Sustainable Living In Singapore

In mid-2018, I got myself a metal straw with a gorgeous chrome lacquer. Because all the cool kids had it, right? However, I didn’t get the hype at all and soon enough, I was ready to revert to my original habits. 

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Then I stumbled upon a report published by the Singapore Environment Council, which revealed that “shoppers in Singapore take 820 million plastic bags from supermarkets each year.” 

I was shook. The statistics made me realise the damage mankind has caused to the environment, and how we’re turning a blind eye to the damage we are inflicting on the environment—all for the sake of convenience.

Together with my family, I began to adopt an environmentally conscious mindset and habits, one step at a time. A year and a half later, I’m proud to say that I now live in a much more sustainable and eco-conscious household.

I acknowledge the reality that making the switch to sustainable living in Singapore isn’t easy. But with baby steps, it is possible. So, here’s my sustainability guide for lazy people, starting from your home. 

1. Use dried tea bags to freshen shoes

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I believe this is a pretty seasoned hack and can vouch that this does wonders. After a few rounds of brewing, tea leaves lose their fragrance and we typically toss the tea bags straight into the trash. If one person drinks a cup of tea a day, the resulting waste is nothing to be sniffed at.

Instead of chucking them immediately, give your tea bags a thorough rinse, let them air dry for at least 48 hours, then pop them in your shoes. Dried tea leaves have a deodorising property, which absorbs any lingering odour in your shoes. You can change these “organic moth balls” once a week to keep your shoes odour-free.

2. Reuse mooncake or gift boxes to store stationery, jewellery or trinkets

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Mooncake boxes are often intricately designed and are extremely sturdy and multi-functional. Whenever we are gifted mooncakes by others, my family members and I repurpose the boxes by turning them into stationery holders, or even to store jewellery and trinkets.

You can do the same with boxes received this festive season and use them as an organiser for the beauty products on your dressing table or socks in your wardrobe.

3. Eat out instead of taking away

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I owe this habit to my mum. Since I was a kid, my mum would either cook at home or force us to dine out as a family, instead of having our dinner to-go. Not only did this give us ample opportunities to bond over meals, it also allowed us to cut years of single-use plastic waste. Despite our busy schedules today, we still do our best to have our meals outside, regardless of whether we eat together, with our own company or alone.

If absolutely necessary, bring your own container, and say ‘no’ to plastic cutlery. 

4. Get skincare from green cosmetic companies

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From shampoo to facial wash, packaging in the beauty industry is often produced at the expense of the environment. But many a time, we tend to overlook it, simply because they are everyday necessities. 

To tackle the problem of plastic waste from cosmetic packaging, companies like Innisfree and Lush have introduced environmental initiatives and policies to help promote sustainability. Innisfree’s Empty Bottle Recycling Campaign is one such initiative, which encourages customers to return bottles of Innisfree skincare products to be recycled. Customers who do so will receive an incentive, like loyalty points, in exchange.

My family supports Innisfree because of its green business initiatives. Since we can deposit the empty packaging when we return to restock our skincare items, we don’t feel it is a hassle at all. And if we can produce less plastic waste and still receive points and discounts, why not support the cause?

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Lush has been practising a green business model since its early days. Today, as part of its ‘Naked Packaging’ policy, about 70% of its products require no packaging, and half of the lot can be brought home without it too. Customers are encouraged to bring their own bag if absolutely necessary.

Also read:

This Sustainable Mahjong Set Is 100% Biodegradable With Fabric Tiles & A Timber-Wood Case

5. Use frayed toothbrushes for cleaning

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Toothbrushes contribute to a ton of plastic waste around the world. People often think that toothbrushes are a single-use item, and toss them away once frayed.

In my household, once our toothbrushes fray or get too old, we use them to clean the rubber lining of our shoes, dust trapped between the keys of our keyboards as well as dirt between tiles and hard-to-reach areas. There are honestly endless ways you can repurpose this universal tool and extend its lifespan to get the most use out of it.

6. Upcycle old clothes

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Refreshing your wardrobe doesn’t have to mean buying new clothes every season. There are many ways to upcycle to give your clothes a new look, including simple techniques such as cropping and restyling. If you’re feeling more crafty, you can even convert a tee into a tote bag, like Heather from Mommypotamus did. 

For some upcycling inspiration, check out Nicole McLaughlin. Once a graphic designer for Reebok, she now professionally customises upcycled statement pieces, like IKEA Sandals.

7. Give clothes away to buy-sell-trade or thrift stores

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If DIY ain’t your strong suit, you can consider giving clothes away to buy-sell-trade or thrift stores like Refash and Loop Garms. In some cases, you’ll be able to receive some form of incentive in return. 

A CBC article published in 2018 uncovered that less than 1% of clothing is recycled in the world. Therefore, I often turn to resale stores to sell my old items as placing a price tag on these articles of clothing reassures me that a committed recipient will prolong its lifespan.

At the end of the day, there’s always the Singaporean auntie’s approach to repurposing unwanted clothes—turning them into a rag.

8. Create a recycling station

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A recycling station serves as a huge visual reminder—especially if you’re recycling rookies. It doesn’t have to be anything massive; a paper bag of an adequate size to store your recyclables will do the trick. I find that it’s crucial to have the station situated somewhere prominent, where most of your household waste is produced. Our bag happens to be stationed atop the kitchen counter.

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So what goes into the bag, you ask? Simply put, anything made of paper, plastic, glass or metal. Plastics are slightly trickier but the general rule of thumb is that single-use plastics that have come into contact with food cannot be recycled. Plastic cutlery are unrecyclable even if unused. They’re too small and as a result, will simply fall through to the bottom when fed into the recycling machine. 

Check out NEA’s list of recyclables and non-recyclables for more information.

Living Sustainably In Singapore

It is important to note that everyone is on their own journey to sustainable living in Singapore, and we all have to start somewhere. Don’t feel pressured to revamp your entire way of living overnight because that is impossible. With baby steps, your collective impact will amount to something significant.

You would notice that there are many external pages attached to this sustainability guide. This is proof that a greener and sustainable Singapore isn’t going to be possible without the effort of every individual in our society. 

Because our convenience today could result in greater inconvenience tomorrow.

This article was first published on 27 December 2019 and last updated on 21 December 2023. 

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