The journey to a zero-waste Eden starts – even for these dedicated eco-warriors – with a single simple step. These six women tell us how to get started.
UPCYCLING GOOD FURNITURE
Portia Tan, head of branding and marketing at Roger & Sons – an upcycling and woodrecycling company in Singapore – shapes the sustainability conversation in a different way, through furniture.
According to her, buying well-made furniture goes a long way, and it isn’t just about the brand or price; it’s about quality. “Don’t buy chipboard products – the material ﬂakes, and woodworkers can’t do much with it. On the other hand, restoring solid wood is much easier. You can sand it down and reﬁnish it – it’ll look brand new.”
She adds that dumpster diving to repurpose scrap wood can be a fun weekend activity for the family. “My children went dumpster diving and found a bunch of wood that used to be a boat. Balau is a really hardy wood as it can withstand the elements. We couldn’t waste it, so we refurbished it and made a table with it,” she explains, adding that purchasing second- hand furniture is always a sustainable option. “Buy less stuff. It’s as simple as that. The less you consume, the less stress you put on the planet.”
The 25-year-old is worried about the environment, for good reason: “The tipping point for me was a snorkelling trip to Phuket in 2016. The corals were all bleached and there weren’t any ﬁsh. Shortly after, I watched the documentary A Plastic Ocean. I was horriﬁed. That’s when I knew I had to take action, however inconsequential it might seem at ﬁrst.” Every effort counts. She’s gone plastic-free, and for those who ﬁnd it intimidating, she suggests a way to start: Don’t throw out your recycling until the end of the month.
“You’d be surprised at the rate at which it accumulates. Because of that, I became aware of the amount of trash I was generating, and that packaging is quite unnecessary,” she says, when asked what motivated her to buy less. She adds: “If you buy less, you save more money.”
WHERE TO UPCYCLE?
Roger & Sons (https:// rogerandsons.sg)
The three Yeo brothers – Morgan, Lincoln and Ryan – are the titular sons of the business, a trade they took over from their father, who passed away in 2014. They’re ethical makers and crafters of fine furniture and thoughtful objects.
Triple Eyelid (www.tripleeyelid.com)
At this design studio, carpenter Lyn Ng not only upcycles furniture using locally sourced timber, she also conducts workshops and creates bespoke pieces.
“BUY LESS STUFF. IT’S AS SIMPLE AS THAT. THE LESS YOU CONSUME, THE LESS STRESS YOU PUT ON THE PLANET.”
MAKING ZERO WASTE APPROACHABLE
Most eco-warriors have a sustainability hero. For Joline Tang, it’s Lauren Singer, the zero-waste guru of Trash Is For Tossers. (Lauren’s ethos: “Zero waste means that I do not produce any garbage. No sending anything to landﬁlls, no throwing anything into a trash can, nothing.”) Joline was so inspired by this that she decided, in 2017, to turn her personal blog The Sustainability Project into a business to spread the green word and sell green products as well.
“I wanted to bring this [notion of sustainable living] to Singapore because not many people knew about it then,” she says. And she walks the nocarbon-footprint talk: All the packaging she uses to send out her popular items – rose-gold reusable straws, beeswax wraps, reusable cotton pads, DIY toothpaste mixes – consists of excess envelopes and used boxes she collects from friends, family and customers.
Her website and Instagram dispense tips on becoming zerowaste (“Being An Environmentally Conscious Pet Owner” is one of the posts), and the green products her online shop sells “are either handmade or ethically produced, so the prices are deﬁnitely not as competitive, especially because I get the items locally or from Australia – but you’re actually saving more”. She cites the example of using one metal straw as opposed to hundreds of plastic ones.
Still, the no-waste lifestyle takes time, and Joline suggests starting small: “I started by learning how to recycle properly during my polytechnic days. It’s shocking, but most people don’t actually know the right steps for recycling.”
Time, maybe, to get schooled again.
SHARING A WASTE-FREE JOURNEY
Rachel Tan’s 3,000 Instagram followers are regularly treated to her light-hearted and quirky posts on her daily struggle trying to be a zero-waste heroine. On her gram (@nocarrierpls), she also has tips and sustainableitem giveaways.
This eco-Insta-warrior feels that most people have a narrow notion that living waste-free is hard, but she says that small steps are all that are needed.
“You don’t have to go fully waste-free. It’s a journey that is nothing but feeling good about what you do. You can just start by skipping a plastic bag – don’t ever feel like you’re not doing enough, because your individual effort has a huge ripple effect,” she encourages.
“I discovered the Bring Your Own (BYO) movement and decided to bring it to Singapore,” adds the 21-year-old. She now brings her own tumbler to buy bubble tea, and drinks from her own reusable bamboo straw (you can buy one from @bamboostrawgirl).
Sceptics gave her weird looks in the past; some even refused to serve her a drink in her reusable cup. But Rachel says there have been small victories: Other customers have told her they’ve realised they could bring their own cup or utensils, and refuse a straw.
In the process of sharing and educating, Rachel says she’s grateful for all the feedback and ideas coming from others as well. “My followers have taught me so many things I often don’t consider. I think one of the biggest takeaways is to show you’re not alone on this journey, and that making conscious and sustainable choices is actually a pretty attractive thing to live by – something that doesn’t always come at a cost but also with a beneﬁt.”
This is the first gin to be made from “table” grapes that have come loose from the bunch, are damaged or wrinkled, or which fail to meet supermarket specifications because they are the wrong shape or size. These sustainably sourced grapes, which would otherwise end up as food waste, are made good use of by distiller Foxhole Spirits in West Sussex. For Hyke Gin, Foxhole presses the grapes and ferments the juice from the pressing into a wine which is distilled to produce a grape spirit. This is then blended with a neutral grain spirit and botanicals like juniper, myrrh, coriander and rooibos. (The skin, pulp and pips – called the pomace – are also rich sources of antioxidants, and can be used in skincare products.) The gin is now sold at Tesco; the rest of the world, later. www.foxholespirits.com/ hyke
REDUCING FOOD WASTAGE AT HOME
According to foodies Sarah Benjamin Huang, 30, and Charlotte Mei de Drouas, 26, home is where it’s at… if you want to reduce food wastage. It starts with your leftovers.
Sarah has a food blog ﬁlled with recipes (Kitchen Hoarder) and was a host on the Asian Food Channel in 2016. Charlotte, on the other hand, began her journey with food and nutrition at university, and is now a nutritionist and also a television host. Their top tip for reducing food wastage: Buy less.
Charlotte recommends checking your fridge before making a grocery run: “When I go to the supermarket, I already know what I’m going to get. I also look out for stuff with the least amount of packaging and use reusable bags for my fruits and vegetables.”
Sarah says that food wastage is “a cultural problem, because we love seeing so much food on the table. Now, I go grocery shopping once every two to three days because I don’t want to buy so much food in one go”.
But that’s not all. Not knowing how to store and reuse leftovers is the main reason why people don’t bother. To Sarah and Charlotte, however, leftovers are meal-prep gold.
Last year, Sarah partnered with Mission Foods for its “Fold Over Your Leftovers” campaign to encourage Singaporeans to repurpose leftovers. Because she’s seen the way food is wasted behind the scenes on cooking shows, Sarah constantly looks for clever ways to reuse leftovers. “You can put dayold ﬁsh in a wrap, or it can be fried, baked or grilled. Or shred it and throw in some assam belacan, with chopped mango for a hint of sweetness. Leftover chicken curry can be reduced into a thick gravy – cook in a pan over medium high heat for 5-10min – and it tastes great in a wrap. Don’t forget to add grated cheese.”
Likewise, Charlotte suggests cooking certain food items to keep them fresh. “For food like chicken, cooking the meat as soon as possible helps preserve texture and freshness. While some leftovers are lower in nutrition, you can still eat them; ﬁbre will be present in vegetables and fruits even if the vitamins are gone.” The nutritionist has a habit of keeping every bit of her leftovers. “Even if it’s just a bit of rice, vegetable or meat, I’ll keep it. It’s not that hard – put the food in an airtight storage container and pop it in the fridge. I’ll usually make an omelette out of my leftovers or refry them with something else the next day.”
So, no more excuses… leftover?
"Above left: Food is the way to Charlotte’s green heart. Above right: Sarah will have what’s left over. "
Singapore’s first zerowaste store is filled with groceries, household items and zero-waste products such as toothpaste powder and olive oil. How it works: Bring your own container and fill it up with the product you want – the price is determined by weight. Unpackt has two outlets: one at Downtown Gallery, the other at 6 Jalan Kuras. www.facebook.com/ unpackt.sg
"TIP: MAKE LIKE YOUR GRANDMA USED TO AND GO TO THE MARKET WITH YOUR OWN BASKET AND CONTAINERS."
RECYCLING YOUR WARDROBE
Priyanka Shahra, 34, founder and CEO of Swapaholic, faced a challenge when trying to reinvent the concept of swopping clothes: It was the notion that secondhand clothes were torn hand-me-downs, smelly polyester vests or messy ﬂeamart ﬁnds. She knew that swopping clothes, however, was a simple way to reduce consumption. Fashion was the problem, but being fashionable was the way to make her initiative appealing.
“I looked at it through the lens of a social enterprise and thought: ‘How can we take this beautiful concept and make it cool and convenient so everyone wants to partake in it?’” says Priyanka, who also founded and runs One With Earth, a social enterprise that nurtures, supports and develops solution-based initiatives.
She found a way to make her Swapaholic’s Swaps like parties, with food, music, and chic venues like Chjimes and Capella Singapore. How it works: You set a pick-up date online, Swapaholic collects your clothes, inspects them, and assigns points to each item. You use these points to buy other clothes at the Swaps.
“In our ﬁrst Swap back in January 2017 (they’ve done 16 since), it was a real challenge, as people were bringing their junk, but wanting quality clothing. Once we introduced the points system, people became more conscious about what they brought,” she says, adding that they’re in the process of taking everything fully online within the next six months.
“In one Swap we handle around 6,000 garments and have 250300 people. I’m happy to say that at least 70 per cent are repeat Swappers. When we do get people from outside the sustainability community, I take it as a win, as it proves our way of convenient and sustainable consumption is working.”
Priyanka also practises a sustainable lifestyle, a far cry from the days when she used to unnecessarily stock up on goods. “At home, everything is very minimalist. I used to buy two juicers in case the ﬁrst broke, but now I’m more conscious. I really think about whether I need an item and how it will be used in the future. We only use glassware – no more plastic – and my husband is developing a vertical farm in the hope of expanding it and providing fresh, locally grown produce for Singapore consumers by the end of the year.”
Repair Kopitiam is your friendly community “fixer-upper” session, held on the last Sunday of every month in Tampines and Jurong West. If you have a broken appliance, bring it to the session, where it’ll be checked out by Repair Coaches who will assess if it can be saved. Or pick up a new skill and learn to repair the item yourself, with help from the coaches. It’s like a three-in-one: Save money, your item and the environment. www.repairkopitiam.sg
SIGN UP FOR THE NEXT SWAP HAPPENING IN APRIL (LOCATION YET TO BE DISCLOSED) AT: WWW.SWAPAHOLICEVENTS.COM
“I REALLY THINK ABOUT WHETHER I NEED AN ITEM AND HOW IT WILL BE USED IN THE FUTURE.”
Text Natasha Venner-Pack & Hayley Tai Photography Veronica Tay Art Direction Shan Styling Karin Tan Hair & Makeup Jyue Low/ The Make Up Room Outﬁt Bimba Y Lola