Trimming my waste-line
by Wan Ting Koh
TEN years ago, most people wouldn’t have cared about reducing their waste but things are slowly changing with Singapore shifting towards a more sustainable environment.
More institutions and businesses are attempting to cut down on waste. Starbucks for example, gives you a 50-cent discount if you bring your own Starbucks tumbler for your beverage. Last October, 14 hotels were applauded for their waste-reducing measures, which include donating excess dry food to a food redistribution organisation and using e-signatures for the approval of internal document. Meanwhile, NTUC FairPrice managed to save more than 10 million plastic bags in 2015 due to its bring-your-own-bag campaign.
Curious to see if it was difficult or easy, I tried reducing my waste for a week. It was more difficult than I thought because of a variety of reasons, including the lack of support, inconvenience and hygiene.
Using a handkerchief in place of tissues for example, seems unhygienic to me. I also found it hard to reduce waste in my day-to-day activities simply because the “waste culture” is so ingrained in the community. This I discovered during lunch when I asked for a glass cup instead of a plastic cup from a hawker uncle and was given an annoyed look.
It’s even harder to reduce waste during the festive season – which was when I carried out this assignment. Parties and presents both use a lot of disposable products, whether for convenience or convention, and I had to avoid using those as much as I could.
In the end, using the same plastic bag as I did for my first waste diary to store my waste, I found that I managed to reduce my waste to about half the volume I originally racked up from the first assignment.
Here are some of the efforts I took to reduce my waste for a week:
1. Using a handkerchief instead of tissue
This was the thing I dreaded the most, for the sake of hygiene. Using the same piece of cloth to clean my nose in the morning and wipe my mouth after meals was akin to accumulating a day’s worth of germs and dirt on that cloth. But I did it anyway. I borrowed my father’s only three handkerchiefs for the assignment.
Even though hygiene was my main concern, I found a way to get around stains as much as I could. Instead of wiping snot and other germs directly on the handkerchief, I chose to rinse my nose in a sink before drying it with the handkerchief. The same went for after-meal wipes. I would rinse as much as I can with water before dabbing my mouth with the handkerchief. The trade-off was that I used more water.
As for the plastic glove, I had no choice but to use it to cut bread in Cedele cafe. But instead of disposing it afterwards, I brought it home to reuse for the next time I dye my hair.
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2. Using a cup for hot drinks
I used a tumbler for hot drinks in place of disposable plastic cups available in the office. The trade-off is that you use more detergent and water to wash the cup instead. And if you use it outside however, like in coffeeshops, there might not always be detergent available to clean the cup immediately.
3. Requesting for glasses instead of disposable plastic cups for drinks
I decided to request for a non-disposable cup instead of the usual takeaway plastic cup at a hawker centre drink stall for a blended fruit drink. The reaction I received from the hawker centre uncle wasn’t very pleasant however.
When it came to my turn, I requested for my drink to be poured into a hard blue plastic cup. But the uncle seemed disgruntled at my request. He took one look at the little-used blue cups from their corner on the shelves and said it was too small, adding “You must think with your head” in Mandarin. So I requested for the larger and more unwieldy glass mug, which the uncle served my drink in (rather unwillingly).
This experience raised a problem. With hawker portion sizes standardised to fit takeaway disposables, it would be difficult for hawkers to accommodate their customers’ own lunch boxes and cups if those come in different shapes and sizes.
4. Using a plastic container to store breakfast
Bakery staff usually pack individual pieces of bread into transparent plastic bags before placing them collectively into a carrier bag, which is pretty wasteful. So, I decided to bring my own plastic container for my breakfast instead.
The cashier who packed my bread gave me a look when I gave her this unusual request, but otherwise complied. The only limitation here is if you are buying for the whole family, then you would have to bring more boxes to store the bread. In this case, I only bought one bun.
5. Reusing packaging for Christmas presents
Don’t be fooled by the Swarovski packaging. It contained no crystals.
I used it to pack five chocolate bars for a Christmas exchange with a group of friends. I was pretty proud of myself for reusing the paper bag (which I found at home) – until I received another gift which was wrapped in fancy, pristine wrapping paper. More waste to add to my count. If I hadn’t found the Swarovski package, I would have probably used scrap paper or magazine pages to wrap the gift.
6. Using recycle bags/handbags instead of plastic bags for shopping
This was pretty easy because a recycling bag is foldable and easy to tote around and the supermarket cashier is only too happy to let you do the packing. The only packaging you’re wasting are the ones that come with the new products you just bought.
7. Bringing my own plate and fork
While others attending our TMG year-end party used paper plates and disposable utensils, I stuck to my own plate and fork, brought from home. The after-party clean-up is much faster if utensils and plates are disposable though.
This piece is part of a series that highlights the need to #ReduceYourWasteline, in collaboration with Asia Pacific Breweries Singapore. Read the other piece here: What a waste diary looks like
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