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?