The good thing is that many companies are now recognising that they can make changes to the way they work and make a big positive environmental impact (look at IKEA's sustainability report - you may weep with the amount of effort its putting in). But many companies exist to supply to consumer's demands - that's you and me - so that means that we too have a part to play.
Sometimes people are also turned off by the term 'environmentally-friendly" or "go green". Many, sad to say, are also inflicted with the "let someone else do it" syndrome. There are also misconceptions about being 'eco-friendly' - that it is expensive or inconvenient.
We can't run away from the fact that the state of this planet we live on is far worse than it was when we were born. And much of that is due to human activity. But we can all do something about it, in both big and small ways. In Singapore, we are far behind in many things when it comes to sustainability, but we are getting there not so slowly, and very surely. And with more people on board, the process can only be sped up!
Folks, I'm sharing all this because in the course of my work, I've been exposed to some of this in greater depth. For many of these things, I just didn't know better. But like a disturbing image that you cannot unsee once you have seen, there are some things that you just have to correct once you know you've been doing it wrong, or have the chance to make better. It's not something that's happening 'far away', but right here, in our everyday lives.
So with that, here are 100 things that you can do almost immediately, to make this world (yours and mine, thank you very much) a better one for all to live in. All of these things are easily doable. Most of them will save you money. Many of them, you're probably doing anyway! None of them will get you called a hippie, nor involve you doing anything remotely silly or embarrassing.
Remember: Small changes can add up to big impacts!
At home in general
1. Turn switches off when not in use - lights, fans, aircon, TV, oven. That saves energy and money
2. Set the aircon temperature to comfortable level. If you're bundling yourself up in winter wear, that's a sign it's too cold.
3. Draw the curtains when your air on is on in the day. Your room will cool faster and your air con will not need to work as hard
4. Service your appliances regularly - it saves money in the long run. Our air con units get serviced twice a year and most times, they are set on 27 degrees, at one bar.
5. Unfinished water from water bottles can be used to water plants or added to the washing machine.
6. Recycle! Toilet rolls and envelopes our junk mail come in can all go into the recycling bag! So can milk cartons and juice cartons (rinse them before) as well as plastic containers that your ta-pao dinner comes in. We have a regular spot in the house where we put all our recyclables and when the bag is full, we bring it down to the recycling bin. Recycling bins are everywhere now! Singapore is aiming to reach the recycling target of 70% by 2030! Source. To be honest, I think we need all the help we can get!
7. Reuse! We try to give everything another use before we throw them out - Cereal boxes make great file organisers, milk and juice cartons work well as plant pots for smaller plants like kitchen herbs, honey jars make great paint brush holders
8. Buy energy saving bulbs. They may cost more but last much longer.
9. Do the laundry in full batches
10. If you have babies or young children who like baths in their little plastic tubs, used bath water can be collected and poured in the washing machine
11. Sweep instead of using Magiclean wipes which get thrown away after each use.
In the kitchen
12. Use the water from rinsing vegetables to water plants
13. Label leftovers so that you don't throw out food. Leftover meats can be used in pastas, salads and used to garnish vegetable dishes
14. Plant your own vegetables! If you have a garden, fantastic! If not, you can still plant herbs at the window sill! Plant them straight from seeds, or buy grown plants from Cold Storage or the wet market.
15. Freeze meats in small portions and as flat as possible (instead of in lumps). They'll freeze faster and defrost faster
16. Cook rice in big portions. We always cook double portions so that we can keep half in the fridge for the next meal
17. Save your drink cans from the trash - we put them aside and bring them to the hawker centre. There are always folks there collecting them (they bring them to recycle and get a bit of money from there). If we happen not to meet any, we'll leave them next to a recycling bin, and most times, someone will pick them up.
18. Think about what you want from the fridge before you open the door - leaving the fridge door open for a longer period of time makes the fridge work harder to cool down again
19. Install a thimble in your tap - it regulates the flow of water. Don't have one? Get one for free from PUB here.
20. Use cloth towels instead of paper towels to wipe up spills
21. Start a compost bin - it's really easy, and your food scraps (vegetables only, no meats or bones) will be reused to nourish your plants! You can do it even with very little space - we live in a small 3-room apartment and we have a compost bin. How to create a compost bin for small apartments here or here. Tip: We prefer putting it in an open area rather than enclosed, simply because of our climate - being enclosed can cause smells and smells can bring pests. No plants? I bet your neighbours will appreciate some compost. I promise you: our plants flourish each time we add compost to the soil.
In the bathroom
22. Take quick showers. I'm in and out in 3 minutes. I try to get my kids to speed-shower too. 750 million people in the world lack access to clean drinking water. It just doesn't seem right that we abuse shower times. Source.
23. Turn the water off while you soap and shampoo instead of letting the water run. Bet you remember gasping when you learnt that our Prime Minister's childhood home didn't have a shower until 2003 (up till then, it was a scoop and an earthern jar). Source.
24. Brush your teeth using a mug and don't let the water run while you gurgle and rinse.
Out and about
25. It's a great city to be carless in! About 3 million people take the bus and train every day. Source. Affordable? Check. Clean? Check. Reliable? I'd say check (comparing to other countries), but you might disagree.
26. Bring your own water bottle so that you won't have to buy bottled water. Refill anywhere - Tap water is ok to drink in Singapore!
27. Bring your own container (tingkats, anyone?) when you 'tapao' food from eateries. Don't be shy to pack leftovers either.
28. Use reusable plates and cups on picnics. We like IKEA's affordable range of children's plastic plates, cups and cutlery. Designate a colour per person!
29. Skip coffee stirrers at coffee joints; use the spoon instead.
30. If you bring your lunch to work, use a reusable container instead of a disposable one
If you drive - More fuel saving tips here.
Vehicle owners - There are about 1 million cars in Singapore! Source.
31. Don't leave your car idle while waiting - turn the engine off. You won't waste fuel and the air will be cleaner around
32. Service your car regularly - faulty items can affect fuel consumption!
33. Remove unnecessary items from your trunk so you won't have excess weight (which leads to higher fuel consumption)
34. Use your GPS instead of driving around saying "But I know the way!"
35. Hybrid cars aren't widely available in Singapore, but you can still rent one when you travel!
36. Bring your own bag when you go marketing. The plastic bags from the fishmonger, pork seller and chicken guy are probably going to be wet and never reused or recycled anyway.
37. Buy bigger packs of necessities to cut down on packaging wastage. For example, buy 1-litre packs of fruit juice instead of a set of 6 small packs. Buy a 5kg pack of rice instead of a 1kg one. Can't carry it all? Online shopping helps! Honestbee offers a reasonable rate!
38. Don't be afraid to buy second hand stuff. Hock Siong sells reasonably priced second hand furniture and you can get some steals from the Salvation Army thrift shop
39. Reduce! Reduce the number of things you buy - The less we buy, the less packaging we'll have to throw.
40. Buy refills. Pens, detergents, shampoos, shower gels.
41. Buy local - it travels less to get to you. Less travel means less fumes and carbon emissions from the transport it could have had to take. We may not have many farms in Singapore, but you can get a decent range of vegetables from Singapore and Malaysia at NTUC Fairprice.
42. Buy rechargable stuff. Like batteries.
43. Buy used books - Bras Besar Complex has lots of second-hand book store, and the National Library Board holds a book fair annually (it just passed! I got 25 books at $2 each!)
Office / home office - for more ideas on how to make your office eco-friendly, see Project Eco-Office, an initiative by the Singapore Environment Council.
44. Use paper on both sides. We keep junk mail for the kids to scribble on
45. Go paperless - switch to paperless bills. Opt for e-tickets or mobile tickets for shows and even plane tickets (that way you also won't have to worry about losing them). Read the news online.
46. Turn your computers completely off (not just put them on sleep mode) for the night and save energy. Office folks, are you guilty of this?
47. Set computers to sleep mode if inactive after half an hour
48. Before you print, think: Do you really need to print it? Is it just going to be filed away, never to be seen again? Need to share documents? Use Google Docs instead! And if you really do, print on both sides. When printing PowerPoint slides, opt for printing more slides on a page.
49. Use paper clips instead of staplers - paper clips are reusable and recyclable, stapler bullets/wires are not. And hey, there are also stapleless staplers!
Involving the kids
50. Start reading books about the environment, pollution, recycling, Earth Day and eco-consciousness to them to raise their awareness.
51. Use items from the recycling bag to create crafts.
52. Make recycling a way of life and get them involved. It's really nice hearing your 3-year old tell you "That goes in the recycling bin!"
53. TV always appeals to kids - Watch "The Lorax"!
54. Donate old clothes or do a clothing swap with friends.
In fact, you can just about donate anything. Check out Pass It On - you can see what various underprivileged families need and donate your preloved things to them.
55. Use recycled paper instead of wrapping paper for presents.
56. Cancel junk mail
57. Make use of social media - "Follow" a well-known celebrity who's openly eco-conscious; who knows, you might feel motivated to do more! (Jennifer Aniston takes 2-minute showers and brushes her teeth in the shower!)
58. Borrow. If there's something that you need but will only use once or for a limited period of time, ask around if someone can lend it to you temporarily.
59. Quit annual planners and calenders - we have all these functions on our phones anyway
60. Tell someone about any one (or more) of these tips and get them to change to! The more, the merrier!
Disclaimer: References to IKEA are genuine and unsponsored, but slightly influenced by the period when Writer was employed at IKEA. Writer is a regular person with a regular job with regular kids and is married to Captain Planet.