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Getting rid of society’s throwaway culture
Single use paper, styrofoam and plastic products are a huge challenge for the environmental cause. How can we reduce their use?
by Vaidehi Shah, Projects Manager, Singapore Environment Council
They are thin, fragile and don’t weigh more than a few grams each, but plastic bags are regarded as one of the biggest threats to the environment today. They are symbols of the way in which the by-products of our everyday lives—that we accept so readily when we need them, and casually discard when they have served their purpose—affect the environment. The pictures of marine life choking on plastic bags and pristine beaches littered with colourful, soggy rubbish that are frequently utilised in awareness campaigns to reduce the unnecessary use of plastic bags are the tip of the iceberg where non-biodegradable plastic waste is concerned. 
Plastic bags are symptomatic of a much larger problem of a “disposable culture”, characterised by a rise in the consumption of single-use products, often made of plastic and paper. Plastic bags, plastic cutlery, paper towels and disposable food containers are just a few of the things that make our life more convenient, but unfortunately, also more harmful to the environment. 
Not only can this disposable culture be linked directly to its impact on oceans and marine life, the amount of resources that go into producing these single-use products and then incinerating, landfilling or recycling them is astonishingly high. The greenhouse gas emissions resulting from this sector are proportionately high. 
There is much that can and needs to be done at all levels of society—governments, corporations and individuals alike. Debates on plastic bag taxes and bans, the proliferation of reusable bags in supermarkets, and community-driven campaigns to encourage people to rethink the need for plastic bags are just some examples. 
The Singapore Environment Council (SEC) is embarking on a nationwide study to understand the attitudes and motivations that shape consumer behaviour towards plastic bags—through surveys, focus group discussions and in-depth interviews. SEC hopes to present a comprehensive set of conclusions on the reasons that the use of plastic bags continues to persist, the uses of plastic bags that are valid and necessary, and put forth a set of recommendations on how to minimise wastage, and excessive usage of plastic bags. 
Even as this study on plastic bag usage progresses, here are a few timely tips on how we can minimise the usage of plastic bags, and other disposable plastic and paper products in our daily lives. 
1) Fewer products, less packaging: Everyday products such as food, toiletries and even clothes come in a wide variety of packaging. Look for products that make a conscious effort to use recyclable, or recycled materials for packaging. Some brands offer refills for their products, while many have take-back schemes for empty packaging, to encourage customers to think twice about simply disposing what they buy. Support businesses that focus on minimising packaging waste. 
2) Eat green at work: Workday schedules can be busy, often resulting in employees having to grab quick breakfasts and lunches on-the-go. Paper coffee cups with plastic lids, Styrofoam lunch boxes and disposable wooden chopsticks are the norm for a large percentage of office workers in Singapore and the region. If you fall into this category, consider substituting these disposable receptacles for Tupperware boxes, ceramic mugs or water bottles. Carry your own thermos or lunchboxes to your nearest cafeteria the next time you need to buy a takeaway lunch; you can start even smaller by simply keeping a set of steel cutlery at your desk, thereby eliminating your use of disposable forks, spoons and chopsticks. 
3) Keep reusable bags handy: One of the most commonly cited reasons for people using plastic bags is that they often do not have reusable bags on hand when making unscheduled trips to the supermarket. An easy way around this is to try and keep a reusable bag handy at all times. 
SEC would love to hear about your experience of trying to shift away from the “disposable culture”—initiatives and products that inspire you, creative ways that you have repurposed items, and what motivates you to invest that extra time and effort into going Green. Do share your thoughts and ideas with us over at Facebook, at https://www.facebook.com/SingaporeEnvironmentCouncil, or by tweeting to us @SECSingapore.



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