Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Keep a pet to achieve zero waste

I must say they learn really fast. For many of them, it was the first time they were introduced to the idea of zero waste. One of them told me during lunch that all this while they were under the impression that recycling is what they should do to reach sustainable development.

After lunch, one of the students started to collect the chicken bones from the plates. I asked her whether she was going to feed the cats. I wanted to start a discussion about how the action of "encouraging" the cats will make the cats bolder and they will start jumping on the table and all that. But then she changed my perspective completely.

She said "yes", and then added : "this is zero waste", pointing the cat coming for the bones. And it gave me a jolt. Hey, yes, that's what we used to do back in the good old days. Keep a dog or some chicken or cat and all your leftovers are gobbled up, including all the bones. Nothing goes into the garbage bin.

And I started thinking, "perhaps this should be part of the sustainability agenda". Instead of looking at the cats (and dogs, and there many at the hostels) as the problem, we should look at it as an opportunity. I saw how they girls loved the cats. When we first came down to eat lunch, there were at least 8 or 9 cats all ready to jump on the tables. One of the girls made some sound and all the cats zoomed in on her. One of the other girls had gone back to her room and came back with some friskies. When we were eating I suddenly realised that the cats were nowhere near our tables (except for one or two manja ones). The girls used the friskies to distract the cats so we could eat in peace.

So, I said to the ladies. Hey, this should be integrated into their Eco-Desa Saujana Project. Sustainable development is not just about the ecology and the economy; or recycling and organic garden. Human development is a key component. One of the things we have talked about in the people-centred agenda is defining and developing a set of values of the "sustainable person". Caring for pets and animals is definitely one of them. Of course, we would have to have some programme for neutering (Hey, Vivian, hear this?) to control the population.

Me in action, talking about "Choosing a Greener Lifestyle" to the Saujana ladies. The hostel is 100% ladies only. These are volunteers for their Eco project.

The Eco-Desa Saujana is an experimental project to turn the whole hostel "sustainable" (so to speak) and the students have been arranging talks to help them better understand the issues and concepts. (My Airbook is making one helluva a racket now; the fan is spinning very noisily and this machine is only one year old; am afraid it will crash anytime now). Next talk will be to all the first year students of Saujana on 3rd July to introduce ideas to them. Some of the students told me that before they entered USM, they had never even taught or heard about sustainability. The Schools are not doing much to prepare our young (but this may be changing - am going to Chung Ling High School Penang for similar talk this saturday 20th June).

After my talk I sat down to chat while waiting for lunch to be ready. The next item they brought up to me was a total surprise. Husna posed the issue of what can they do to reduce or remove the environmental impact of sanitary napkins. Ah, but I quite quick on my feet, even when sitting down. And I remembered my conversation with Leh, our lecturer specialising on paper. She talked about developing an environmentally friendly "pampers". And I said, hey, this is something USM should also pursue under our APEX agenda. Research on environmentally friendly sanitary pads. I also encouraged them to agitate the companies and even government agencies to ask them to develop products which all the green ladies would like to use. This could be the next "white coffin".

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