Zero Waste Shopping in the Little Red Dot

Bea Johnson wasn’t kidding when she said that ‘bulk was everywhere’.

While the weekly farmer’s market with fresh, package-free produce is commonplace in most Western countries, it is far and few between in the sunny island of Singapore.

Aspiring zero wasters in this island mostly pick out fresh vegetables, meat and seafood at wet markets.

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For those new to the zero waste movement in a country addicted to single-use plastics, attempting to minimise waste can be somewhat daunting.

Here are some easy steps to follow that will help you reduce waste while you get your groceries.

Produce bags

Since vegetables are laid out package-free, you need to bag up and weigh exactly how much you plan to purchase. Do you need to buy them? No! I love up-cycling what I already own and one nifty trick is to sew produce bags from old t-shirts, laundry nets and shoe laces! There is an excellent tutorial on sewing drawstring bags here. Remember to choose lighter fabric or run the risk of getting charged more for your produce!

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Not quite the craftsman? You can also reuse those net bags that onions and garlic usually come in at supermarkets as mini produce bags.

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Create a zero-waste grocery shopping kit

This makes zero-waste shopping at the wet market an absolute breeze. Pack your produce bags, jars, containers and extra reusable tote bags into another tote bag and just bring that baby along whenever you’re heading out for wet marketing!

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Go earlier

The first time I tried asking the vegetable stall auntie to pack my vegetables into my reusable produce bags, she was certainly caught by surprise. To avoid holding up the queue at the cashier, try going earlier or when there are fewer people at the stall to let the stallholder get used to a new process. To them, packing vegetables into clear, disposable plastic bags have become an automated, robotic motion. Give them (and yourself) time to adapt to a new routine.

Develop a thick skin

Yes, you will attract attention. And yes, you will get asked what you are doing. The trick to not feel embarrassed by doing something different is to explain what you’re doing in the simplest possible way without going into an hour-long discussion over the consequences of single-use plastics. I simply say “I don’t use plastic bags. 环保 (Mandarin for ‘environmentally-friendly’).” 

S M I L E

This is my secret weapon; my trump card. The best way to do something different is to do it while exuding positive vibes. I find that stallholders and fellow market shoppers are a whole lot more receptive to my shopping habits when I do it with a smile. So don’t forget your smile when you pack your zero-waste kit!

Happy Zero-Waste Shopping!