A couple of weeks ago, I signed up with PlasticFreeJuly.org to commit to reducing my consumption of single-use plastic. It’s bothered me for years and for years I’ve been gradually chipping away at it, always having my own cloth bags, then adding bamboo straws and now a little cutlery kit. But I still felt it was a drop in the ocean (literally) when I looked at the mounds of plastic packaging we put out for “recycling” every week as a family.
To my family’s concern, I am often unable to resist picking up other people’s rubbish to put it in the bin. I have also inherited my mother’s courage and cheek to say with a friendly smile, “Er, I think you might have accidentally dropped something:-)” when necessary. As a supporter of One Planet Singapore I sometimes head out for a walk and a proper rubbish pick with its founder, (my friend Georgia Mor) and my barbecue tongs. I still can’t get over the number of plastic bags I see floating on a breeze or – even more galling – intentionally, almost politely hung on bushes in pavement-side shrubbery.
We used to have a random selection of local organic fruit and veg delivered by the wonderful Shiok Farm every week, which was a joy – for the most part. However, after a while we found we regularly received produce that didn’t suit our tastes as a family and sadly went to waste. Many a time we bemoaned our hens, ducks and geese in France, who would have gladly helped us out!
So from this month I’ve made a commitment to brave the heat and humidity and buy all our fruit and veg at the local wet market, where most produce is sourced locally and available without plastic. I am able to buy everything I would usually buy without any plastic packaging whatsoever and at a fraction of the price for online delivery or in a supermarket. I also get to chat and joke with the stall holders and other shoppers and feel more connected to my local neighbourhood. I end up sweaty, but happy every time.
As a creative, I’m always magnetically drawn to upcycling and repurposing discarded materials that are worthless trash to some, but precious (free!) treasure to an artist. What a senseless, stupid waste to throw them in the bin after just one use, let alone drop them casually in the street to clog a drain or wash into the ocean. Bangladesh banned plastic bags all the way back in 2002 due to increased flood devastation when discarded bags blocked drainage systems. In 2021, extreme weather conditions (most recently fatal flooding in Germany) and vast forest fires make for apocalyptic news reports on a daily basis.
For example, a new study shows that forest fires mean that the Amazon is now producing more carbon than it can sequester. In Papua, palm oil magnates in collusion with the Indonesian government, military and police have recently been accused of setting fire to 30,000 hectares of virgin forest to plant palm oil plantations. A tribal elder was quoted as saying that he fears future generations will have to “live off money” rather than the forest.
That phrase stopped me dead in my tracks. “Live off money” is indeed what we all have to do, when we can’t sustain ourselves; when we become reliant on others, on the money-based decisions of powerful corporations and we relinquish control of our own lives.
If we don’t get back to nature, plant our own edibles à la Ron Finley and Rob Greenfield, feed ourselves and nurture and protect our planet’s glorious biodiversity, then we will be entirely at the mercy of those with the money. What was that “native american” quote again?
What are we waiting for?
Anyway, here are some things I’ve been making to calm myself down and transform my own personal mountain of shame (consisting mainly of Redmart bags from circuit breaker food deliveries, but also other bags that have snuck into our house). This wall hanging greeted clients to my first “No Comment” painting-play studio in Singapore.
The Redmart bags used to be designed with the friendly label “Hi, I’m oxo-biodegradable. I will become water, biomass, and carbon dioxide if kept outdoors over time. Reuse me for storing trash, holding wet umbrellas, protecting your shoes and…even shower caps!” How charming!
I know the majority of people living in Singapore apartment blocks use bags this standard size as bin bags (since they slide perfectly down the rubbish chute), so they generally get two uses, not just one. But then ALL rubbish in Singapore is incinerated. So what is the point of telling us it will “biodegrade if kept outdoors over time?” Those Redmart bags were a pretty shade of green – of course. I wonder if their greenwashing bothered other people too, as they seem to have abandoned that campaign and are now using plain white plastic bags.
It is a pretty shade of green though… so it ended up in these too:
I used the leftover scraps to make these unique, funky, reusable gift wraps.
One Planet Singapore have asked me to run some plastic upcycling workshops for them, which I am really excited about.
I’ve also been a bit obsessed with repurposing unsellable 2nd hand school uniform, so watch this space for more of my adventures in upcycling!