Friday, September 17, 2010

Going Greener than Ever!

As we go through yet another hectic day of our modern lifestyles in our bustling towns and cities, we are constantly reminded to adopt a greener lifestyle. On the radio, through the television and by the various campaigns set up, the importance of saving our beloved earth continues to be hammered into us. You see, Mother Nature is getting old, and she’s been forced to smoke too much. Her home is getting warmer with the staggering amounts of carbon dioxide our modern world has produced. She’s also fed up with the number of natural disasters that she has to put up with- she does not take too well with floods as it ruins her pristine furniture. She gets very ill when toxic chemicals are dumped into her blood streams by factories. To say that earth is in dire need of change would be an understatement. Perhaps it is time we learn what it truly means to being ‘Green’.

A wise approach to forming a ‘green’ mentality would be to target the younger demographics. The members of Sunway University College’s Student Council in collaboration with Sunway Health and Safety Department launched the ambitious and no doubt successful Go Green campaign which kicked off from the 17th to the 19th of August this year. Their goal was simple: to expose the students of Sunway to the growing importance of being environmentally friendly. We’re talking recycling, reducing waste production, reusing materials and practicing a more civic and responsible attitude towards planet earth. But it was the reduction of polystyrene or Styrofoam as known to many that takes the limelight for this event.

Yes, the light-weight, petroleum-based plastic used that is used to make your disposal cups, food packages and plates due to its good insulation and relatively harmless properties is the main target that Go Green aims to eliminate. Many are confused about the difference between the term polystyrene and the name Styrofoam. The more commonly known name, Styrofoam in which many people will immediately identify as the white-foam moulded packaging our chicken rice and other food stuffs are packaged in is actually a registered trademark name of The Dow Chemical Company Inc. The substance of which these packaging are made of is polystyrene. Polystyrene is non-biodegradable, it crumbles into smaller fragments when disposed thus causing landfill and ocean pollution. So why not recycle it you ask? Well, technically it can be recycled but the recycling rates are low. The recycling of polystyrene is diminishing. In certain communities, recycling companies do not accept polystyrene anymore as people prefer to simply dispose of them. The manufacturing process pollutes the air and creates large amounts of liquid and solid wastes. Animals also choke on disposed polystyrene.

The students behind Go Green are determined to slowly but surely replace polystyrene with alternate means of packaging. The Energy Hub at the cafeteria was the centre point of the campaign with various organisations setting up booths to promote their products and to encourage students to participate in the various activities they have installed. Global Environment Centre, a non-government organisation was present to supply interesting information regarding reducing, reusing and recycling through their various posters and pin-ups on the boards. Competitions were aplenty, such as the “Caught on Camera” video challenge where students were tasked to capture bad habits and wasteful practices of people around the college on tape. There was also a rather amusing competition of designing an elegant outfit out of trash and reusable materials (we’ll leave that to your imagination). WWF (World Wildlife Fund) was present to give a talk on the preservation of wildlife. In addition, students were ushered to check their carbon footprints at one of the booths to see just how much their habits have impacted the earth.

Jasa Eco, was also present to promote Go Green’s primary agenda, that is to do away with polystyrene. Jasa Eco supplies a range of disposable food ware developed from cornstarch to help form a greener environment. Disposable cutleries made from cornstarch instead of the usual plastic (hence making them biodegradable) were given out to students. Douglas Tan, Export and Eco Development manager of Jasa Eco was present to oversee to the Jasa Eco booth. “We always look to the bigger organisations to help save our dying environment but we must realise that every household plays an equally important role. They are the ones that contribute to large quantities of wastes. If we want to Go Green, start at home,” Douglas advises. Douglas Tan admits that polystyrene has become an indispensable material, especially in the food industry. “Polystyrene will not disappear in the near future but we must nevertheless strive to kill it off naturally and seek a viable replacement in the market”. He went on to say that polystyrene elimination is just the tip of the iceberg in a world which is becoming ever-dependant on plastics.

Ultimately, it is the consumers that determine the life-span of this detrimental substance. Mentality is the key here as consumers today do not even give it a second thought when using and disposing polystyrene containers. “Attitudes must change! The mental barrier that exists within our consumers is the main issue. They refuse to accept change and are completely fine with disposing plastics and polystyrene,” Douglas claims solemnly.

So how do we reduce the use of polystyrene? Douglas hopes that Jasa Eco can aid in limiting the use of Styrofoam packaging and other polystyrene products through their range of eco-friendly alternatives. “They obviously cost a little more though,” he laughingly comments.

“A concrete approach would be to outright ban the use of Styrofoam packaging. That would be a good start,” he shares. The use of polystyrene packaging has long been banned in certain countries around the world such as the 30 municipalities in California as well as the coastal communities in the United States. The first state to respond to the issue is Penang. Starting the 1st of January next year, a ban will be enforced on the use of polystyrene which will cover all food premises and temporary hawking sites owned by local councils on the island and mainland. It’s a sigh of relief considering the mountain of polystyrene food packages thrown away at the popular spots such as the Gurney Drive hawker centre.
“The industrialists need to step up and speak against polystyrene production and use. When they talk, people listen. When the individuals from NGO’s talk, people ignore them. They have little power and influence. An outright ban should be imposed and when the time comes, companies will either comply with the ban and find other alternatives or be forced into bankruptcy,” he boldly comments. It’s harsh but it should get the job done. Douglas Tan later gave an informative talk regarding a styro-free environment to the students of Sunway University College as part of the Go Green event.

There are people who want to make a difference. But there are also people who see this Go Green culture as a way to make money. Look around you the next time you go shopping and you’ll notice the plethora of products claiming to be eco-friendly. No doubt some are genuine on their intentions, but there are those who use it as a marketing tool. Many companies produce these so-called eco-friendly products which use bio-degradable packaging but some of these plastic packaging merely ‘breakdown’ into smaller fragments of plastic and still remain in the soil for long periods of time. Though fragmentation occurs, incomplete breakdown of these substances means they are not biodegradable.

Some of students of Sunway University College were no doubt eager to participate in the programmes and activities. Even throughout the year, the student council of the college had organised events to ignite the spirit of going green. The G-Race which was similar to the Amazing Race challenge saw participants racing around Sunway, from Monash University to Sunway Pyramid and back to Sunway College to name a few. The participants faced various challenges that required teamwork and knowledge on the environment. The recent Plant-a-Tree programme in the Raja Musa Forest in Batang was also the student council’s idea of exposing students to the beauty of nature as well as the damage we have done to Mother Nature. The forest was once a reserved forest until it was cut down. Participants happily planted new seedlings in the hopes of restoring the forest, even if just a little into the beautiful place it once was.

All in all, the Go Green campaign was a huge success with many students finally realising the importance of maintaining and caring for our beloved planet. “The whole thing was quite interesting and the talks were an eye opener,” says student, Nicholas Siew from AUSMAT. Sunway University College students and staff can also look forward to brand new recycling bins brought in somewhere around September to further promote recycling. This no doubt reflects on how determined Sunway University College is in going green. Vice president of Sunway University College Student Council, Eugene Koh reminds the students, “Our Earth is not in a good shape. We must be responsible for our actions and be aware of the issues surrounding the environment.”
So true, it’s time we realise the gravity of our actions on the environment. From the poorest of families to the wealthiest of society, from the smallest of hawker stores to the largest of factories, from the youngest of students to the oldest of adults, it does not matter who or where you are, you can make a difference towards our planet and towards its future by playing your part.