In light of World Environment Day 2018, we speak to green warriors advocating sustainability in their own passionate way. As our city grows, is it necessary for Mother Nature to bear the brunt of pollution, excessive waste and a lack of green spaces in the name of urbanisation? Perturbed by the little-known fact that Malaysia ranks 8th on a world plastic pollution index research, royal environmentalist Tengku Zatashah Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah set out on an action-packed, educational #sayno2plastic campaign via her social media. Here, she paints a bigger picture to us, of her noble efforts that began 3 years ago and reveals the little things we can do to curtail this major global concern.

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Above Launching The Rotary Club of KL DiRaja’s “My R Tree” campaign. Photo: Courtesy of Tengku Zatashah

 2018 has seen a spike in environmental activism. You started 3 years ago. What prompted that?

“People were being too blasé about their plastic consumption and images from scientists showed that the global crisis is actually plastic pollution. I realised we had very little discourse on this problem. My campaign aims to raise awareness and to share that it’s every individual’s responsibility to eradicate waste and single-use plastic.

A few years back I Instagrammed a shocking sight of plastic rubbish floating around Port Klang’s Royal Selangor Yacht Club (RSYC), urging the public to stop littering. Immediately the plastic and rubbish were cleaned up by the authorities. The Selangor government invested RM2million to clean up its rivers. Last year I posted a follow-up post of a dramatically pollution-reduced RSYC.”

How is the awareness now compared to when you started?

“Better, but still a long way to go. In mid 2000s I headed a Sustainable Development and Environmental Communication project for a top French company, and the discourse back then was to reduce carbon emissions, carbon footprint, global warming with eco sustainable methods. 4 years ago, I realised the environmental issue was larger than this; it was the fact that our growing global population had a very lackadaisical approach to how much plastic is discarded. Plastic pollution was not listed by the Malaysian youths interviewed in the TN50 Youth Canvas for Environment – This iterates the importance of #beatplasticpollution and #sayno2plastic in society.”

We use and throw one-time plastic ware that doesn’t miraculously disappear. Now, our oceans are clogged with billions of tonnes of plastic.

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What was the strategy with #sayno2plastic?

“To show citizens how I live my life to #sayno2plastic, how I want to #stopsingleuseplastic. I shared of myself going to the pasar malam, Ramadan food bazaars, and food trucks with my tiffin which was effectively #zerowaste #reducewaste. I take with me recycled bags, metal straws, glass jars with reusable glass straws, wooden cutlery, reusable coffee cups and drink tumblers."

What have you ticked off so far?

"A few years ago I gave talks on #sayno2plastic at universities and colleges, and in January 2017, I was thrilled when my state Selangor banned plastic and Styrofoam. I participated in Selangor beach cleanups, Redang Island Conservation Day coral reef planting, dive and beach clean-ups, turtle preservation, tree planting and mangrove planting. For 2018 World Environment Day and World Ocean Days, I will be doing an environmental program with mangrove and coral reef planting.” 

How do your environmental goals look like this year?

“I have expanded to marine conservation talks such as #saveourturtles as plastic is becoming a fatality to them in the ocean. I was recently made #SharkSavers Wild Aid Malaysian ambassador and joined the I’m FINished movement with FINS campaign.

The aim is to lead by example and participate in as many environmental programs I can to raise awareness. This is also the Year of International Reef 2018, that’s important to me. They all come down to #sayno2plastic.”

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Above Reaching out to youths at KDU Environment Day 2017. Photo: Courtesy of Tengku Zatashah

 How do you measure the effectiveness of your social media campaigns?

“I find this the most effective way to raise awareness. I share devastating photos and facts of human destruction on our defenceless creatures that’s also detrimental to our health. 

The first time I brought my tiffin to the food trucks, someone remarked that plastic ‘just burns anyway’. People have told me how I’ve inspired them, even tagging me with their tiffins and when they post about plastic pollution and reducing plastic waste.”

There’s a general attitude of ‘Oh it doesn’t affect me’ when toxic nano-plastic particles are actually in our food chain.

Of all your #sayno2plastic efforts, what are you most proud of?

“It’s a collective campaign, but I love seeing my friends and the public using tiffins or tupperwares, bringing their drink tumblers and their metal straws everywhere. It has to start somewhere with each individual.”

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What are the baby steps to transition into the #sayno2plastic habit?

“It starts with changing your daily habits: Leave recycled bags in your car if you know you are going to the bazaar or night markets, bring your tiffin and Tupperware, and drink from tumblers. Bag a metal straw and make it a habit to immediately say ‘No straw, please’. When at food trucks with my friends I make sure they don’t come with plastic and get them to bring their own containers, which they happily do. I am known now as the ‘girl with the tiffin’ at the food trucks. Imagine, we are 10 people and leave no waste eating out. That is the power of influence.”

How else can one contribute to environmental conservation?

“The youth are a great influence on their peers, the older generations, their parents and teachers. So why not start your own campaign to help raise the awareness or volunteer and join environmental groups? Every little bit counts.”

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