4 Things I Don’t Recycle Anymore

4 Things I Don't Recycle Anymore// Mono + Co

Whenever I see the recycling bin being filled up with more trash than recyclables, I feel so sorry for the workers transporting these all the way back to their facility to sort.  I wonder how many items are really recycled, and how much eventually is sent to the incineration plants where they should have been directed to, right at the start.  At this point, you’ll ask yourself: why waste even more resources to create such an unnecessary detour?

Even with recyclable plastic food containers, they are usually unclean. Not many washes and dries their recyclables before depositing them into the bins.  I cannot see through the Tetrapak beverage cartons, but they are likely not rinsed.  The residual milk would probably turn bad by the time they reach the recycling plant, can you imagine the stench as the workers open up the cartons?

4 Things I Don't Recycle Anymore// Mono + Co

Rarely but unbelievably, I even found pet litter and food waste amongst the plastics and paper once; these only end up contaminating the good recyclables.  So are we putting more junk or recyclables into the recycling bins?  I am not the only one that found food in recycling bins.

4 Things I Don't Recycle Anymore// Mono + Co

I am also quite sure foil packaging and balloons cannot be recycled too.  Bed linens, pillows and bolsters?  Confirm trash.  I hope the staff collecting the recyclables will sort these at bin source instead of bringing such obvious trash back to the recycling facility.

4 Things I Don't Recycle Anymore// Mono + Co

At times, I suspect the residents are treating the blue bin as a freecycling zone.  How do you explain the appearance of potted plants, old clothing, stuffed toys, and perfectly good stuff like this and this?  The upside of leaving usable stuff in good condition around the high traffic recycling bin area is that there are good chances of these items getting picked up.  However, recycling bins are emptied three times a week, so the window period for the items to find a new home is quite short.

With the end of the year approaching, households will be spring cleaning, decluttering and discarding, overfilling the recycling bins with items that we are too guilty to discard as trash on our own.  So, we devise a plan to be eco-friendly or charitable; treating every trash as “recyclable” or donate stuff we no longer want to the less fortunate.

Someone else can turn them into something useful.

Someone else can give them a second lease of life.

Out of sight, out of mind, where they end up never matter; we have tried recycling them!

Unfortunately, a study suggests that, even if we recycle the right way, only 9% of world plastic gets recycled.  Maybe it’s time to tell ourselves that recycling just isn’t working anymoreForget recycling and just stop generating more waste instead.

The only items I am still recycling are old newspaper and cardboard. But I only recycle through the karang guni uncles, not the blue bins. They tell me the truths about recycling based on economics, not some grand ideas of waste eradication by recycling/upcycling every plastics, glass and paper trash we generate mindlessly.

How has this affected my recycling habits? Greatly. I no longer spend time (& water) rinsing and drying recyclables. Whatever I can refuse, repurpose and reuse, I will. Here are some items that I either give away/ reuse or simply discard as trash.

++  Plastics ++
4 Things I Don't Recycle Anymore// Mono + Co

In theory, PET and PP plastics are highly recyclable materials.  In real life, they are not worth the efforts and resources to recycle.   We are also probably generating too much single-use plastics to be able to keep up with the rate of recycling.

BEFORE: For a long time, I practised the zero-waste habit of refusing to accept single-use plastics.  On occasions when I encountered #ZeroWasteFailures, I would rinse-clean soiled plastics before depositing them in the recycling bin.

AFTER:  Repurpose takeaway containers (PP5) as fresh produce storage boxes, for keeping my cilantro and spring onions crisp and fresh.  Also great for storing enoki mushrooms.  I will discard the plastics in the trash bin once they start to chip or crack.

++ Tetrapak ++
4 Things I Don't Recycle Anymore// Mono + Co

Recycling milk and beverage Tetrapak cartons can be quite confusing!  I thought there are no Tetrapak recycling facilities here.  But NEA’s Guide encourages depositing them in the blue bins, while Tetrapak’s website says they have a few collection points.

BEFORE: I would rinse out the cartons, tear open and leave them to dry before sending them to the recycling bin.

AFTER: Why recycle when the cartons can be repurposed?  I discovered my naked bar, a local natural soap maker, who also accepts empty milk carton donations (Note: doesn’t accept cartons with aluminium foil lining) and reuses them as packaging!

++ Metal cans ++
4 Things I Don't Recycle Anymore// Mono + Co

Canned Bailing mushrooms, condensed milk, evaporated milk, tuna, these are some canned food items we consume at home. The frustrating part is always seeing dirty cans inside the recycling bins, contaminating the entire bin with food.

BEFORE:  Rinse, dry, and deposit into recycling bins

AFTER: Discard; I don’t consume canned food much, now that I no longer recycle metal cans, I will also try to consume even lesser.

++ Glass jars and bottles ++
4 Things I Don't Recycle Anymore// Mono + Co

I read that in many countries, the local recycling facilities have stopped accepting glass.  It’s a pity because glass is one of the materials can be recycled INDEFINITELY.    I have always tried to reuse them at home instead of recycling.  It happens to be one of my favourite material choices for food storage containers.  The challenge is to stop collecting once the cupboard is filled with enough glass bottles and jars.

BEFORE:  Repurpose them into reusable food storage containershome decor accessories and deposit any excess into the recycling bin.

AFTER:  Still repurposing them into reusable food storage containershome decor accessories but no longer deposit any excess into the recycling bin.  I also discovered Refind, the only glass recycler I know of, but have yet passed them anything.

Sustainability issues should focus less on recycling, spotlight more on refusing, repurposing and incentivise reusing instead. Because no one wants our recyclable trash plus our plastic problem has become too huge to be solved with recycling.

Flaxseed Potato Bread

Flaxseed Potato Bread // Mono + Co

Of all the root vegetables that I add to my bread recipes, taro is my favourite;  it produces the most lovely white fluffy crumbs.  However, my recipes call for 100g of mashed taro only, at most 150g for each pullman loaf.  I end up with excess taro which becomes a burden to clear lately, as I don’t cook as many meals as before.

Flaxseed Potato Bread // Mono + Co

So I went back to enriching my bread with potatoes.  To make my baking life easier, I don’t even weigh them anymore; I simply use up a small-size potato that I can cup with one hand.

Flaxseed Potato Bread // Mono + Co

To pen this recipe, I weighed 100g of mashed potato for this bake.  But I think the recipe is really forgiving, 135g -150g of potatoes should work too!

Flaxseed Potato Bread // Mono + Co

The first 60-minute bulk proof was completed inside the mixing bowl.  I transfer it to a wooden board to be shaped into a boule.  Since I have time, I let it relax for another 15 minutes before its final shaping.

Flaxseed Potato Bread // Mono + Co

Covered, free from the draft, of course.

Flaxseed Potato Bread // Mono + Co

After final shaping, I transfer it to a Pullman loaf tin that I line with a reusable baking cloth bought from here, no more single-use parchment/baking/greaseproof paper trash!

Flaxseed Potato Bread // Mono + Co

I let the dough take its time to rise to the rim of the loaf tin, then I bake it for 30 minutes at 170C.  Here’s the detailed recipe, below.

Flaxseed Potato Bread 

220g bread flour

100g cooked potatoes, mashed

1/2 teaspoon instant dry yeast

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

2 tablespoons raw honey
1 egg, beaten
30g water*
20g cold butter, cubed
2 tablespoons flaxseeds

* Do not pour all 30g water into the mixer bowl, add water bit by bit, watch the dough closely, stop once the ingredients form a rough ball.

In a mixer bowl, combine bread flour, mashed potatoes, egg, instant yeast, sea salt, raw honey, and water. Turn on the mixer with a dough hook attachment and knead these ingredients on the lowest speed (KA 1) till they come into a ball.  Continue to knead for 3 minutes, then stop the mixer and let the dough sit for at least 10 minutes.

Turn on the mixer again and knead for 1 minute before adding butter cubes one by one while the mixer is running on its lowest speed.  Keep kneading till there are no traces of butter left and the dough has reached windowpane stage.  At this stage, the dough will be extremely pliable and baby-bottom soft. Add flaxseeds and knead for another 1-2 minutes, or until the seeds are well mixed into the dough.

Leave the dough in the mixer bowl for its first proof of 60 minutes.  The dough will rise to double its volume,  punch down to deflate and transfer it to a clean worktop.

Flatten the dough to push out gas trapped inside the dough, either by hand or a rolling pin.  Shape the dough into a boule, let it sit for 15 minutes.

Next, shape it into a log and place it in a bread tin, seam side facing downwards.  Let this sit in a draft-free place to rise for another 50-60 minutes.

When the bread has risen to the rim of the baking tin, bake in a preheated oven at 170C for 30 minutes.  Remove the bread from the pan immediately after baking, and let it cool on a rack completely before slicing or serving.

Store in an airtight container if not consumed immediately, to keep the loaf soft and the crumbs from drying out.

*Wash the reusable baking cloth with dish detergent (or tea seed powder), air-dry completely before stowing them away for next baking session.

From Trash To Treasure – Upcycle Mooncake Boxes

Mid-Autumn Festival will be over soon.  Fancy mooncake boxes; Love or Loathe them?  Keep or Throw?  Reuse or Upcycle?  Anything but recycling, because fancy packaging can’t be easily recycled.

Furthermore, recycling is NOT working, and definitely NOT the answer to our mounting waste pollution problems.  I buy my mooncake sans packaging.  If I see nice mooncakes boxes, I’ll shamelessly ask for them.  If you have been throwing away your mooncake boxes and wonder what else you can do with them, here are some ways that I reuse the containers.

//  Serving tray, for pretty tea sessions

// Laptop stand, to improve airflow

From Trash To Treasure : Upcycled Mooncake Boxes // Mono + Co

// Baby keepsake box, for the most beautiful memories

// Bookstand, for current reads

// Desk organiser, for hiding away all stationery mess

// Toolbox, for the handywoman in me

// Pantry organiser, for better space management

// New arrival, looks suitable as CNY decor like this

A Full Larder: Over 160 Food Items At Home Without Panic Buying

A Full Larder: Over 160 Food Items At Home Without Panic Buying // Mono + Co

Have you ever counted how many food items you actually stock up at home?

DORSCON Orange was officially declared on 7 February.  What followed after was unbelievable: sights of empty supermarket food shelves where canned food, instant noodles, and rice used to stack neatly were widely shared on social media and made headlines for next two days.  Even the earlier CNY promotions did not empty out the shops like 2019 nCoV did. You get the feeling something is terribly wrong when toilet papers were also being snapped up by worrying shoppers who went into panic-buying mode after the announcement was made.

Hubby asked if we need to buy anything before everything runs out. I confidently replied “No.”  I have been sticking to my buy-enough-to-cook-four-meals shopping habit for years.  Despite the lean grocery list, I find myself often cleaning out my pantry to use up older, expiring food.  And I never run out of things to cook.

Food waste is a huge problem in Singapore, 763 million kg was generated in 2018.  Of all the food waste created by households, rice and noodles are the most common types : exactly what everyone is hoarding now.   How much will be wasted in time to come?

I may sound like a broken record, but if everyone buys and cooks the amount that they can finish, food waste problem will be easy to avoid.  I took a quick inventory check before prepping today’s lunch.  I have not shopped for the last five days, yet I found enough to make at least six more meals with my kitchen stock of fresh and processed food.

I thought it is pretty impressive, given how little I shop.  Although the frantic buying seems to have subsided, nothing beats forming a good habit to know what you already have at home before a grocery shopping trip.  I am sharing my inventory list, including meat items that I don’t consume, but rest of my family members do.  I counted over 160 food items stored either in my pantry, fridge or freezer!   The best thing you can do before filling the shopping cart with impulse, or worse, panic buys, is an inventory check of what you already have at home.  Save the rice, noodles and canned food for people who really need them.

A Full Larder: Over 160 Food Items At Home Without Panic Buying // Mono + Co

// Unopened Items

001. Olive Oil 2L
002. Suki Chilli Sauce ^ bought for CNY
003. Canned Bailing Mushrooms x 2
004. Canned Sardines x 2
005. Canned Cream of Mushroom
006. Pink Salt
006. Condensed Milk
007. Coconut Cream
008. Sambal Chilli
009. Bean Paste
010. Ground Vietnam Coffee
011. Peanut Butter
012. Cashew Nut Cookies ^
013. Green Tea Powder
014. Green Tea Leaves
015. Digestive Biscuits
016. Instant Yuzu and Honey Powder Beverage
017. Cake Mix
018. Brownie Mix
019. Tomato Sauce Hotpot Soup Mix ^
020. Mala Stir-Fry Sauce ^
021. Moneyhead Mushroom Herbal Soup Pack
022. Herbal Soup Pack ^
023. White Rice Cakes 300g ^
024. Spaghetti Pasta 500g x 2
025. Dried Udon Noodle 360g
026. Mee Swa 300g x 2 ^

A Full Larder: Over 160 Food Items At Home Without Panic Buying // Mono + Co

027. Mixed Rice x 3.6KG

A Full Larder: Over 160 Food Items At Home Without Panic Buying // Mono + Co

// Opened Items: Rice 

028. White Rice
029. Black Rice

A Full Larder: Over 160 Food Items At Home Without Panic Buying // Mono + Co

// Opened Items: Oil, Sauces, Spices

030. Apple Cider Vinegar
031. Sesame Oil
032. Olive Oil
033. Cooking Wine
034. Vinegar
035. Black Soy Sauce
036. Pepper
037. Sea Salt
038. Brown Sugar
039. Vanilla Extract
040. Tumeric Power
041. Cumin Powder
042. Coriander Powder
043. Cloves
044. Star Anise
045. Cinnamon Sticks
046. Corn Flour
047. Mala Stir-Fry Sauce ^

A Full Larder: Over 160 Food Items At Home Without Panic Buying // Mono + Co

// Opened Items: Breakfast and Snacks

048. Ground Coffee
049. Almond Powder
050. Thai Tea Dust
051. Instant Coffee Granules
052. Milo Powder
053. Chinese Pu’er Tea Leaves
054. Sticky Rice Tea
055. Raw Honey
056. Peanut Butter, Creamy
057. Peanut Butter, Unsalted, Unsweetened
058. Quick Cook Oatmeal
059. Rolled Oats
060. Wholegrain Oats
061. Raisins
062. Almond Nuts ^
063. Dehydrated Mango
064. Dried Prunes
065. Mixed Nuts ^
066. Marshmallows ^
067. Chocolate Bars ^

A Full Larder: Over 160 Food Items At Home Without Panic Buying // Mono + Co

// Opened Items: Dry Goods

068. Kombu
069. Seaweed
070. Dried Mushrooms
071. Bean Stick/ Tau Kee
072. Plain Flour
073. Self-Raising Flour

A Full Larder: Over 160 Food Items At Home Without Panic Buying // Mono + Co

074. Chinese Barley
075. Holland Barley
076. Candied Melon Strips
077. Brown Sugar Bars
078. Dried Sago Pearls
079. Black Eye Peas
080. Black Beans
081. Red Beans
082. Assorted Instant Noodles x 21
083. White Rice Cakes
084. Sweet Potato Noodles

A Full Larder: Over 160 Food Items At Home Without Panic Buying // Mono + Co

// Perishables:

085. Red Onions
086. Garlic Bulbs

A Full Larder: Over 160 Food Items At Home Without Panic Buying // Mono + Co

087. Mandarin Oranges ^ x 6
088. Oranges x 7
089. Apples x 4
090. Pears x 3
091. Bananas

A Full Larder: Over 160 Food Items At Home Without Panic Buying // Mono + Co

// Inside The Chiller

092. Eggs
093. Soy Milk
094. Cow’s Milk
095. Prune Juice
096. Ribena Concentrate ^
097. Vegetarian Oyster Sauce
098. Liquid Amino
099. Light Soy Sauce
100. Chilli Sauce
101. Tomato Ketchup
102. Plum Sauce
103. Ketchup Manis Sweet Sauce
104. Hot Broad Bean Paste
105. Chilli Paste
106. Thai Vegetarian Chilli Paste
107. Suki Chilli Sauce ^
108. Red Wine Lees
109. Red Fermented Bean Curd
110. Spicy Fermented Bean Curd
111. Kewpie Mayonnaise
112. Japanese Curry
113. White/Black Sesame Seeds
114. Flax Seeds
115. Chia Seeds
116. Wholemeal Flour
117. Cheddar Cheese Slices
118. Cheddar Cheese Block
119. Butter
120. Kaya
121. Yogurt Natural
122. Yogurt Strawberry Flavour
123. Yakult
124. Milk Powder
125. Baking Soda
126. Baking Powder
127. Instant Yeast
128. Cereal
129. Mee Swa, opened box
130. Red Pepper Powder
131. Dried Longans, Large
132. Dried Longans, Small
133. Dried Red Dates, Large
134. Dried Red Dates, Small
135. Wolfberries
136. Peach Gum
137. Pine Nuts
138. Fried Bean Sticks
139. Silken Tofu
140. Miso Paste
141. Preserved Olive Vegetables
142. Pickled cucumber
143. Bak Kwa ^
144. Condensed Milk
145. Evaporated Milk

A Full Larder: Over 160 Food Items At Home Without Panic Buying // Mono + Co

// Fresh Produce

146. Enoki Mushrooms
147. King Oyster Mushrooms
148. Lettuce
149. Cabbage
150. Bok Choy

A Full Larder: Over 160 Food Items At Home Without Panic Buying // Mono + Co

// Inside The Freezer

151. Butter
152. Stale White Bread
153. Kueh Lapis^
154. Shabu Shabu Pork Slices^
155. Pork Ribs
156. Swedish Meatballs^
157. Chicken Nuggets^
158. French Fries^
159. Coconut Ice Cream^
160. Ice Cream Cones^
161. Rice Balls, Black Sesame Filling^
162. Julienned Carrots

DIY Kaffir Lime Shampoo

Getting used to the routine of a full-time-working-mum means jam-packing my weekends with column-writing/ volunteering/ baking/ DIY projects.  This schedule leaves me with little time to try out new DIY projects, only those that are simple enough made it to my to-do list.

Luckily, my life-changing shampoo is one of those easy to make ones; a mixture of tea seed/ camellia powder and water.  I can hardly call it a “project” when all I do is combining two ingredients in a bottle and ending the two-step instructions with “shake to mix well.”  But it still amazes me how something so simple AND affordable ($4.90 for 1kg) balances my oily scalp when no commercial shampoo can do so.  I wouldn’t describe my current hair type as silky smooth but at least no longer limp and greasy.

The only thing I miss most from using commercial shampoo is a headful of great smelling hair after stepping out from the bathroom.

That’s why DIY kaffir lime shampoo intrigued me since the citrus fruit produces a beautiful fragrance.

I first stumbled upon the recipe via this 10-minute clip, but I could not find kaffir limes.  I realised much later that this ingredient, common in Thai cooking, is sold by the florists in the wet markets.  This is because customers buy them along with flower offerings as kaffir limes are believed to ward off evil spirits and bring good luck.  How interesting!

After a thorough scrub-clean with salt, boil to cook them in a pot filled with enough water to submerge the fruit.  I make a small fresh batch weekly with 6 to 8 big sized kaffir limes.  This usually costs me around $2.  After 15 minutes of cooking, the peel turns yellowish, and the fruit is cooked to soft.  Quarter the limes with scissors and transfer the entire pot contents, fruit and water, to a blender jar.  I don’t have a countertop blender, so I use an immersion blender.  Hence, I simply pour everything to a narrower but taller beaker to make sure my immersion blender blades are fully submerged during use.

Blend for a few minutes until you get a relatively smooth mixture.

This is not technically speaking not smooth enough, but it is the best my immersion blender can achieve.  A counter-top blender can probably produce a creamier version.

Next, I strain the mixture to yield a smooth and creamy “shampoo”.

Then I strain the pulp residue further with a cheesecloth/milk bag, no wastage.

Bring the “shampoo” to boil again to sterilise, cool it completely and transfer to a squeeze bottle.  Store in the fridge.

I add the pulp to my compost pot, hoping to produce organic fertiliser for my sweet basil plants.

To use, dilute shampoo with water (I use 1 part shampoo 4 parts water)  and massage to dry scalp, rinse thoroughly.  This shampoo doesn’t lather like commercial shampoo. Add one to two drops of castile soap to the mixture if you are not used to it, then slowly reduce or remove the soap altogether after a few weeks.

More on kaffir limes:

// this post by the Permaculture Sydney West has a long list of uses for kaffir limes

// this kaffir lime marmalade

// make kaffir lime tarts

// the leaves!

All these make me want to grow my own kaffir lime tree!

Zero-waste grocery stores: a heartlander’s guide

Zero-waste grocery stores: a heartlander's guide // Mono and Co

When I think of zero-waste bulk stores, small shops in the neighbourhood centres come to my mind first; wet markets for packaging-free grocery, hardware stores for spare parts and stainless-steel-everything, Chinese medical halls for loose-leaf herbal tea or medicine, even dried rose buds and lavendar, all sans the plastic bags.

Zero-waste grocery stores: a heartlander's guide // Mono and Co

I have shared so many of my zero-waste wet market grocery shopping attempts here and here that I started to wonder if I am boring everyone to death.  So it was really a pleasant surprise when Mothership picked up one of my posts and shared it here.

If you want to find out more about zero-waste grocery shopping in the heartlands, start by exploring the wet markets first.  Check out what your nearest wet market offers.

To locate a wet market near you, try these sites:

1)I found a list of markets on data.gov.sg, a very interesting website to gather local statistics and data.  Unfortunately, it was last updated back in December 2016.

2) There is another list in PDF format on NEA’s website available for download here.

Here are 5 things I buy #byo style from the wet markets, that always surprise people who have not been to one before!

Zero-waste grocery stores: a heartlander's guide // Mono and Co

1.  Ground Coffee
Not your atas single-origin coffee for a home-brew flat white.  These are Nanyang-style blends, roast to perfection for making a full-bodied kopi-o.  Bring a small air-tight container, no more than 500g volume.  The stall-holder will tell you the coffee aroma escapes immediately after grinding.  If left standing unconsumed for too long, the grounds will end up only good enough for scrubbing body or absorbing odour in the air.

Zero-waste grocery stores: a heartlander's guide // Mono and Co

2.  Plain Flour
Prima Mill’s “for-professionals” ranges of flour are available through the dry goods stores inside the wet markets.  I have come across two types: Flying Fish brand (my favourite, with a 10.8% protein level) and Necklace brand (9.5% protein level.)  Let me know which one your nearest store carry!  My container allows me to buy up to 2kg of flour.

Zero-Waste Grocery Shopping - A Heartlander's Guide // Mono and Co

3. Grains and Nuts
Offering varies, depending on the size of the wet market.  I usually get my walnuts here.  You can also buy raw almond and peanuts, bake them into healthy snacks.  I bring drawstring bags to make it easier for stallholders to weigh and pack.  Once I reach home, I will transfer them to air-tight containers.

4. Assorted “Old-School” Biscuits
Bring an air-tight container.  Avoid the temptation to buy too many types!

5. Chinese Preserved Vegetables (酸菜,咸菜,大菜,四川菜。。。)
These pickles are great for adding flavours to Chinese-style meatless soups.  The stalls sell them by weight, this means buying according to requirement, say, a quarter head of the preserved cabbage instead of the entire head.  Bring a leak-proof container, and……

Zero-waste grocery stores: a heartlander's guide // Mono and Co… a reusable shopping bag to pack everything, of course!

Happy zero-waste shopping in the heartlands!

4 pragmatic reasons to go green

I pen a monthly column in the Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao, sharing with the readers my eco-friendly habits and tips.  Here is the loosely translated version of my article that was published on 5 August 2019.

How does one pick up environmental friendly habits and eventually stick to this seemingly inconvenient zero waste lifestyle?  Compare bringing along own set of reusables such as utensils, lunch boxes, shopping bags, and drinking bottles versus accepting single-use plastic/paper/styrofoam disposables;   worry-free shopping day out as the latter, right?

Even the stallholders are sometimes surprised by my bring-your-own (byo) efforts to go green.  Occasionally, one would attempt to be encouraging by complimenting me to be “saving the earth and the world” by going zero waste.  It is heartening to know that they are willing to accede to my requests to pack my order in my lunch box despite causing a temporary disruption to their “assembly line”.  However, I am also discouraged by the fact that I am the only person in the queue (sometimes, the entire hawker centre) that refuses disposable containers, utensils and plastic bags for my order.

In July, I attended an environmental talk hosted by the Temasek Shophouse. As the young entrepreneurs shared their journeys in setting up their social enterprises that tackle the local food waste issue, all attributed their commercial breakthroughs to an essential aspect of their business model; that it must make economic sense to their customers, either help them make a fatter profit or save on operational costs.  Just show ’em the money.

Assuming altruism doesn’t exist, how do I convince my peers to make the switch to a more sustainable lifestyle then?  I came up with four reasons, four pragmatic ones, inspired by the Economics 101 lesson takeaway from the Temasek Shophouse session (check out more upcoming events here.)

1. BYO habit saves me money

In our throw-away society, many have been conditioned to pay an additional 20 to 50 cents for the use of plastic containers for their takeaway orders.  These can add up if takeaway food orders are frequent.  Recently, some retailers have begun to charge for plastic bags, while cafes offer discounts to customers who bring their own reusable tumblers. My nylon shopping bags and stainless steel tumblers are now money-saving tools!

2. Zero-waste lifestyle saves me time.

Before going plastic-free, I spent a considerable amount of time sorting and cleaning stashes of recyclable PET containers and packaging materials.  A small recycling corner slowly expanded to cover half a storeroom with piles of “craft supplies” to-be waiting for me to work my upcycling magic.  Luckily, it dawned on me quickly that my rate of upcycling too low for my plastic waste producing rate.  I decided to stop accepting single-use plastics, and this simple step amazingly frees up a copious amount of time, now that I no longer need to deal with these avoidable plastic junk.

3. Place restrictions to boost creativity

According to this article, creativity can be boosted by restrictions as “the limiting nature of the task can bring out your most creative side.”  Without always relying on convenient and cheap disposables as my go-to solutions, I started exploring different waste-free alternatives or come up with my own solutions through improvisation or thinking out of the box.  Treat going single-use-plastic-free as a creative exercise for the brain!

Aside from creativity, I also picked up the good habit of planning ahead on what reusables I carry out as well as the discipline to stick to my shopping list based on the number of bags and containers I bring along.

4. Earth-friendly habits promote a healthier lifestyle

You may have heard of plastic pollution affecting the water and air quality, and marine life.  How about the problem of micro-plastics invading our own body?   As it turns out, what we thought we have thrown out as rubbish is coming back to haunt us, through ingestion.  Scientists have found traces of micro-plastics in the food we eat, such as fish and even salt.

It’s awfully uncomfortable watching stallholders pouring boiling hot soup into disposable plastic containers as harmful chemicals from plastic containers could leach into the food.  For the sake of my health, I would rather be safe by choosing takeaways packed in my own stainless steel Tingkat containers, even if this seems to be slightly more inconvenient way of pack food, compared to getting disposables.

These are some of my pragmatic reasons for turning green.  What’s yours?

How I unpack, organise and store my weekly zero waste groceries

How I unpack, organise and store my weekly zero waste groceries // Mono+Co

If you asked me what shifted my lifestyle to go eco-friendly, I would tell you about “TRASHED“, a documentary film released in 2012 that greatly influenced my plastic-free habits today.  The scenes where an endless trail of toxic plastic waste piled up in the landfills or washed ashore will make one wonder how much single-use plastics everyone in the world goes through every day to create such a big environmental mess.  It didn’t take me long to raise the sustainable flag and begin my zero waste journey after watching the film.

How I unpack, organise and store my weekly zero waste groceries // Mono+Co

Determined to weed out all single-use disposables and unnecessary (or unavoidable, in some cases) packaging waste, I turned to the family-run provision stores, traditional medical halls and wet markets in the neighbourhood as my less trendy solution to zero waste grocery stores, think bulk food stores minus the neat transparent dispensers, stylish canisters, and minimalistic decor.

Utility comes first.  An array of food items is displayed in the bags or cartons that they are delivered in.  Canned food and bottled sauces are stacked up to fill any space left on the shelves or walls.

How I unpack, organise and store my weekly zero waste groceries // Mono+Co

Besides getting my regular supply of fresh produce and dry foodstuff from these stores, I also made friends with a seamstress (who has helped mend countless seams and replaced worn-out elastic bands) and a hardware store owner (who finds my love for old-school enamel wares and natural bristle brushes amusing,) What a vast ecosystem that supports a waste-less lifestyle!

How I unpack, organise and store my weekly zero waste groceries // Mono+Co

These stores are only as zero waste as you allow them to be.  These small business owners have also kept up with Marketing101, packaging their products in clear shiny plastic bags to attract customers.  But there are still plenty of choices that don’t come prepacked or sealed, these are what I usually go for.

Not all stallholders are prepped for zero waste shoppers though, but thankfully the ones that I patronised are patient enough to accede to requests for purchases packed in my own containers or bags.  To save the stallholders’ time so that they can attend to more customers, I usually make my zero waste check out system as less hassle as possible for them, I can do the organising when I reach home.

Here are some of the packing habits I have adopted over years of shopping at traditional wet markets:

How I unpack, organise and store my weekly zero waste groceries // Mono+Co

1. Put all purchase on the table.  Stand back and admire the produce at their prettiest, sans plastic wrappers.

// I usually buy just enough groceries to cook about four meals, so that I don’t overpack my fridge and end up blocking the much-needed air circulation to keep the air cold.

How I unpack, organise and store my weekly zero waste groceries // Mono+Co

2. Remove these rubber bands before wrapping the vegetables with newspapers and storing them inside the fridge.

// I always stop the stallholder from packing the greens in plastic bags, they usually loosely cover the roots with newspaper to preventing soiling my shopping bag.

How I unpack, organise and store my weekly zero waste groceries // Mono+Co

3. Wrap hardy vegetables like bitter gourd, carrot, lettuce, broccoli or cauliflower in homemade beeswax wraps or newspapers.  Store in the fridge.

// I notice that produce kept in beeswax wraps stay fresh longer, but I don’t recommend buying and keeping vegetables for more than two weeks just because they are wrapped in beeswax wrap!

How I unpack, organise and store my weekly zero waste groceries // Mono+Co

5. Store vegetables that need not be stored inside the fridge in a breathable paper sack on the kitchen counter.

// Includes garlic, onions, tomato, potato, and today, I also bought monk fruit aka Luo Han Guo to make cooling tea.

How I unpack, organise and store my weekly zero waste groceries // Mono+Co

6. Rinse to wash firm tofu, add water to cover tofu, store in a container and keep in the fridge.

// Wet market sells firm tofu and regular tofu without plastic packaging.  Just bring a container of the right size.  I love tofu, explore tofu recipes here and here, differentiate different types of tofu here and here!

How I unpack, organise and store my weekly zero waste groceries // Mono+Co

7.  Button mushrooms are almost always sold in cling wrapped plastic boxes.  On occasions when I see them in paper box, I will grab enough to make a meal.  I will place the whole box inside the fridge.  They brown fast, so best kept in its original packaging with enough space to breath.  This site suggests storing in a paper bag.

How I unpack, organise and store my weekly zero waste groceries // Mono+Co

8. Rinse and hang dry produce bags and shopping bags immediately, ready for the next grocery shopping trip.

// Why buy when there are free ones?  I asked for these mesh bags which the stalls discard.  Useful for buying fruits.

How I unpack, organise and store my weekly zero waste groceries // Mono+Co

There you go, all nicely wrapped and organised.  The next step is to start cooking and use up the groceries!

Simple Pleasures

// unlimited supply of sweet basil at home, it’s that simple.

// found a random encouragement note in a library book.  I am not alone.

// removing labels from jars and containers without leaving any adhesive residue behind should be this easy to encourage reusing and recycling.  Refilling these emptied detergent bottles with DIY citrus infused vinegar cleaner.

// mom couldn’t resist buying a box of unbelievably-cheap-but-expiring-really-really-soon Betty Crocker pancake mix from the discount store but needed help to finish.  That’s how I ended up having pancakes AND waffles for breakfast.

// gave my favourite good morning towel a make-over using natural food dye: turmeric, a shade that I really love after using it for my DIY beeswax food wrap.

// using food dye means I can use my cooking pot for the project.

// because every drop counts.  Transferring cooking oil to a repurposed glass bottle.