There is plenty of wise old sayings on poison. So, it’s obviously something that is regarded with extreme caution and respect by humans.

One man’s poison is another’s medicine. To a limbless snake, it’s poison is the only successful tool to stun its prey or food. Talking about snakes, my father had related to me how one of his farming friends from his youth had died of a cobra’s bite while cleaning up the palm oil plantations.

Ironically though, the cobras are welcomed on the plantations along with other high-end predators like owls and hawks to hunt rats. Forest rats build their nests up in the trees and they would feed on the precious palm oil fruits. The snakes would save the farmers thousands of dollars on shelling out for pesticides, which could turn out to be a worse type of poison that could cause cancer.

Rubbish swept up on the beach in the morning after an overnight storm. They were cleaned up soon after by the council. Pangkor Island. Photo © Zarina Holmes.

That’s what it takes to set up a plantation. In contrast, my biggest day-to-day dread about work as an urban professional consists of train cancellations and not having access to internet. I don’t have to worry about the possibility running into a cobra or demolishing a natural wildlife habitat to feed my family. I am spared from making life and death decisions on daily basis.

That’s not to say that cosmopolitan urban dwellers are exempted from contact with poisonous elements. The kind of poisons that we get usually come in tiny drips that accumulate over the years. The top killers in the modern society are stress, inactivity and sugar.1 In fact, they are in the top ten of the world’s biggest killers today.

In this context, a poison is something that becomes naturally intolerable as the balance is tipped off. Something that is harmless in moderation but detrimental in excess. For example, our uncontrollable consumption of single-use plastics.

A poison is something that becomes naturally intolerable as the balance is tipped off

Around 8 million metric tons of plastic end up in our oceans every year. It began in 1950 when the world produced only 2 million tonnes per year. Since then, the annual production has increased nearly 200-fold, reaching 381 million tonnes in 2015.2 Most of the plastic produced is single-use packaging and only nine percent of all plastic ever made are likely to be recycled.3

I had lost sleep after photographing the local river and the island near where my folks reside. I worry about the state of the water systems that we are going to leave for the future generation. This issue swirls in my brain like a kind of toxin that won’t do myself much good unless I do something positive about it.



1. The top 10 causes of death by World Health Organisation (24 May 2018).

2. Plastic Pollution by Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser, Our World in Data (September 2018).

3. Fast facts about plastic pollution by Laura Parker, National Geographic (20 December 2018).


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