It is easy to go green on the Red Dot.
Retail is no longer just about consuming, but also recycling and saving, and increasingly, more stores here are helping customers lead an eco-friendly lifestyle. Here are four — two online and two brick & mortar — which are helping to mainstream the idea of sustainability.
The Social Space is quite unlike anything that can be found in Singapore. The lifestyle concept store houses a cafe, a retail area, a nail salon, and a refillery. It was started by a husband-and-wife social entrepreneur team, Daniel Yeow and Cheryl Ou.
At The Refillery, shoppers can refill household items such as laundry detergent, multipurpose cleaners, soaps and shampoo by bringing their own reusable bottles – to help cut down on packaging waste. At the retail space, there are steel and glass straws, reusable bottles and takeaway cups for sale. In the cafe, drinks are served with steel straws, and food is served in coconut bowls.
Ms. Ou says: “As a growing number of Singaporeans become more eco-conscious, The Social Space offers more opportunities to reduce our waste and carbon footprint on a daily basis.”
Not only does she want consumers to adopt a greener lifestyle, but through her efforts, she hopes suppliers can think the same way too. She admits that it was initially difficult getting suppliers to sell their products in bulk to The Refillery, as they were more used to selling them in small bottles. “But we managed to convince them that it would be good for the environment and not hurt their profits.” The couple also managed to convince their coffee supplier to sell coffee to them in large reusable tubs instead of in small disposable bags, to cut down on waste.
Besides encouraging living eco-consciously, The Social Store also aims to be socially conscious. Some of the items they have on sale are made by social enterprises, while the nail salon offers a vocational training programme for underprivileged women. “At The Social Space, you can do your nails, eat, shop and give back to good causes,” says Ms. Ou.
Joline Tang is trying to change the world, one reusable straw at a time. The Singapore Management University student has been practising a green lifestyle since her polytechnic days. She started with recycling and now avoids using takeaway boxes and plastic straws. Ms. Tang was handling accounts at a sustainable firm but felt that she did not have a direct impact on helping the environment. “I decided to start a business to influence the lifestyle of others and also influence the way cafes/other businesses operate,” she says of her decision to start her online store.
She sells bamboo and reusable metal straws, beeswax wraps, coconut bowls and printed cotton towels which are used in place of paper ones. “The products have to last so that customers will not depend on single-use items,” says Ms. Tang. The rose-gold reusable straws are the best selling among her millennial clients, while the beeswax wrap is also a popular item among housewives and those who cook.
She doesn’t offer international shipping as she wants to keep her carbon footprint low. “I am happy to say that I have not spent any money purchasing packaging since my incorporation,” Ms. Tang declares. All her packaging are made from used boxes or unwanted envelopes that she has collected from friends, family and even customers.
Dawn Chen, a regional sales manager for an international hospitality chain goes around town with her own reusable shopping bag, cup, lunchbox, and cutlery. She found that while she had no trouble getting her desired lunchbox and cutlery, finding the right cup to have her tea on the go was difficult. Ms. Chen didn’t like the idea of using disposable cups. Reusable plastic cups are not good for hot liquids, while those made of glass or metal were too heavy, and leaked, she discovered.
Frustrated with not being able to find a one-stop shop that can meet all her green living needs, she decided to start one herself. “To lead a greener lifestyle does not mean we have to compromise on style and aesthetics. I started this venture with the aim to make a wide variety of practical yet stylish sustainable products easily available,” she says of her online store.
She sources her items from around the world, and will soon retail items that are produced locally. Best-selling items include beeswax wraps, bamboo toothbrushes, stainless steel straws (shown above) and produce bags. She also carries a range of bamboo fibre takeaway cups which she uses for her daily cup of tea. The lightweight cups are durable, can withstand high temperatures and come with a resealable no-drip lid that prevents leakage.
Ms. Chen selects the products she sells based on what she would want as a consumer. “Things that are practical for green living yet stylish, food-safe, safe for the environment, and affordable,” she says. She does research on every product to check that they are plastic free, BPA free and free of environmentally harmful substances. She personally tests the products before putting them for sale online.
The next time you have an empty container, don’t throw it in the trash bin, or even into the recycling bin. Save it for shopping at Unpackt, touted to be Singapore’s first zero-waste grocery store. The goods at Unpackt are sold by weight and shoppers bring their own glass or plastic containers.
Co-founder Florence Tay was inspired to start Unpackt, after watching a video featuring a similar store. She explains: “We end up paying for packaging which gets thrown away. The rate of recycling in Singapore isn’t high either.” So, she and her friend Jeff Lam decided to start Unpackt, where goods are sold sans packaging.
Unpackt sells a variety of items ranging from rice, quinoa and pasta to a selection of dried fruits such as figs and blueberries, beans and legumes, snacks such as soya and apple crisps, and superfood powders, including maca root, moringa and turmeric. Liquid items include balsamic vinegar, honey, olive oil, and soya sauce. The product range also extends to household cleaning items such as floor and surface cleaners.
Shoppers bring their empty containers to be filled, and pay according to weight. There are also free recycled containers available for shoppers who forget to bring their own. Ms. Tay says that since shoppers do not pay for packaging, they can expect cost savings of at least five per cent. The added benefit is that since customers buy only what they need, “they have access to fresher food and there is little food waste”, says Ms. Tay who usually brings along her own coffee cup, lunch box and shopping bag when she goes out.
What have been selling well are the dried fruits, which have customers commenting on their freshness, as well as pasta and superfood powders. Limited quantities are kept in dispensers, to ensure the products don’t go bad. Customers can also leave suggestions on what they would like to see sold at Unpackt. Ms. Tay is confident that the concept will catch on. “You don’t have to be rich to live in an eco-friendly way. Eco-living is for everyone,” she says.
By Tay Suan Chiang, The Straits Times, 29 June 2018.
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