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Green Talk

Interview with Treedots

Started out by Jiacai, Nicholas, and Tylor, Treedots was formed with the mission of minimising food waste. This is achieved through a self-sustaining ecosystem by aggregating F&B businesses on different points of the value chain. Hence, ensuring that there is no longer a need to dispose of perfectly edible food. Plus, did you know they are Asia first online outlet mall for food?

Curious as to how and why they started out and what their future plans are?

Read the full interview as answered by  Treedot’s COO, Nicholas!

 

TSP: What inspired you to start TreeDots?

N: All three founders in TreeDots have different reasons that pushed us to drop all our current jobs to begin TreeDots.

Personally, for me, I would say my main inspiration came from my trip to Europe where I noticed that there was always this corner in their local supermarts where food products are deeply discounted – we are talking about 50 pence a quarter leg kind of cheap here! After probing around a little more, I then noticed that these food products were all due to be thrown away in a matter of days and hence were discounted to clear them out before they finally become inedible. That really ignited the idea in my head, especially after I found out that the industry norm in Singapore is that 6 months before expiry is considered expired.

 

TSP: Can you tell us a few challenges you faced when launching TreeDots Singapore? 

N: I would say the toughest part at the start was getting people, especially the sellers, to realise that this is an issue. The F&B industry in Singapore/Asia is extremely traditional and comfortable in whatever they have been doing. Getting them to put aside resources to allocate such undesirables provides little additional value to their company. Thinking of a way to align their business needs with our social mission was thence vital to get this movement going, and the amount of resistance faced while doing so was incredible – one of our founders got spat on while pitching the idea, some called the cops on us for trespassing, etc. Buyers were unsure too and we had to constantly assure them, or think of new marketing strategies to further spread awareness that TreeDots products are perfectly good products too!

Of course, once that was out of the way, logistics then became our greatest concern. Breaking bulks into more consumable sizes means inventory, having specific delivery timings means proper scheduling…the entire operations plan was a nightmare and nothing could really be fixed at the start since we were all new to the F&B scene. It was only after when we truly understood the industry then we managed to set some standard operating procedures in place.

 

TSP: Since the launch of the organisation, what is the general response from the public?

N: I would say responses from the public had been pretty mixed thus far, we have gotten people who are totally against the entire idea and think that blemished products are inedible but we have also gotten people who are fully supportive of it and shop with us on a consistent basis. I would say, it will definitely take awhile and loads of educating before there would be widespread acceptance of TreeDots products. We do see huge support from all the various green communities in Singapore, trying hard together with us to promote the zero waste culture. A lot of work still needs to be done before we reach there!

 

TSP: Can you share with us a few statistics on the impact of TreeDots since it has been launched?

N: After just a short few months in operations, TreeDots had successfully saved more than a tonne of food products from going to the bin! We have also gotten more than 150 companies onboard to further our initiatives.

 

TSP: For those who are interested in getting involved with TreeDots, can you share 2 to 3 quick and easy steps to get started?

N: For businesses, simply drop an email to hello@thetreedots.com indicating if you would like to be a seller or buyer or both and we will get in touch with you!

As for all the other people out there, start by adopting a veggie box with us, it will be a little bundle of surprise at a very affordable price. Simply head over to https://www.thetreedots.com/ to start shopping with us!

We also accept any voluntary help with us!

 

TSP: What is the main goal for TreeDots and what actions will be taken to achieve that goal?

N: Our short-term goal is really to reduce as much food waste as possible on a national scale, in order to do that we have to improve some algorithms on our end regarding product-matching so we are able to match our buyers and sellers to ensure a higher success in sales.

Long-term goal would definitely be to touch on every other waste out there and think of more ways to upcycle everything, this requires collaborations with other companies and more expansion!

 

TSP: What are some of your future plans for the organisation? 

N: We will be involved in more talks and events to further spread our mission and get people to buy such under-appreciated products. Of course, there are a lot of talks regarding potential collaborations ongoing at the moment, and one of them will be coming out soon!

Do follow our Instagram or Facebook page @thetreedots to stay updated on all our happenings!

Green Talk

Interview with Tingkat Heroes Singapore

When we hear the word “Tingkat”, a few questions pop into our mind – Who used it? When was it popular? Where did it go? Why did we stop using it? ….. and these questions and curiosity towards the practice of carrying Tingkat are exactly what Tingkat Heroes Singapore wants you to reflect on. Started by Pamela Low in 2017, Tingkat Heroes Singapore is an initiative that aims to work with communities, schools and businesses in Singapore to go disposables-free.

We had an opportunity to interview her to find out more about this meaningful initiative.

 

TSP: What inspired you to start Tingkat Heroes Singapore?

THS: For me, my journey started when my neighbour asked my family out to do recycling when I was in secondary school. We went to Tzu Chi and as I was dismantling a toy car, putting plastic with plastic and metal with metal – I realised everything I had been mindlessly tossing into the general bin had a second life. My family went home and started sorting our trash and we still do it today

Next, the Singapore Youth for Climate Action’s Learning and Leadership Program (LLP) in 2016. A thoughtful curriculum that aimed to empower youths with the necessary knowledge and skills to champion initiatives and to take climate action. I found myself finally meeting like-minded peers and mentors who have been at this way longer, with far more experience and having their own communities. That inspired me to think beyond self, individual actions and it made me more confident in pursuing opportunities. Being a beneficiary of the LLP, I also recognise the value yet lack of eco-youth development opportunities as comprehensive and geared at grooming and empowerment. And I hope to address just that.

I interned in the tourism industry during my holidays in 2016 and 2017 and that shaped a lot of my growth and perspectives in working with various stakeholders and as well as being conscious of and concerned about what makes Singapore a destination of travel, work and living. Together with my eco-lens, when I travelled around Europe for exchange, I found myself keeping my eyes peeled for solutions and what stood out in each city and country.

Of course, spending 5 months in Europe, being based in Germany and travelling around at least 15 countries were the perfect case studies for me. The European Union/ Europe is ahead of us in plastic bags, recycling and energy policy and have their own strengths as destinations. I was constantly reflecting on attractions, layouts, transport, recycling, energy policies and their way of life. I was not just blindly consuming travel, I probably have more pictures of buses, road signages, maps, transport (signs, vehicle, fittings) and recycling bins than of attractions itself/ touristy stuff themselves. Being in a reflective mode allowed me to learn more about the cities and to similarly formulate solutions that could work in Singapore.

 

Why disposables? I feel that the individual can get desensitised and disenfranchised by and with the whole concept of climate change. For example, rising sea level can feel quite far-fetched for the individual. Disposables are about personal waste management, and there’s an economic benefit, health benefit (in using glass/ metal ware vs styrofoam and plastics) and environmental benefit. Hence it’s tangible at the individual level and the individual when enlightened and empowered can actively and consciously make choices to avoid disposables/ generating waste.

I usually share my own BYO experiences on my Facebook page for my own reflections etc and this perceptive came when my friends started sharing their own BYO experiences with me. Not just them, even their own family members and partners’ experiences. That to me is empowerment in itself when you make the individual feel that they can take action and do something.

 

TSP: Can you tell us a few challenges you faced when launching Tingkat Heroes Singapore?

THS: Well it’s been an insanely steep learning curve. I have never had the opportunity to meet, talk and work with so many enlightened leaders and corporations and it’s not easy. Working with various stakeholders and partners, it was paramount I learnt to work together, consider and negotiate along mutual interest and at the same time protect the core value of the project and its mission to reduce disposables (for better waste and resource management).

Have everyone to thank for their guidance, mentorship, patience and common objective for a sustainable Singapore. No magic here. It was about working hard, working smart and working together. There is no room for assumptions and not taking things for granted. Would say I am busier this school break than the whole semester. I am learning things I can’t learn in the classroom, and getting myself out there and taking ownership of the project has been a good experience of growth and challenge.

The harshest moment would probably when my “mentor” for a grant application commented that I was outsourcing my project by engaging experienced, passionate partners, to be a part of my curriculum. I felt quite dejected, but thank goodness things worked out, and I managed to outsource the mentor/ specific grant instead, and I have received tremendous support along the way.

 

TSP: Since the launch of the initiative, what is the general response from the public?

THS: It’s hard to sustain the interest of the public as it’s a very comprehensive project with an eco-curriculum. Results are not instantaneous. In general, everyone has been very supportive and friends offered their help as they see me share more. My cousin helped in designing my marketing collaterals and my logo, which I am very thankful for. Hit me up for contact. The project was featured in The Straits Time on 1/January/2018, which was a bonus and signalled the importance of taking and encouraging climate ACTION this year.

 

TSP: For those who are interested in getting involved with Tingkat Heroes Singapore, can you share 2 to 3 quick and easy steps to get started?

THS: To collaborate, they can drop an email to tingkatheroes.sg@gmail.com. I am looking for support in terms of funding, education and volunteers

 

TSP: What is the main goal for Tingkat Heroes Singapore and what actions will be taken to achieve that goal?

THS: Besides the main tangible goal of reducing disposables use among individuals and working with schools/ institutions to go disposables-free – our core value is our eco-curriculum. There’s no shortcut to education for meaningful action and empowerment of individuals, and the eco-curriculum has been thoughtfully pieced together and tightly linked to pedagogy to bring students through a journey of motivating the topic, inquiry and exploration and problem-solving. I hope to inspire more youths to act through my comprehensive eco-curriculum. I believe education can really touch young hearts and minds and motivate them to think beyond self, and to serve the larger community positively.

I also aim to assimilate these simple “eco-friendly” actions into the priorities of the average Singaporean such as health and money. Doing this that benefit for the environment does not and is not a noble cause, it’s something that makes intuitive sense to our wallet and wellbeing to adopt, as Tingkat Heroes seeks to demonstrate. There’s also the community benefits that are hard to get or appreciate in a grab-and-go, fast culture life. When we slow down and rethink our buying needs and choices, declutter our life, we simplify our living, which makes for more time and money for meaningful and memorable experiences.

Myself, I benefitted from a Learning and Leadership Program by Singapore Youth for Climate Action. No two persons have the same reason to get started on this green journey, which is why I feel awareness, outreach and programs are essential. In a class of 100, if 5% gets enlightened and starts pursuing their own initiatives that can each benefit 1000s, the ROI is very good!

It’s tough to measure these intangibles or very long-term measurable for grant applications, and I try my best to articulate the value of an LLP program and the “trickle down knowledge” or the extensive reach an initiative can have by one or a group of enlightened youths/ greenies from a cohort.

 

TSP: What are some of your future plans for this initiative? 

THS: Hmmm… I do hope to host a zero-waste market this year, which is hugely inspired by a zero-waste Christmas market I visited in Hong Kong.

Furthermore, I am looking to collaborate with chain F&B businesses to display by posters, which seeks to highlight already available options – including bring your own or having here, and applicable takeaway charges. By making this tweak in the consumer journey design, I hope consumers at the margin will make the better choice and bring about reductions in their waste-line.

Green Talk

Interview with People’s Movement to Stop Haze

People’s Movement to Stop Haze (PM Haze) is a non-profit organisation which focuses on outreach, research and advocacy haze-related concerns. Its mission is to “drive a global movement to stop the haze by empowering the community with the knowledge, means and values to do so”. This is achieved by steering consumption patterns towards sustainable palm oil and paper as well as assisting Indonesian and Malaysian farmers to create a sustainable livelihood.

We had the opportunity to talk to Co-founder, Tan Yi Han, to find out more about the organisation.

 

TSP: What inspired you to start People’s Movement to Stop Haze?

PM Haze: After experiencing haze since I was in Secondary 1, I felt frustrated why the haze had not been solved after so many years. In 2013, I decided to see for myself who was burning and volunteered with Global Environment Centre, a Malaysia-based organisation, which was tackling the root causes of haze.

When the record-breaking 2013 haze hit, we went to ground zero, where we saw areas that were burnt out as far as the eye could see. At one such location, we spoke to local farmers who shared that they had lost all their crops when the fire spread in from neighbouring land. Despite the tragedy that had befallen them, as we interviewed them, they still served us coffee and nuts. Touched by their simple kindness, I vowed to do what I could to prevent their suffering from fires and haze. After I came back to Singapore, I spoke with friends about trying to do something from Singapore to stop haze. Thankfully, some of my friends believed in me and together we formed People’s Movement to Stop Haze.

 

TSP: Can you tell us a few challenges you faced when carrying out activities for People’s Movement to Stop Haze?

PM Haze: Over the course of these two years, we have spoken to about a hundred eateries, from small hawker centre stalls to large eatery chains. Most of them use palm oil, but even after we shared the issue with them, many were not inclined to switch to sustainable palm oil. They cited barriers such as cost, preference for certain oil or supplier as well as convenience in getting the oil as part of a package of dry goods from a wholesaler. Thankfully, we managed to reach out to some eateries whose management were already environmentally conscious, and so once they learnt about sustainable palm oil, they switched within one or two weeks. It was very encouraging.

 

TSP: Since the launch of People’s Movement to Stop Haze, what is the general response from the public?

PM Haze: We are fortunate that the haze problem is one that people in Singapore relate to, so we do get lots of opportunities to give talks or set up roadshow booths. We also do get a steady stream of volunteers of about 1 or 2 a month. Of course, when there is no haze, it is hard to get mass support for our campaigns, so we are looking to broaden our message to stay relevant.

 

TSP: Can you share with us a few statistics on the impact of People’s Movement to Stop Haze over the years?

PM Haze: In 2015, we came up with a PSI based on hourly-PM2.5 readings, which were more accurate than the 24-hour average PM2.5 that the official PSI readings used. As a result, we had a flood of 30,000 visits in less than a month (27 Sept – 1 Oct 2015). Together with media and civic pressure, the government eventually created bands for their hourly-PM2.5 readings to allow people to interpret the hourly-PM2.5 readings more easily.

This year we have gotten 3 eateries to use sustainable palm oil as a direct result of our outreach. We have also supported youth advocates to do outreach campaigns in SIM and nationwide.

 

TSP: For those who are interested in getting involved with People’s Movement to Stop Haze, can you share 2 to 3 quick and easy steps to get started?

PM Haze: Start by learning about this complex and yet fascinating issue through following us on Facebook and signing up for our monthly newsletter via pmhaze.org . If you’re keen to join us in taking action, you can sign up as a volunteer at pmhaze.org/volunteer or look out for our ad-hoc volunteering opportunities via our Facebook or newsletter.

 

TSP: How has the government been contributing to your organisation’s aim to combat the haze issue?

PM Haze: The government has been supportive in terms of giving verbal encouragement for sustainable palm oil and complimenting the work that we do. We also have frequent closed-door meetings to exchange knowledge and ideas.

 

TSP: What are some of your future plans for the People’s Movement to Stop Haze? 

PM Haze: Next year we will be building on our existing work on sustainable palm oil but also moving into the field of responsible finance, where Singapore can play an even bigger role. Responsible finance at its minimum means avoiding lending or investing money to companies which engage in unethical and unsustainable practices. We hope to work with other organisations to raise public awareness and demand for responsible finance and move the financial institutions in Singapore further along this road.

Green Talk

Interview with Foodbank Singapore

Would you have expected Singaporeans to generate a total of 791,000 tonnes food waste? That’s almost equivalent to 108 full load double-decker buses! Despite being a little red dot, we are guilty of contributing to high level of food wastage with 77% of Singaporeans regularly waste food at home. Over the past 10 years, food wastage has increased by about 40%. On the other spectrum, 1 in 10 Singaporeans is food insecure which creates a gap in food distribution.

Foodbank Singapore, a registered charity, aims to bridge the gap in the market by collecting surplus food in the market and providing it to organisations and people in need of food.

We had an interview with Foodbank Singapore’s Co-founder, Nichol Ng.

TSP: What inspired you to start Foodbank?

As our co-founders are in the food business, we realised that a lot of surplus food was being thrown away because suppliers/wholesalers did not have an avenue to donate them. At the same time, we felt that we should not be throwing any surplus food away when there are still people in need of food. This was when our co-founders decided to start The Food Bank Singapore to try and bridge this gap. Watch this video to find out more!

TSP: Can you tell us a few challenges you faced when carrying out activities for Foodbank? 

In the past year, we have faced an influx of donations and manpower was starting to be a problem. Besides hiring more people, we also tried to engage our volunteers even more and incorporated technology to ease the burdens off our team.

One major challenge we have been facing since the start is the lack of donations from supermarkets, even though we are finally starting to work with one major supermarket chain. We hope that companies are more open to donating their surplus food and not just conveniently dump them away.

TSP: Since the launch of Foodbank, what is the general response from the public?

The public has slowly warmed up to the idea of the food bank since we spend a lot of time on advocacy work and building up a stronger volunteer pool. Food companies and businesses have also strengthened their support quite a fair bit since 2012. Although no one has yet to take a firm stand of donating all their excess, at least more companies are open to the idea. Having said that, we are far from what we should be doing.

TSP: Can you share with us a few statistics on the impact of Foodbank over the years?

 

TSP: For those who are interested in getting involved with Foodbank, can you share 2 to 3 quick and easy steps to get started?

You can find out more about getting involved at http://www.foodbank.sg/index.php/get-involved.

TSP: What do you think should be done by the government to combat the issue of food wastage?

Along with incentives for other forms of recycling, they should really be looking at incentives to encourage recycling. Another way is to penalise for people who throw or incinerate. In general, recycling has to make commercial sense to businesses as well.

They need to start realising that food is also a precious commodity we have learnt to take for granted but have not accorded as much respect and attention like water, paper and plastic.

TSP: What are some of your future plans for the Foodbank? 

In 2018, we plan to engage even more food companies and corporates. At the grassroots level, we plan to do more advocacy as well. For more on our activities, check out http://www.foodbank.sg/index.php/programmes-events.

 

Green Talk

Interview with Eugene Tay for BYO Singapore Campaign

Eugene Tay is the Executive Director of Zero Waste SG, a non-governmental organisation dedicated to helping Singapore eliminate the concept of waste, and accelerate the shift towards zero waste and the circular economy.

This September, they launched a new campaign that took Singapore by storm – The BYO Singapore Campaign. The campaign offers incentives customers who practice the concept of “bringing your own” and aims to encourage more Singaporeans to practice this habit through incentives. As of now, there are about 21 vendors who are participating in this initiative, with 234 outlets spread across Singapore.

We talked to Eugene to find out more about this campaign, the challenges faced and its future.

TSP: What inspired you to start the BYO Singapore campaign?

Eugene Tay: Single-use plastic disposables pose a serious environmental problem around the world. In Singapore, the most common type of waste disposed of is plastic waste and the recycling rate for plastics has remained low over the past 13 years. So we can’t depend on plastic recycling and have to go upstream and reduce plastic disposables at source. One way is to encourage consumers to bring their own reusables with incentives provided by retailers.

TSP: Can you tell us a few challenges you faced when launching the BYO Singapore campaign? 

Eugene Tay: Majority of the retailers did not respond to or rejected our recruitment for the BYO campaign via emails or direct visits to stores. Some of them cite additional operating costs if they provided incentives, or that there are some challenges in the operations when they have to use the reusables provided by customers.

TSP: Since the launch of the campaign, what response have you received from the public? Are they generally supportive of this campaign?

Eugene Tay: The response from the public has been positive and they like the idea of getting incentives when they BYO. However, we have to see if this actually translates into more consumers BYOing during the campaign.

TSP: For those who are interested in getting involved with the BYO Singapore campaign, can you share 2 to 3 quick and easy steps to get started?

Eugene Tay: Visit the BYO Singapore campaign website at http://www.byosingapore.com and find out the retailers providing incentives and their locations. Visit the retail outlets with your reusables and start to BYO. It’s that simple!

TSP: What is the main goal for BYO Singapore campaign and what actions will be taken to achieve that goal?

Eugene Tay: The BYO Singapore campaign would provide information, incentives and resources to encourage people to bring their own reusables and reduce plastic disposables. Under the campaign, retailers would offer incentives to customers who bring their own reusable bags, bottles or containers. The main campaign goal is to sign up 500 retail outlets and reduce 1,000,000 pieces of disposables in 2017.

The BYO Singapore campaign would reach out to residents in the community, and also to working professionals through roadshows in the central business district and other business hubs. In addition, Zero Waste SG would be providing educational talks to companies and providing office starter kits (electronic copy) that include resources such as posters on BYO, advice on cleaning facilities in the pantry, and how to organise a BYO Day in the office.

TSP: What do you think the Singapore government can do to combat the issue of plastic waste?

Eugene Tay: Our recommendations to the government on reducing plastic disposables can be found here and here. 

TSP: Can you share with us 2 to 3 examples on how you lead a plastic-free life?

Eugene Tay: I bring my own bottle and bag regularly for my takeaway drinks and groceries. If I know that I’m buying takeaway food or going for an event buffet that serves plastic disposables, I would try to bring my usable container and utensils.

 

The BYO Singapore Campaign is a huge leap towards the encouragement of Singaporeans to reduce their plastic consumption. With the issue of plastic waste gaining more attention worldwide due to its impact and gravity, it is encouraging to witness the efforts taken to combat this issue and hopefully, more Singaporeans will start taking action and reduce their plastic waste by BYOing!