As the concept of waste minimisation matures, Doyenne.sg speaks with three female environmental influencers in Singapore to uncover their motivation for leading a zero waste life.
“We are witnessing the recall of plastic straws, the pervasiveness of coffee cups, and the prevalence of sustainability pop-ups.”
Reduce, Reuse and Recycle – the deeply entrenched 3R concept of waste minimisation no longer adds up to a zero-sum game. We are now talking Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Rot – in this particular order.
- Refuse: Say no to packaging, disposables and all that ends up in landfills.
- Reduce: Consider your needs and wants, fulfill the needs but satisfy less of wants.
- Reuse: Replace disposables with washables and use repeatedly.
- Recycle: Separate your trash, so that some of it can be repurposed.
- Rot: Practise composting.
Bea Johnson, the pioneer zero waste advocate, defines the notion as “a philosophy based on a set of practices aimed at avoiding as much waste as possible”. Armed with gumption and the 5Rs, she fits her family’s annual trash into a jar.
Started in the late 1990s, the zero waste movement only gained traction in the late 2000s. As sustainability awareness grew, films and books on adopting a minimalist lifestyle, developing green economies, and advocating for environmentalism had been making their rounds.
Most recently, in line with designating 2018 as the Year of Climate Action, spurts of environmental action have emerged. We are witnessing the recall of plastic straws, the pervasiveness of coffee cups, and the prevalence of sustainability pop-ups.
Behind these brainchildren lie passionate individuals who doggedly chase the zero waste dream. We speak with three female environmental influencers in Singapore to uncover their motivation for leading a zero waste life.
Florence Tay, Co-Founder of UnPackt, Singapore’s first packaging-free grocery store
Joanna Lai, Founder of The Green Spot, a website that shares tips on living the zero waste life
Samantha Thian, Founder of Seastainable, a Singapore startup that fights plastic waste through the sale of metal straws
Doyenne: How did you kickstart your zero waste lifestyle?
Florence: I felt that it was practical and less wasteful to bring my own coffee cup and lunch box to take away food and drinks.
Joanna: First, I considered where my consumption ends up. Next, I shifted away from daily conveniences. Lastly, I worked on building habits that kept my waste output low. Refusing disposable bags, cutlery, and other single use plastics were basic conveniences that I gave up entirely.
The greatest challenge was rethinking what products I buy, how I use them, their longevity, and how I could avoid discarding them to the waste stream – either by recycling, upcycling, gifting, or repairing. I made drastic changes to my bathroom products. I swapped to packaging-free shampoo and soap bars, bamboo toothbrushes, and natural silk dental floss in glass bottles.
Samantha: Back in 2014, I attempted to live more sustainably after witnessing our marine trash problem in Oslob. I decided that I have to generate less waste, so less trash may end up in the oceans. I started by cutting down on disposables such as plastic cutlery and grocery bags. Then I moved on to bigger commitments, like limiting the number of times I buy clothes each year.
D: What are you doing to advocate for a zero waste lifestyle?
F: I encourage everyone to look into their lifestyle so that they can choose the most practical and appropriate switch to make, one step at a time.
J: I find it most effective to walk the talk, to stay true to my commitment of avoiding single use plastics and recommend products that are more sustainable, yet convenient. I encourage changes that are manageable.
S: I run Seastainable.co, a social enterprise that provides people with a sustainable alternative to disposables. Currently, we offer mainly metal straws and foldable bottles. We also share educational information on trash generation and sustainable living on our socials.
D: Name three simple practices that people can adopt to transit to a zero waste lifestyle.
F: Reduce the number of trash in the household, bring reusables for take away food and drinks, as well as shop without packaging in the local wet markets or bulk food stores, like UnPackt.
J: Refuse single use items like plastic bags, bottled drinks, and straws. Buy only what you need. Reuse or repurpose what you have.
S: Reduce the use of disposables and choose options that can be reused. Most importantly, do one small thing a day that saves the world some resources. Start small, then move onto bigger things.