5Rs of Zero Waste: Step 1 - REFUSE


Step 1: Refuse

Imagine a typical work day in Singapore:

You wake up, get ready for work. Walk out to your nearest Kopitiam and order your morning coffee that comes in a plastic cup/bag and straw. You take the train to your office, and along the way, you walk by about 10 promoters with flyers and you take at least 1 of the handouts. At lunch, you're trying to eat light and healthy, so you order a salad and a fruit juice. These come in disposable containers and cutlery, and yet another plastic cup & straw. You've made it through the work day, now it's time for grub. Some days you take away, some days you decide to cook so you go to the local supermarket and buy your groceries. In scenario 1, you'd have a plastic take away container, more cutlery, all in a plastic bag. In scenario 2, veggies that come wrapped in a plastic film, meat wrapped in cling wrap, fruits individually wrapped in plastic (why, i can never fathom), all double bagged at the cashier.

At the end of just ONE day, your plastic/junk count is: 18
In a year, you'd have consumed approximately 4,770 pieces of plastic/junk. Almost all of which has ended up in the trash.

By refusing just 2 items – plastic bags and plastic straws – from the equation, your "contribution" to plastic waste would drop to 12 a day. Take another step further, by dining-in more instead of getting takeaways, and this "contribution" drops to just 4 pieces a day. That's 1,060 plastic items over a year, an 80% drop from the initial figure. Amazing, isn't it?

Swap these to reusable options instead.

Swap these to reusable options instead.

The waste we generate ultimately come from outside the home. In order to reduce the amount of waste we generate, we need to stop bringing waste into our homes. Do you really need a plastic bag from 7-11 to put that Potong ice-cream that's already wrapped in plastic which you're going to eat immediately? Or that free pen you got for signing up for an insurance/credit card mailing list at a roadshow? Do you feel like you're doing the "auntie" handing out flyers a favour by taking one from her? 

Every little thing that we accept, or take, creates a demand to make more.
Here are four areas worth reconsidering:

Single-use Plastics
This includes disposable plastic bags, straws, cutlery, cups, lids, bottles, and so on. I can't emphasize enough the plastic devastation these single-use plastics cause on our planet (read more here). By actively refusing these single-use items, we can contribute to reducing the demand for manufacturing them and inspiring creativity in finding more sustainable alternatives.

These include the countless pens and memorabilia given out freely at conferences and meetings, and the mini bottles of shampoo/conditioner/soap/lotion from hotels. I know these are really tempting to take home, 'cos well, they're free, and (somewhat) useful. But honestly, how many of us have boxes of these freebies from 5 years ago that we know we'll never finish using? I had a whole shelf of those. *insert sheepish emoji*

Junk Mail/Flyers
I hate these. Without lifting a finger or signing up for anything, these mailers magically appear in our mailboxes everyday. They aren't pretty, usually printed with cheap ink, means they're dusty/dirty. How to opt-out of these advertising mailers that appear in your mailbox in Singapore? 

You'd always hear people reason, "It's already printed/made/manufactured, it'll be such a waste not to take it.", or "It wouldn't make a difference if I didn't take it". While the individual act of refusing does not make the waste disappear, it creates a demand for alternatives, encouraging manufacturers and brands to think about more sustainable ways in which they could reach out to consumers.

Refusing is a concept based on the power of collectivity; even though it could be argued that manufacturers are the root cause of the plastic pollution because they produce the single use items in the first place, these companies are not going to stop without a bit of convincing by consumers. And we do that by refusing these plastics. Eventually, it wouldn’t make sense to produce them. 

Read about the other Rs of zero waste living here.