Sustainability is a large and complex issue. Even as someone who is actively involved in the movement, I often get lost amongst the dense information that exists. Luckily for you, I’ve waded through the hundred different tips on how to live more sustainably and plucked out 5 important tips (I’m going to call them my ~ Sustainable Life Rules ~) I believe are easy to incorporate into your lifestyle while making considerable headway to a greener future.
Disclaimer: Let us not overlook the corporate and governmental responsibility whose efforts, or lack thereof, have left us in a system where using renewable energy is more expensive than it needs to be and purchasing sustainably sourced goods isn’t the norm. Yet, we shan’t be disheartened as we continue making our own small strides towards a sustainable future. Collectively, we won’t be able to do enough to completely reverse the effects of climate change but our contributions will be enough to demand a change in the system.
Now, let’s get into the 5 ~ Sustainable Life Rules ~
1. A MUST: Use Public Transportation, Cycle or Walk
No better way to say no to oil-based cars than by using public transport - it is far more affordable than driving, just as convenient and significantly better for the planet. On top of that, ALL Singapore public buses will be hybrid (run on both electricity and diesel) or electric by 2040. When possible, cycle or walk! It’s free and promotes healthy living so you’ll be getting your daily exercise while helping the planet. However, if driving is essential to your lifestyle, try investing in a hybrid or electric vehicle. Options are currently limited and are quite pricey in Singapore but hopefully will become the main choice of private vehicle in the coming years.
2. Don’t switch on the Air Conditioning and instead, open your windows!
It seems like such a simple thing to do but it helps regulate your internal house temperature without the need to constantly run your air conditioning. Additionally, it helps improve air circulation and quality, especially at night when cool air is blown in. By using your air conditioning less, you can save electricity AND money!
3. Eat less meat and more plant-based products
Roughly 14.5% of global greenhouse gases come from livestock. ⅔ of that percentage is solely from cattle (because they release methane which has the warming potential of 85x that of carbon dioxide, yikes!). By reducing our consumption of meat and cattle-based products, we can help curb methane emissions while also lowering our risk of developing certain illnesses and many types of cancer.
Going vegetarian or vegan isn’t for everybody and that’s completely ok! But taking steps to cut down your meat intake isn’t as bad as it seems either. I went from being the person who ate a burger at every meal to not eating meat at all! The trick is to not deprive yourself of your cravings. If you want a burger, there are plenty of veggie-based options and we should definitely take advantage of it. Plus, plant-based milk (E.g. almond milk, oat milk, soy milk) is virtually everywhere now. They have a much lower carbon footprint as compared to dairy and also require less water.
I highly recommend visiting farmers’ markets to purchase fresh produce that’s been organically grown - say bye to harmful pesticides and other toxic pollutants. Some popular ones in Singapore include Kranji Countryside Farmers’ Market, Sprout, Open Farm Community’s Social Market and the Farmers’ Market at Loewen Gardens.
4. ALWAYS consider secondhand before buying something new
By reusing already existing items, we reduce the need to source raw materials for production which would further exploit our natural resources. But my favourite thing about secondhand items is that they are often cheaper and just as good or better quality than brand new items! However, the main takeaway is to Only. Buy. What. You. REALLY. Need. Ponder over an item for 1-2 weeks to see if it is a necessity. Trade items you no longer need to compensate for what you are about to buy.
Sites like Depop, Carousell and ThredUp are good places to search for secondhand clothing. Visit local thrift stores (like MINDS, Salvation Army etc) for clothing and other products (usually home decor and furniture). If secondhand stores and online sites don’t turn up what you’re looking for, look into sustainable brands (if you don’t know where to start or are afraid of supporting brands that greenwash, I’ll be writing a resource with some of my favourite affordable and sustainable brands).
5. Decrease your Waste
Waste contributes to a significant portion of greenhouse gases. Food waste alone is responsible for 6-8% of total greenhouse gas emissions. Not only does it directly impact global warming but it also causes air pollution, water and soil contamination. In Singapore, the average household disposes of 1.5kg of waste everyday, accumulating to 1.76 million tonnes in 2020, according to NEA. Food waste is responsible for half of the waste collected.
So how do we decrease how much waste we dispose of? Well, it’s a lot harder than it seems. Firstly, we need to be more mindful of what we are actually throwing away. As the phrase goes, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. If you don’t know where to cut down on your waste, make a note on everything you’re throwing away for a couple of weeks and tally up your findings. Statistically, the largest single composition of waste is food waste. Of which, organic food waste can be composted. If you don’t have a community garden or aren’t a plant parent, here are some places you can bring your food scraps to in order to avoid sending your food waste to Trash Island aka Pulau Semakau:
- Neighbourhood Community Gardens:
- Pavilion’s Edible & Biodiversity Garden: Located near Bukit Gombak
- Carlisle Oasis Garden: Located in the Moulmein-Cairnhill Region
- Petals, Greens and Friends: Located near Buona Vista
- Foodscape Collective SG recently launched Project Black Gold, their community food scrap composting project which currently operates in Bukit Gombak and Jurong Lake Gardens. However, they provide guides for anyone interested in starting their own composting project in their neighbourhood.
- Foodscrapers near you! Foodscape Collective SG has also created a map of food scrapers, compost makers and others involved in composting efforts in Singapore. Do your part in reducing waste by using this resource to find someone near you who would love to collect your food scraps!
If you’re looking to challenge yourself, try composting at home. NParks has a guide to help you begin your composting journey.
Beyond food waste, you can reduce your disposals by repairing what is broken instead of throwing it away, recycle and repurpose materials that are still in good condition, donate old (but still functional) clothing, furniture etc and bring reusable cups, plates and straws to reduce single-use plastic waste. My favourites are the collapsible cups and bowls from Stojo and you can get a metal straw from The Sustainability Project.
~ Take A Nature Break ~
I always say: to save nature you must love nature. Doing these 5 steps are a small way to show your appreciation for the world. Try spending more time outdoors. It may not be direct action in tackling climate change but it reminds you to live more sustainably by allowing yourself to appreciate an immersion in nature.
Written by Zara Shilakis