So what’s up with all the trash talk?
Picture your typical takeaway lunch run to the hawker centre. You get Hokkien mee, and the nice auntie helps you pack it in a styrofoam container, gives you some utensils and puts it in a nice plastic bag for you.
That happens all over the island. Every single day. And now during the circuit breaker, if you don’t order in or cook on your own, that’s pretty much how you’re getting your food. But it really, really generates a lot of trash.
How much, you ask? Well in 2019, Singaporeans generated well over a million tonnes of plastic trash. That’s a big number that averages out to about 180kg per person. It could be higher this year too, thanks to the situation at hand.
But what’s the big deal?
I hear you ask. Well, at the current rate we’re going, our only national landfill, Pulau Semakau will be full in 15 years. That’s not a lot of time, but the government is making some efforts to reduce it. That’s not the only issue of course. Production of plastics requires the burning of fossil fuels, which contributes to another big issue – climate change. The incineration of plastics, while highly regulated here, still produces carbon dioxide, further contributing to the problem.
And it’s really not worth it. Most of the time, plastics are only used for a fraction of their very very long lifetimes – I only need my container to hold my meepok for an hour at the most, but when you start to think about the downsides, you start to see why and how it all adds up to a big environmental issue.
So let’s focus on how we can do better, starting with the first and arguably most important of the 3Rs:
As we’ll see later on and in a future article, reduction really is the most important of the 3Rs. Reusing is useful and goes with reduction, while recycling is great with some things and terrible with others.
In general, reducing consumption of everything can be said to be the core idea or principle of sustainable living and going green. Try to reduce food waste, trash produced, water used, minimise electricity use (and by extension, fossil fuel use), you get the idea.
So what are some ways you can reduce your consumption during the circuit breaker period?
Opt for takeaway instead of delivery when you have the chance. I know, I get lazy too BUT it’s for a good cause. Not only does it give you a reason to leave home and grab some fresh air (albeit through a stuffy reusable mask that feels like underwear), it also supports small local businesses which cannot make use of the typical food delivery services.
This time though, you can be a part of the Bring-Your-Own (BYO!) Movement, which aims to eliminate single-use plastic by encouraging the use of reusable items like bags and containers. Many hawker aunties and uncles don’t mind (in my experience) and are willing to serve in these reusable containers. You can use reusable cloth or paper bags to carry them as well, and avoid taking disposable utensils from the stalls. Don’t tell me you don’t have utensils at home! XD
This helps our hawkers as well. The disposable packaging and whatnot all comes as extra costs – the more of us opt to BYO, the less plastic they have to buy to use on our behalf. Remember, everyone has to dabao now, so that amounts to a lot of money spent solely on packaging.
Sometimes (especially during peak hours) some hawkers may refuse, and in such cases just go through with it politely. It is still quite new and may be out of habit for a lot of people. The last thing we want is a bad impression of BYO.
If you’re buying drinks from drink stalls, try to go for canned drinks instead of bottled ones. Why? Well, plastic isn’t as recyclable as compared to drink cans, but that’s really a can (ha) of worms for another day. Please remember to wash and recycle the cans in the end though. If it just gets thrown away then there’s not much of a point in that haha!
BYO works for shopping, too! Bring your own shopping bags or trolleys to store your items for the trip home. While shopping, buy only what you need – don’t overstock or panic buy, because food waste is also a major issue here in Singapore.
Taking only what you need applies to plastic bags, too. Don’t unnecessarily double- or triple- bag your items. Plastic might look flimsy, but it really is a lot stronger than you think.
If you do go for delivery, you can always request for no utensils and minimal plastic packaging. Usually, they’ll oblige. It’s better than nothing at all!
The word “reusable” came up a lot before. And that’s to be expected – reducing and reusing often go hand-in-hand.
For instance, if you’re going shopping you can reuse plastic bags from previous shopping trips to reduce the total amount of bags you take. Pro-tip from the kiasu aunties – always fold and keep 1 or 2 reusable plastic bags with you, in your purse or bag. This helps in case you ever find yourself in need of one.
With those plastic containers from the hawker center, you can reuse them as well. Many are microwave-safe, and some are pretty sturdy and good-quality. However it can be hard to wash when oily and it can retain smells.
As you can see…
It really can be quite situational.
What could be useful is observing or paying close attention to your own actions over the course of a day, and reviewing them at the end. Through self-evaluation, you’ll find that actually, there’s quite a lot of lifestyle changes you can make to help the environment.
At the beginning it will be tough adjusting to new changes you’ve made. You may forget, and accidentally get a plastic bag only to realise later on. But what’s important is to not get discouraged. it is a work-in-progress, after all. Slowly but surely, things will become easier and more natural. The important thing is to take things one at a time, so as not to get overwhelmed.
Good luck during the circuit breaker, and I hope you all stay safe and well. Till next time!
Useful Resources/Additional Reading
A BYO Option that uses rice husks, which are normally thrown away, to produce reusable containers and utensils: http://husksware.com.sg/
Another excellent BYO option. She’s based in Singapore and does delivery as well! https://bamboostrawgirl.com/
Read more about the BYO Movement in Singapore here: http://www.byosingapore.com/