Low hanging fruit: 3 simple suggestions to REDUCE single-use plastics

(This post is part of the Sustainable Living series)

As I do not want to be accused of not giving constructive criticism or not offering suggestions for action, this is a follow-up to my earlier essay. There will NOT be any mention of recycling, since most of it amounts to feel-good greenwashing (see my earlier post).

1. Partial plastic ban in ecologically-sensitive areas like waterfronts and nature reserves

Time to get serious about reducing pollution. As a first principle, disposables should be BANNED in ecologically-sensitive areas. Businesses operating in East Coast Park, Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, the reservoirs and along the Kallang and Singapore rivers should not give out plastic bags or use disposable utensils. Only certified biodegradable materials may be used for packaging and eating.

Park visitors might be bringing their own plastics, but businesses should not add to the litter problem. See the East Coast Park hawker centre for how NOT to do it: the use of disposable plates and cutlery is even higher than a typical hawker centre. Due to strong wind, when the plastics are not disposed of quickly enough, they get blown around easily and enter the environment.

All vending machines should be removed. Instead, install water coolers / dispensers as noted below.

2. Public buildings should be required to install water coolers / dispensers

To reduce the current plague of single-use bottles, cans and cups, provide more drinking points. They should be located outside toilets to tap into the piped water supply. Water coolers with a plastic barrel water supply should NOT be used. This will obviously impact profits, so there needs to be legislation on minimum number of water coolers per N square metres.

Providing water coolers will also help with the “healthy lifestyle campaign” to wean people off sweetened beverages. Encourage drinking of free, zero-calorie plain water with no artificial additives instead!

Places where water coolers should be mandatory

  • All MRT stations and all bus interchanges. Drinking points should be a basic amenity for the thirsty commuter in a hurry. Anyway, if we are not allowed to drink from our own water bottles, an alternative should be provided.
  • Community clubs / centres, no matter how small. Since they have sports facilities, free drinking water should also be provided for health and safety reasons.
  • Public sports facilities like stadiums and swimming pools, for health and safety reasons as stated.
  • Public libraries, including shopping centre libraries with no internal toilets. The nearest toilet in the shopping centre should have one installed.
  • “Front desk” government offices e.g. Immigration, CPF, etc. This is a basic service for the visitor who may need to queue or wait for their appointment.
  • Public parks, gardens and nature reserves. There should not be any trash-generating vending machines. Provide water points instead. See suggestion #1 above.
  • Zoo, Night/River Safari, Bird Park, Gardens By The Bay. As conservation-promoting sites, this should be a no-brainer. The water points also need to be prominently placed, signposted and easily accessible.
  • Museums and exhibitions.
  • Theatres e.g. Esplanade, especially those where food and drinks are not allowed inside.

Secondary objectives

This will probably only happen if mandated by law e.g. 1 water cooler per N square metres of floor space.

  • Commercial event spaces e.g. convention centres: places where lots of people gather
  • Private schools, enrichment centres, tuition centres: places where people are there for a long time
  • Shopping centres.

3. Charge for takeaways

All right, I get it. You just don’t want to introduce a plastic bag charge, even though various MPs and groups have pushed for it time and again, and many other countries have shown that it works.

At least get more businesses to charge for takeaway containers, as many hawkers do.

Also, don’t come up with asinine ideas like forcing hawkers to use disposables (see newspaper excerpts below). Try cutting a pork chop with a plastic knife!

More posts in the Sustainable Living series:

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