Be practical about environmentally-friendly measures

10 Jun 2019 / 19:32 H.

WHEN I was 11 and I had a stint in New Zealand, I was amazed that no plastic bags were used for shopping.

Since then, I would like to think that I am reasonably environmentally-friendly. I carry shopping bags in my car and use them; I recycle all the time; even before it became trendy to stop using straws, I was sipping teh tarik from a glass; I was even shopping at some zero-waste stores way before the herd.

So it was to some surprise when someone said to me that I had “no heart” for the environment, just because I said I shop at zero-waste stores when it was convenient, and sometimes shop elsewhere because of the prices. Apparently, “it’s not about the price, it’s about the heart”.

I’m not sure how compelling this argument is. In fact, this kind of militant attitude made me want to suck on three straws from a plastic cup, flicking cigarette ash and stubs into nearby drains, while leaving my car engine on, preferably spouting diesel fumes.

Let’s assume that if humankind had a heart for the environment, they would do their best to shop zero-waste, no matter how inconvenient. So it is better to travel around Klang Valley driving from zero-waste to zero-waste store, contributing to traffic and vehicle pollution within the Klang Valley? How great is that for the environment?

Let’s say you opt to buy online and take the delivery charges. What if you could save money by just walking to a store next to your workplace? Opting for an online purchase would mean the delivery guy would be contributing the traffic and vehicle pollution, plus you’re paying for that environmental degradation.

I have nothing against zero-waste stores or products. In fact, I love them, and I tend to visit them often. Many times, the edibles there can be more economical. But what’s a big turn-off is when one puts forward anything less than 100% support, it’s like one is being the biggest polluter of the planet.

Just one or two views of Insta stories or Facebook postings within zero-waste stores shows any discerning viewer that they aren’t so zero-waste after all. Hello, cellophane tape on packing boxes? Polymer in cellophane tape? That’s single-use plastic!

As with any issue, whether environmental, political or social, there are so many issues to consider before judging and reacting to others with a different opinion.

Let’s say we phase out plastic from the environment, a move I would laud. But I would also ask what would happen to the 2.5 million people who are employed in the plastic industry (that’s US and Europe, China would have more, yielding 25% of the world’s plastic). Where would they go to? Would they be retrained? Would they get paid while being retrained? What would happen to their families?

These figures are for the plastic industry (polymer), not including those employed within the supply chain. Who has a heart to help think of a solution for these people?

And what about the lower income strata of society, who use single-use plastic everyday? Do these people have “no heart” for the environment? Are those with knowledge doing anything about educating this strata of society, helping them find economical and sustainable solutions?

The irony of it all is these zero-waste warriors are tapping out their combatant verbose on mobile devices, a huge single-use plastic product if ever there was one!

Three hundred and fifty thousand mobile phones are discarded every day, amounting to 152 million phones a year. Some of these tree-huggers have more than one car. About 50% of a car is made of plastic, most of which is single-use.

Let me tell you, it breaks my heart to see turtles with plastic straws stuck up their noses and dolphins dying because of the plastic bags they swallow. Still, buying silicone bags for tapao (and silicone bags are not biodegradable) and shopping at zero-waste stores can only be the start of a solution and not the solution in itself.

Daniel is enthusiastic about fitness, yoga and writing. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com

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