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Archive for May, 2019

I have been following the on-going diplomatic spat on the problem of illegal trash smuggling. Happening so close to home, Malaysia (and Philippines too) has brought to light container loads of waste that has been smuggled into the country from other developed countries of the world under the guise of “recyclable plastics”. Some are contaminated, some are just trash that are not recyclable. And besides, the sheer load of actual recyclable plastics from all over the world is just too much for the recycling plants to cope.

 

It really is food for thought. Plastics, which has become so pervasive in our daily lives that we hardly stop to think anymore.

As I type this, I think of that little mountain of plastic that is built up in my home from all the containers gotten from buying fruits, mushrooms and groceries in general from our local supermarket, NTUC. And while we make it a point to wash and recycle them, where do they eventually end up? Do they really get recycled and processed to plastic pellets to be made into ‘new’ plastic products? That is the lesser evil and we feel a bit better knowing we put them into the recycling bin. But in truth how much actually goes through that process? While how much becomes contaminated that will be incinerated with general waste (and end up in our landfill)?

 

At the end of the day, is recycling really the solution? And is there a way to rethink how we could reduce plastic waste beyond recycling? Too many questions and there are already solutions out there but due a simple word we are not quite doing it yet. That word is Convenience. Just focusing on eating… It is convenient to use styrofoam plates and disposable cutlery in a hawker centre because washing is a chore. It is inconvenient to bring your own container to tabao food, because you have to wash it out after. Who has the time we say. It is more convenient to buy a pack of disposable plastic plates and cutlery when you throw a party at home, you don’t even have to worry about washing up after!

Ironically, we don’t have to look to far back in time to find solutions to some of these problems. Remember a time when the only place to get vegetables were in wet markets and vegetables were bundled into old newspapers? Or milk was not sold in cartons but glass jars that could be returned once empty to be reused?

 

I have been having such conversations more often among friends now and while all this sounds very bleak, I am glad that most of us are more aware of such environmental issues. Because it all starts with awareness right?

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You won’t believe how controversial it can be to start charging for shopping bags in Singapore. Until you do it.

I work part-time at independent bookstore Woods in the Books and since Earth Day this year, we have started charging for our fresh paper bags. I must admit the price is on the steep side at $1… but we also provide an alternative, we have started collecting used paper bags from our customers to be reused for customers who no need something fancy, just one to carry their books home.

Since then, we have had some very encouraging comments. Just the other day I had a customer comment that this environmental-consciousness is not so common in Singapore and by doing this, we provide a little reminder to our customers. She thanked us for doing something like that. It is nice to have conversations like these.

But whenever I do cashier-ing, I feel a little nervous each time I have to explain the $1 charge, unsure of the customer’s response. Because for every one customer who is supportive of what we are doing, another is disgruntled. In mild cases they will complain that the $1 is too much for a paper bag (“it is not even plastic.”) Sometimes angry even, “I have already spent so much, surely you can throw in a free paper bag.” My colleague told me one customer even said “this charge is ironic since you are selling books!” (Books are made of more paper than paper bags.) Well, you can see things that way I guess.

(And you can argue to really go green we should be going paperless, maybe switch to ebooks. On that note, I have just borrowed a few ebooks from the library but the reading experience is completely different. I may be biased, but I still like my physical books, and I see value in the use of those paper to print a physical book.)

I will end with a question: What do you do with all those bags you get during shopping? If the answer is “the bags are left unused and piled up in my home”, then I have a solution for you: come, come donate them to our bookstores to give them a second life. 🙂

 

PS: these are my own personal views and do not necessarily reflect the views of the bookstore.

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