Malaysiakini Letter

What can one person do for the environment?

Sharan Raj

LETTER | Capitalism thrives on communities ignorance which has led to hyper-consumerism to the extent it is threatening our planet. People have become addicted to a disposable culture satisfied by cheap petroleum-based plastics in the name of convenience. This disposable culture is not a convenience but rather ignorance.

After decades of effort by environmentalists, Putrajaya has finally decided to end single-use plastic by 2030. However, It will take another 10 years to end our disposable culture because the public complains about the loss of convenience instead of big business.

The most commonly asked question when I advocate people to tweak their lifestyle to be eco-friendlier is, “What can one person do for the environment?” For the past five years, I have been practising an eco-friendly lifestyle like bringing my own shopping bag, using reusable containers and no plastics straws. I picked up my eco-friendly lifestyle during my college days in Universiti Tenaga Nasional (Uniten).

I decided to tabulate the impact of my lifestyle from Jan 1, 2019, to April 30,  2019. The idea was to quantify the number of plastic bags, plastic food containers, plastic straws and plastic bottles I avoided. Instead of buying a new bottle of soap and cooking oil, I opted for refill packs to reduce large plastic bottles. However, a lot of products do not have refill packs.

Since the drinks at fast food outlets are always chilled, it is thus best to order drinks without ice. While in other food outlets, it is best to go for a non-icy cold drink or air suam. At fast-food outlets like KFC & Mcdonalds, I would pour the ketchup onto the plate or onto the inner part of the top cover of the burger box to avoid using the small plastic saucers.

Carrying a reusable 1.5-liter water bottle avoided the need to buy bottled water. The number of water bottles avoided was based on the number of bottled water containers needed to satisfy my daily water need. The result for the past 120 days is as below:

Within 120 days, nearly 600 units of single-use disposable plastics were reduced. By extrapolating, I may have reduced close to 10,000 plastics items in the past five years without sacrificing my quality of life. 

Imagine the amount electricity, petroleum and water used to manufacture and transport that was saved. Undeniably, supply-side management such as banning plastic could yield a faster result for the environment but public addiction towards convenience is holding us back from progressing.

Critics may argue it has minimal impact but an eco-friendlier lifestyle improves public awareness on the environment. Subsequently, the big corporations are pressured to improve their environmental standards or risk a public backlash. 

Next time before you use another plastic, think what kind of planet you want to leave behind for our children. Please do not forget to recycle your waste.

The writer is PSM Environmental Bureau national coordinator and vice youth chief.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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