children's or women's charity in her name. Thanks so much again for thinking of me and coming over.

Danny said...

we have two cats in the house, by the way you know any vegetarian rest in kepong? which is your best vegetarian rest. normally go to indian rest but some of them are not great and too much curries burn my stomach...pls email me dtan108@gmail.com