When Your Trash Saves Lives

Buddhist Tzu-Chi Recycling Centre at Taman Lumba Kuda, Penang
Buddhist Tzu-Chi Recycling Centre at Taman Lumba Kuda, Penang

While I try to have a variety of topics in our business blog, I am also that anal sort (yes, slap me) who wants a blog post that is befitting of a business blog, one that’s thoughtful and not written just because I have to spit something out on the blog.
That is certainly not my style.
Which is why sometimes, just sometimes, I have too many things and topics to write about but not enough time to do so. Ah… the bane of 21st century living!
Buddhist Tzu-Chi Recycling Centre at Taman Lumba Kuda, Penang
A separate kitchen/pantry for volunteers to take a rest and have a snack or tea

But this blog allows me to ramble along – knowing that friends like you will forgive me if I ramble too much and get too “cheong hei”.
A few months ago, our  Taman Sri Nibong Residents’ Association hosted a short briefing by at the clubhouse for the volunteers of The Buddhist Tzu-Chi Merits Society.
Buddhist Tzu-Chi Recycling Centre at Taman Lumba Kuda, Penang
A bunch of us from Taman Sri Nibong visited to get a better idea what the centre does

To cut a long story short, the Tzu-Chi folks are proposing to convert an old, abandoned food court in our taman into a recycling waste sorting centre. It is by no means an easy or cheap endeavour.
It means taking up the entire food court area of 10,000 square feet and doing what’s needed to make it into a place where residents can come, drop off their recyclables and get an education about reducing the wastefulness of our daily lives.
Buddhist Tzu-Chi Recycling Centre at Taman Lumba Kuda, Penang
Different categories of recyclables waiting for manual processing

And they need to pay a fee to MPPP to use this abandoned food court.
Now what’s interesting is this – the money generated from recycling will be used to fund the Tzu-Chi Dialysis Centres (they have one in Gottlieb Road and another in Butterworth and they have plans to build another centre by next year). Tzu-Chi Dialysis centres are free for kidney patients. Yes, that’s right. Free.
Recycling areas clearly labelled
Recycling areas clearly labelled

Like all communities, you will get people who are downright rude and negative about change. Any change.
Anything is to be feared even before they hear why it’s needed.
The thing that plays in their heads is that tune they choose to hear.
Volunteers comprising elderly folks sorting out the different papers
Volunteers comprising elderly folks sorting out the different papers

And funnily, even another well-known social organization started joining the fray, saying that THEY should be given the priority to manage and turn the the abandoned food court into a library and community centre.
This organization which shall be unnamed (because it will certainly shame some people who’ve always associated this organization with good community work) had the cheek to say that they want to give back to the community here. They had 2 years to raise the funds to do something but never did. Not until Tzu-Chi came along and said they wanted to do something. All of a sudden, this other group felt threatened!
The recycling centre brings senior citizens together to contribute to their community
The recycling centre brings senior citizens together to contribute to their community

Anyway, I think many of them felt afraid that a Buddhist a.k.a religious group was coming into Taman Sri Nibong. All the silly comments from some residents just makes me feel that religion makes us all suspicious of each other.
Donated computers and monitors to be refurbished and shipped to Myanmar for a second lease of life
Donated computers and monitors to be refurbished and shipped to Myanmar for a second lease of life

That aside, Nic and I had to go see for ourselves a real working Tzu-Chi recycling centre in Taman Lumba Kuda. A bunch of us residents turned up on a Saturday afternoon to listen and understand how the recycling centre handles its waste as well as re-educate the people about recycling.
A thriving garden in the Tzu Chi recycling centre
A thriving garden in the Tzu Chi recycling centre

We saw a pleasant, quiet and green environment where volunteers silently sorted out the different piles of recyclables. Even with the paper category, there’s white paper and coloured paper. Above all, it was clean.
Tzu Chi recycling centre penang
Another angle of the garden

They even grew a garden around the recycling centre. It resembled quiet, restive area for communities to mingle, talk to each other and help sort and re-bundle trash.
Tzu Chi recycling centre penang
Here's a water garden!

They even accept old PCs and clothes. The PCs will be refurbished and sent to Myanmar. Many internal parts of the PC can be reused.
Tzu Chi recycling centre penang
Vegetable garden within the Tzu Chi recycling centre

The key to Tzu-Chi is education. They start with cultivating that spirit in all that they do. And unlike most Chinese organizations, theirs is done with style. Have you noticed how beautifully elegant Tzu Chi books and packaging are?  I am often delighted at their products because they do pay attention to design.
[Update: Here’s something to cheer about. After all the hullabaloo, Tzu-Chi managed to get approval from MPPP and the relevant authorities to rent and convert the old Medan Selera into its recycling centre. They fenced it up  and by 18 November (yes, this Sunday), the Tzu-Chi Recycling Centre in Taman Sri Nibong will be operational. Please support this centre with your recyclables.]

Tzu Chi recycling centre penang
What you cannot recycle!

The Heady Smell of Herbs

I’ve been dutifully composting my food scraps using the 10-pot system and it’s been about 7 months now.
Don of Green Crusaders (that’s him below) taught me this system and since using it, I’ve never had to throw out any food scraps! I have actually reduced the amount of rubbish I throw out as I compost mostly everything (except unedible and inorganic stuff).
This is Don, the tireless eco crusader!
I can safely report that all’s fine and I couldn’t tell you how pleased I was to find big, fat earthworms in my compost a few months ago. Earthworms make the job easier! Of course besides the earthworms, there’s a host of bugs, milipedes, ants and such but that’s part and parcel of the composting process.
But there is no smell. No stink. That is the beauty of Don’s 10-pot system. It’s really simple once you get the system all set up. And you don’t need to buy those plastic bins or composting contraptions which look really huge and ugly.
Now with enough compost, I can start my little herb garden. (Compost must be mixed well with regular red earth in 1:1 portions. Compost on its own will kill plants as it is too ‘nutritious’!)
I’ve always been interested in gardening. I wouldn’t say I’m Miss Green Finger but I do enjoy getting my hands dirty, watching plants grow and best of all, eating what I grow. That’s the best organic kind of food.
Of late, I’ve been poking around C&L Nursery (opposite Convent Green Lane) and buying pots of herbs.
Rosemary is one herb I really adore, especially its heady aroma as one brushes against its spiny leaves. I am still figuring if it needs direct sunlight or not as my previous pot of rosemary died after 2 years (that pot was kept on the balcony away from direct light). I don’t really use rosemary for cooking – I just want to inhale its fragrance!
Next I came across a type of mint which smells like lemon. Its mint leaves are thin and papery but again, it smells like lemon and lemongrass when you light brush your hands over its leaves. Again I bought this because of its citrusy smell.
Recently a friend gave me two cuttings of Indian borage. It is also known as local oregano because it smells just like that!
Indian borage
The heart-shaped leaves of the Indian borage are thick. big and hairy. In Malay, it is known as Daun Bangun-bangun. Apparently it is a hardy plant but what makes it attractive as a must-have herb in the garden is its ability to help with coughs. A fresh leaf boiled with some water is a good tea to sip if you have persistent coughing. Or pick a leaf and chew it if you have a sore throat.
And here’s more uses for Indian borage – if you have a blocked nose, crush some leaves and inhale.
If you have skin problems or insect bites, crush the leaves and use as a poultice.
If you have dandruff, use an infusion to rinse your hair.
This herb seems to be multipurpose. You can use it for increasing milk flow for new moms, to reduce flatulence and stomach cramps, to reduce menstrual pain and insomnia. Oh yes, it can also get rid of kidney stones!
Besides these herbs, I am also trying my hand at growing turmeric, plantago, basil and Thai basil. There’s something really special when you can eat the stuff you grow!

Aim for Zero Waste

I’ve been very much into recycling ever since I was 15 and picked up a magazine on how to reduce and recycle waste. But I never got into the whole act properly until I stayed on my own, and bought my own groceries and stuff. I ended up with glass bottles, plastic containers, tin cans, junk paper, oil canisters and lots more.
Do I throw them away? Do I keep them and turn my storeroom into a junkyard of sorts?
What about used cooking oil? Can I just pour them down the drain and hope it won’t pollute the waterways?
And so, with more questions than answers, I joined an online recycling group. But the group is relatively silent on most days, and I sometimes feel as if the moderator and I are the only living creatures there.
Until I met Don Theseira and Mylene Ooi who are both not only passionate recyclers but famous as well (they’ve been profiled in the December 2002 issue of Reader’s Digest and invited all over the country to give talks on recycling and composting). I mean, really passionate. It resonates in their talk. I met them for the first time yesterday when they presented a talk on recycling at the Church of the Immaculate Conception, Pulau Tikus, Penang.

Read moreAim for Zero Waste