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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.