5Rs of Zero Waste: Step 2 - REDUCE

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Step 2: REDUCE

Buy less, choose well, make it last.
— Vivienne Westwood

Previously, we talked about REFUSE, the first step of working towards a zero waste lifestyle. It entails saying no to the things you don't really need – plastic bags & straws, junk mail, disposable cutlery, and even those free cotton shopping bags brands and shops give out (read why those are bad, here). 

The next step, is to REDUCE what you do need.  Reducing consumption is not only about eliminating plastic from our lives, but anything that is single use or has poor quality design to only last a short period of time. 

This step calls for a reflection of what are the things essential to our daily lives; the need and use of past, present, and future purchases. Taking into consideration the realities of your family life, financial situation, etc, it is important that you are aware of your current consumption habits, and reduce unsustainable ones or finding alternatives where possible. Reducing results in a simplified lifestyle that allows you to focus on quality over quantity and experiences versus stuff. Over time, you get better at purchasing stuff that have longer life span, and choosing to buy things that you can reuse/repurpose to extend its usage period.

Taking some cues from minimalists around the world, here are some ideas on how we can kickstart conscious living and scale back on consumption:

1) Declutter your home

The answer is letting go of unnecessary stuff. Focus on the stuff you truly love, and donate the rest. Easier said than done, but truly liberating. Go through your kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, wardrobe, especially your wardrobe. 80% of the stuff we own, we only use 20% of the time, and only 20% of what we have, we use most of the time.

Cluttered places unnecessary stress on our subconscious or conscious depending on your personality type. Organization isn’t the answer. The answer is letting go of unnecessary stuff. Focus on the stuff you truly love, and donate the rest. By having less stuff you have more time to focus on the stuff that matters. By whittling the number down you can focus more on the ones you truly love. You can make sure that you can focus your attention on keeping your belongings in the best shape possible.

2) Choose natural FIbReS

Perhaps it is little known how synthetic fabric impacts our environment. Likewise with all plastic material, it does not biodegrade. The microfibres that detaches from our synthetic clothing, enters our water ways and ultimately in the ocean. These microfibres, which don't biodegrade, is then consumed by plankton and fishes. This means, at the end of the day, the fibres may end up on our dinner plates! Choosing natural fibres like cotton, silk, and linen, will greatly reduce the microfibres that enter our oceans. I'm not saying throw out ALL your clothes and cleaning tools that are made with synthetic material right now. Us them till the end of their lifespan and replace with items made with natural fibres - i.e. sponges/brushes made with natural materials instead of plastic; cotton/linen/silk over polyester.

3) Buy produce from your local wet market, and PANTRY ITEMS in bulk

Shopping at your neighbourhood wet markets means you avoid excessively packaged produce. Who needs bananas individually film wrapped?? A whole hand of bananas for me please! Bring your own reusable bags and produce bags for a completely zero waste wet market shopping experience.

Buying in bulk may be a relatively new concept to most of us. We've been conditioned to shop at supermarkets where everything is pre-packed in plastic according to "industry standards". Nuts, grains, seeds, peppercorns, pasta, all come in pre-packed portions. Sometimes you find yourself a little short, other times, a little overstock. Shopping at bulk stores help train your culinary prowess when it comes to portioning. Over time, you'll master buying only what you know you'll use/finish. Bulk shopping is not unheard of in Singapore. We have bulk stores in Chinatown, Little India, and in various wet markets across the island, where mostly the older generation like to shop at, but the majority of our population still prefer doing their shopping in supermarkets for convenience. Hopefully, in no time, more bulk stores will open up, making it a lot more convenient for shoppers to consider building zero waste bulk shopping habits, in place of buying prepackaged items from supermarkets. 

4) Stop stockpiling Stationery

Every little bit accumulates. This applies even to things as mundane as stationery. We hardly ever think much about them, but I'm pretty sure we all are stationery hoarders. We bring home pens from events and hotels and buy new ones even before we've emptied the cartridges of the ones we have.

Not-so-fun fact: The U.S. produces 2 billion pens a year. That's a massive amount of plastic that enters our waste stream, where the majority probably never reaching the end of the product lifecycle.

How do you cut down on something so essential? Choose refillable options (e.g. fountain pens) or stationery made with recyclable material, refuse free pens, or use digital note books.

5) Eliminate food waste

Buy only what you can finish. In Asian culture, a table filled with dish after dish is a sign of prosperity. While that might be a blessing to feast on a spread, it often ends up in a mountain of unfinished food. Wasted resources, in any form, is always a strain on our natural environment. 

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If you are starting to declutter, instead of throwing the items out, here are some avenues you could consider to either properly dispose of the recyclables and non-recyclables, or donate to with the purpose of extending the item's use.

1) Karung Guni
If you grew up in any HDB estate in Singapore, you'd probably remember the iconic horn and chant signalling the presence of a friendly Karung Guni man in the neighbourhood. They typically collect furniture, electronics, home appliances, paper, plastic, metal, textiles, anything that has resale value. According to NEA, by far, these Karung Gunis have been more efficient at recycling than any national recycling program. From 2016-2017, Karung Gunis collected nearly nine times more waste compared to national efforts.
2) SG Free Recycle (Facebook group)
This is a community driven group for giveaways. Bless another soul with items you feel you've exhausted but are still in decent condition. There will be someone who would be grateful for your retired gifts. Highly recommended, and immensely gratifying knowing your stuff would be put to good use by someone else. 
3) Salvation Army 
Donate pre-loved items or new items to any one of their Donation In Kind booths listed on their website. Red Shield Industries processes the donated items and retails those that are in good condition at the Salvation Army Family Stores located across Singapore. It is a great way to recycle clothing, furniture, household goods, electronic devices, toys and books, while helping those in need.
4) Carousell
A local online marketplace for items pre-loved or new. It is a simple tool to sell the clutter in your life and make a quick buck at the same time. If you don't mind handling a little negotiations, and the occasional low-ballers, it is an excellent way to rid unwanted items.


Leave a comment if you'd like to share some of your own tricks for reducing consumption.
Read about the other Rs of zero waste living here.