Friday, 5 December 2008

Two Cents’ Worth

The MNS Branch e-group forum has seen a significant amount of traffic lately. Some of the threads on the forum require a peacemaker to placate the offended, and some others require suggestions on making holiday parties more environmentally responsible.

Below are my contributions to 2 threads that I felt obligated to respond to, as the Coordinator for Green Living.

1. Thread 1: An observation made by a Swiss expatriate on the state of the environment in Malaysia.

Original Message, with typos included:
“Malaysia is getting dirtier and more untidy each year. The beaches are so full of rubbish that no tourist dares to go near them. This is due to the fact that a high percentage of people are lazy and don't care. As long as there is an apartheid policy with privileges to one class of people there will never be any progress. It's like the Abos in Australia who get a weekly handout; instead of improving their education they waste all money on booze and their villages look like a battlefield. Fortunately Islam brohibits alcohol but unfortunately not lazzyness. Look at Singapore, no discrimination, just meritocracy. The Malays there are better educated, cleaner and a valued part not only of the economy but also of higher education and government. Stop pickering and concentrate on what is important for
the improvement in quality of life of the entire population.”

This was followed by 3 days’ worth of irate replies accusing the author of racism and ignorance.
My response was the final one, after which the thread was laid to rest:

“Dear friends,

I am positive that Nirmala did not mean to offend anyone by relaying what a friend of hers said. It is just an error of judgment that such a message was even disseminated to the e-group. As people who care about the biosphere and all living things, we must be very circumspect about the views we express lest we cause harm or offence. I have in the past inadvertently made tongue-in-cheek comments that did not go down well with some members in the e-group as well, so the best we could do in such circumstances is apologise and make a sincere effort not to make inflammatory jokes or thoughtless remarks in future.

I was initially amused when I read the original email, because I recalled that when I first visited Pulau Ketam at age 7 and witnessed how all waste was just cast into the sea, and later realised how filthy and disorderly Chinese new villages were in comparison to the neat, flower-filled kampungs in Serendah and Sg. Choh, I had felt ashamed to be Chinese because I thought that the Chinese must be the dirtiest people in the country!

I learned later that cleanliness has very little to do with ethnicity, and everything to do with education, socio-economic power, the community one lives in, enforcement (or lack thereof) and the existing mindset of the people.

I observed, for instance, that most litterbugs in Malaysia fall within these categories:

1. Those living in semi-permanent housing and rural areas that do not have the advantage of waste collection services;

2. Those living in the coastal areas or near rivers who earnestly believe that throwing rubbish into the river/sea is the correct thing to do, because running water will carry the rubbish away and therefore is 'self-cleaning' ;

3. Children too young to know any better;

4. Senior citizens and rural dwellers who deal with plastics and other non-biodegradable waste the same way they do with biodegradable waste -- by just casting them away, burying them, or burning them;

5. Drivers who consume food or drink or smoke cigarettes in the car and lack a proper receptacle for the waste they generate and could not be bothered to hang on to the litter until they get home;

6. Those from the educated classes who believe that it is not their duty to keep the country clean, and that by littering, they are actually providing jobs to those who are employed to clean up after them;

7. Young people out with friends who, strangely enough, find it embarrassing to pick up after themselves, but not embarrassing to litter in front of others;

8. Campers, picnickers and trekkers who find it difficult to carry their rubbish out with them;

9. People attending festivals, parades and public events who believe that there are others paid to clean up after them;

10. Just about anyone else, as long as they think they can get away with it!

All of the people in the above categories are motivated mostly by chronic apathy, and to a certain extent, also laziness and ignorance, but it has little to do with race. The solution here is much simpler than that of revising affirmative action economic policies -- it's to ensure enforcement. I would advocate a carrot-and-stick approach: Fine / punish those who are caught littering; and create a recycling deposit system or 'manufacturer take-back' system that will charge people extra for things such as PET bottles and aluminium cans, but will give them an attractive refund of, say, 50 sen, for each unit they return to the shops. A gradual ban on plastic bags and Styrofoam products is also in order, and the way to wean the public off plastics and foam products is to start by creating attractive incentives for those who carry their own grocery bags and takeout containers and decline packaging. I believe we will see this happen in our lifetimes, so take heart!”

2. Thread 2: Request for ideas for an Eco-Friendly Christmas Office Party:

Original Message:
“It's the time of the year when offices, societies, groups of individuals will gather to celebrate with a party. It is almost always that some form of gift exchange will be included. Although the idea is in the spirit of giving but most often than not we end up buying frivolous trinkets that the receiver doesn't really (or want). Over the years, I have received many of such gifts and more often than not - I have no use for them and they end up being junk in my storeroom. Talk about unnecessary consumption of goods (and additional trash too).

This year, I hope to make that change in my office. How can we celebrate in the spirit of giving without further harming poor Mother Nature unnecessarily?

Any suggestions on party programs/games that we could have instead of gift exchange, secret santa or kris kringle?


This is my second reply to the original message:

“More ideas from me:

1. Each employee contributes RM5, and the office adopts a nest of baby turtles under SEATRU/STOP. The certificate of adoption can be framed and hung in the office lobby.

2. Make inquiries with MNS and FRIM to have trees planted in the company's honour. Each employee to contribute a small amount of money towards this end as well.

3. Employees help to make up a list of (approx. 5 - 10) charities that need one-off volunteer help. Examples: Community centres, animal shelters and welfare homes might need a new coat of paint and a big clean-up job. Employees draw lots from a raffle tin containing names of charities. Then they form teams according to the charities and arrange for a day to volunteer for at least 2 - 3 hours (until the job is done).

4. Obtain permission from General Hospital or University Hospital for a team to visit and distribute gifts. Many of the aged or long-term patients do not have visitors. As hospital air can be unhealthy and drying on the skin (due to humidity control), gifts can include towels, hand lotion, lip balm, scented soap and powder, sugar-free mints etc. I've done this before on Mother's Day, to distribute gifts to mothers staying with their children in the cancer wards.

5. Find out from WWF or MYCAT or that Save Our Sumatran Rhinos project if they have a wildlife adoption programme. Then each employee contributes some money to adopt an animal and the certificate of adoption gets to be put up in the office lobby.

6. Have a non-consumer Christmas party: Have games where employees play Secret Santa by writing something nice about someone else in their department. The final result can go into a binder, company newsletter or special festive email.

7. Find an impoverished Orang Asli community (trust me, there are many!) and speak to the Tok Batin about what they need most. Employees bring gifts like clothes, new sarong, kitchen utensils, woodworking tools, farming tools, seeds etc and a team delivers it directly to the community and take photos for posterity and to show to the rest of the office.

8. Play a game where employees write their personal resolutions/pledges for a better world (e.g. "I will stop wasting food and will buy groceries for a welfare home" or "I will stop killing bugs and insects with pesticides") on snowflake or star-shaped cards and then hang them on the staff Christmas tree. Cards can be anonymous and employees can have fun guessing who made which pledge.

If any of this is too BND/leftist/earthy-crunchy for you, then feel free to improvise and not exclude the element of receiving small prizes for games.

Seasons Greetings,
Hippie Ee Lynn.”

May the lines of communication always remain open and the exchange of ideas remain prolific.


Pat said...

I agree with your categories of those who litter... you do mean we all do, right? hahaha.

I don't litter - Sister Alphonse rubbed it out of my brain. She was my headmistress in primary school - and taught us to keep litter in our pockets till we reached a bin!

My kids learnt that when little, and would scold their friends for littering. I was sooooo proud of them.

And once it is a part of you, you never forget :)

You Christmas party ideas are so cool. Now I wish I had a class again - so I could do a few of them ideas with them! hehehehe


Ellen Whyte said...

I wonder if that first message was a troll? Must be tempting to write something like that just to get people are riled up.

Love your ideas for the non-consumer Christmas! We don't celebrate, except that we go out for a drink. But promise we won't dump rubbish on the street, beach or whatever :-)

We've posted a video of Target the kitten taking a tablet on our cat blog today. Come visit?

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