Earth Matters: Everyday Heroes of Recycling

From Best of Langkawi website

Earth Matters: Everyday Heroes of Recycling 

For every sceptic that they’ve met, there are more who believe and who are eager to make a difference.

These people are the reason why Don Theseira and Mylene Ooi are not yet ready to throw in the towel. Theseira and Ooi have been convincing people about saving the environment by teaching them to recycle for the last eight years. “There will be people who see things that are beneficial to the environment.

You will also meet people who could not care less, selfish people whose mindsets are difficult to change,” says Theseira, 67. “I do get frustrated when I meet this type of people. But we move on and have no intention of stopping. We believe in this issue and want to help those who can see the benefits, not those who refuse to change.” It all began as a personal crusade.

Reading an article on schoolchildren collecting newspapers once a year for a recycling project in 1996, Theseira and Ooi, 58, felt that while their effort was commendable, the approach was wrong. “Recycling should be done every day, not once a year.

That was when we decided to organise a recycling project for our housing area.” Their idea is simple – keep the environment clean while raising funds for charity.

They get their friends and neighbours at Taman Bukit Indah, Bukit Mertajam, to recycle 10 household items everyday. Every six weeks, everyone will assemble at the couple’s home and gather together the recyclable materials.

The items are sold to a contractor, who issues a cheque addressed to a charity association of their choice. Since they started, they have raised RM37,082 from 54 recycling campaigns. Through word of mouth, the “Don and Mylene method” of recycling has got around.

But their idea is no longer confined to their housing area. It has spread to various parts of Penang and even to Kuala Lumpur. They have been invited to talk at schools, churches, factories, companies and housing areas on the benefits of starting a recycling project.

For their tireless efforts, they were recognised by Reader’s Digest Association as “Everyday Heroes” in 2000. Theseira says that even before they had started the project, they had been conscious of keeping the environment clean.

They refused to buy things in plastic, bought refill products and brought their shopping bag to the market. Ooi says when they embarked on the project, there were people who said it would not work. “But once we explained the benefits to them, they were open to the idea and the response was great. It was worth the effort even when we had to travel at our own expense.

We have given 120 talks to a cross-section of society and the momentum is gaining.” Ooi says the best way to tackle the issue is at source. That means looking around your house, where you are sure to find many things that can be recycled.

The aim of their recycling project is to achieve zero waste. It can be done if everyone practises reduction, buys clean production, recycles and does composting, she says.

“Reduction means that you don’t buy things you don’t need. You buy clean production and not refill packs, recycle 10 items every day and use the composting system for your wet waste. “We have achieved zero waste in our home. The garbage collector who comes round to our house every two days doesn’t have anything to collect, ” she says. “It is a simple, workable and effective method of recycling.

If every household, school and hospital does its part, we would not need incinerators.

It is the people who will eventually make a difference.” On why Malaysians are lackadaisical towards recycling, Theseira says it is due to their “couldn’t care less” attitude and the general lack of information. What information is available, they say, is often misleading. People throw things such as old television sets and mattresses into the river or wherever is convenient because they have no idea what to do with such things.

“We should teach them how to dispose of these items. For example, you can sell an old bicycle as scrap. Instead of polluting the river you can get money if you sell these items.” That is why, says Ooi, instead of setting up more recycling centres with tri-coloured bins, which to them is a waste of money, there should be more information on how to recycle properly.

Theseira and Ooi say they never get tired of talking to people about the importance of recycling. “There is only a small percentage of people who do not respond to recycling. But the feedback has been encouraging. When we see people start their recycling project at their housing estates, schools or hospitals after listening to our talk, we are encouraged to continue talking to and educating people about this.

“We are making an impact. Our work has not been in vain.”