Renewables and Recycling

I tried to reject convenient consumer plastics for 7 days. Here’s how I fared.

Plastic bags, the ones that I thought it is okay to accumulate for the sole excuse of saying, “We need it for the trash”. And why not just keep one more just in case we need it for other purposes?

It has been many years since Singapore has highlighted the issue of reducing the usage of non-biodegradable plastics but limited actions have been taken.

And only in 2015, when my gym cut away the issuance of plastic bags for soiled gym attire did I acknowledge action needs to be taken. But that acknowledgement did not change my personal lifestyle on rejecting plastics.

IKEA also cut away plastic bags years ago, but to me, I found it to be a one-off hindrance of not being able to use plastic bags for my purchases. Did it affect me? Nah. I didn’t shop enough to IKEA to feel any pain. There are so many places to obtain free plastic bags, like the supermarkets, which I admit I took quite freely since they were sitting there at the self-checkout stations.

 

Hitting home that plastics are killing the environment

It was not until some news articles came hitting into my heart. I am sure some of us have seen this horrific picture of the sperm whale which died from ingesting 60 pounds of plastic trash. But hey that’s Spain’s problem, and more recently Thailand’s problem, nothing to do with us.

We don’t really have a trash problem here in Singapore, do we? But Channelnewsasia brought up a great video to highlight 2,500 bags thrown out every 3 seconds! And our only landfill, Pulau Semakau, while increasing capacity to sustain beyond 2035, policies for recycling is still a necessity to extend its usage.

I was just sipping on my favourite regular bubble tea and browsing through Facebook, which a post coincidentally highlight how Taiwan was banning all plastic cups and straws by 2030.

It was only then I realized that change is much needed in battle against the massive use of convenient consumer plastics, not just only bags, but also utensils, cups, straws and the likes.

The 7-day test to reject plastics

Rather than just saying I commit to reject convenient consumer plastics, I decided to do a 7-day recording of my purchases, starting from a Saturday till the next Friday.

In this way, I wanted to see for myself how strong will-powered I was in rejecting plastics. For every purchase that I made, I will record the amount of convenient consumer plastics that I have rejected, as well as I have used.

Cutting away plastic bags, forks, spoons, straws and replacing them with multiple use bags (black and brown on left)

So, whatever that was plastic, be it, plastic forks, spoons, straws, containers or bags, I would say no to accepting them wherever possible.

Here are the results:

Plastics managed to reject Plastics unable to reject Total Plastic items I would have used in a week (including those I rejected)
24 (37%) 41 (63%)

65

*Plastics included forks, spoons, straws, containers and bags. Other items included Styrofoam boxes as well.  

 

Challenges to rejecting plastics

For a conscious effort, I managed 37% of the time to reject plastics, but why not 100%, as some might ask?

 

1. Food and drink items require plastic for packaging

My family and I are suckers for takeaways at food kiosks, which includes the regular consumption of bread, bubble tea, cakes and meat sticks (think kebabs for non-Asians).

For starters, it is near impossible to reject the plastic cups and straws of bubble tea. But for the plastic cups, the bubble tea store has specific measurements and will not be able to accept your own glass cup to make bubble tea. Straws? Well, through friends of mine, I managed to purchase an expensive S$7 (US$5.26) bubble tea straw made out of glass. That’s a start I hope to replace plastic straws.

Replacing bubble tea plastic straws with glass. Drinking with a hard piece takes getting use to, but worth the trouble!

For meat sticks shops, it is also impossible to reject the bag to store the meat sticks as meat sticks are oily and require a bag to hold in the juicy mess as you munch the meat out from the sticks.

One possible rejection of plastics is not accepting the plastic bag, which I have been doing.

 

2. Retail staff are used to a process of freely dishing out plastic bags

In Western countries, I get the usual line of questioning of “Do you need a bag?” when you make a purchase. Over here in Singapore, it is an automated process by the retail staff to pull out the plastic bag first and proceed to scan items into the PoS system without hesitation.

This is especially so at bakeries and supermarkets. When I asked my friendly bakery store (which is a renown chain) why they were so eager to give plastic bags, they shared that they did previously ask whether customers require a plastic bag. Unfortunately, they say in Singapore, customers are very used to the idea of accepting plastic bags, because they require it for their trash. Nevermind if customers could have put the bread in their existing carry bags. They want it for trash.

This is why they aren’t going to argue over issuing plastic bags just to please their customers.

 

3. Drinks makers are also used to putting straws into ice drinks

It might be anecdotal, but I usually order teh-o ping siew dai (ice tea without milk and less sugar) at our regular food hawker joints. Unfortunately, it has become part of the SOP to automatically place a plastic straw just before I can stop the drink maker from putting it in.

Once, I lamented to a drinks maker for putting in a plastic straw into my ice drink, as I brought my glass straw. He lambasted me back saying it is just a small piece of plastic, and not to trouble him to change his process.

So even if you wanted to reject a straw, it ain’t easy to do so.

I brought my glass straw but the plastic one is already inserted into my drink.

4. Forgetting to bring the reusable cloth bags

Often than not, we are very used to a lifestyle of convenience. Now, it takes quite a bit of effort and remembering to bring along the reusable cloth bags to purchase our groceries or shopping. And in all the hassle of grocery shopping, you just grab the plastic bags for easy carrying.

How do I change this bad habit of forgetting my reusable bags? I will buy a new reusable bag, which now I think I have 10 of them. With so many, it now becomes less an excuse to use plastic bags.

 

Let’s encourage each other to change mindsets and save the environment

The 7-day cut plastics test has given me a kickstart in what plastics I could do without. Singapore is quite far behind in the recycling and anti-plastics movement, with Sweden recycling 99% of its waste, or Malaysia aiming to ban plastic bag usage.

While waiting for Singapore government regulations to reduce plastics usage, let’s encourage each other and share best practices in reducing plastics wastage, as I have been doing so speaking with friends and family.

If I could shave off 37% of plastics usage, imagine what impact that would have if everyone did the same at a nation-wide level?