i tried shopping eco-consciously for a month. here’s what happened.

Shopping! Probably one of Singaporeans’ best-loved past times. While we’re at it, is it possible to remain earth-friendly too? Curious, I decided to put my skills to the test and tried shopping eco-consciously for a month.

It’s official, after years of loyal support and top-tier privileges, I’m breaking up with the famed coffee-chain-which-shall-not-be-named.

Despite their seemingly strong move towards greener in-store practices, my growing eco-conscience finds it hard to accept the brand’s frequent production and promotion of new merch in seasonal designs or artist collabs. I mean, who needs a yearly collection of similar-functioning keep cups in 20 styles? What happens to the outdated, unsold ones?

My keep cup and I on holiday. Good times. (,:

I’m sorry, but I’d prefer my relationship with coffee to be simple and less complicated. You see, part of being adapted to an eco-responsible lifestyle is considering how much waste one could potentially generate in a day, month or year.

When I shared this with a colleague, she challenged me to see if I could stretch my eco-conscience further by shopping eco-consciously for a month… Well, #challengeaccepted.

the plan:

first, i attempted to unlock sustainable shopping with one key question.

“Where did this come from, and where is it going?” – me, 2021

(Okay, that was two questions.) Earth’s resources, creatures and human beings are part of the same equation, an energy cycle. We can choose to channel resources to remain in and sustain the cycle, or lose resources by taking more than we can put back.

In the same vein, while most of us might be familiar with the practice of recycling, we also want to remember the more impactful actions that precede it in the mantra “reduce, reuse, recycle”. Ideally, it’s better to hold out the need to recycle anything if we can first reduce and reuse. What certainly helps is when brands offer initiatives that facilitate consumers’ eco-responsibility (which doesn’t include buying more keep cups), lighten carbon footprint and boost sustainability. With this in mind, I decided to pay more attention to brands and sellers that supported the 3Rs.

so i reduced.

I’d like to think that my purchasing habits have been influenced by Marie Kondo and minimalism, along with a growing awareness of resource use vs consumer waste. As a rule of thumb, I try not to acquire stuff unnecessarily.

I even tried shopping at second hand stores like New2u!

From clothes to canned tomatoes, electronics to eggs, it pays to ‘stay strong’ during sale seasons and ‘stay out of the way’ of marketing gimmicks. Not only will it help with space management (in the case of food, spoilage and wastage), I get to save money for things and experiences that do matter. Quite often, my false wants reveal their true colours and fade away with the passing of a fad or interest.

during this challenge month, I did not buy:

  • more t-shirts – a clothing brand dropped some new designs related to movie characters that my kids are into. As their mom, I would have liked to surprise them with a couple of t-shirts, just because. But as their mom, I’m also aware of the very full closet of clothes these kids are privileged to own. Do they really need another piece? I decided to skip the t-shirt surprise and got them movie tickets instead. #yeet! (sorry)
  • anything from the Lazada birthday sale

i also reused.

If you have ever spring-cleaned, you’d understand what it’s like to unearth stuff that you probably haven’t used, touched or seen in years. Don’t be surprised how many carton boxes our unwanted stuff can fill. What happens to those ill-fitting clothes, mouldy shoes and forgotten PVC bags that now peel and shed? Oh hello you, my first smartphone from 2012! What do I do with you now?

I realise that quite a significant contributor to junk are products made from low-quality materials. To me, cheaply mass-produced plastic things which are usually flimsy and poorly made are destined with short lifespans headed for the trash bin.

Forgot my water bottle but managed to find some that came in a compostable carton. #win

If I do have to make a purchase, I try my best to seek out options made from earth-friendly materials (think biodegradable, compostable, recyclable) and processes (pollution output, land use, sustainable cycles). I also try to learn about the brand’s green policies – if they have a used container/packaging collection, or a donation of pre-loved items in exchange for a store discount, for example.

If possible, I choose items that are contained in glass/fabric which are reusable many times over. Durability is a huge plus, which means they don’t need to be replaced often. Also, picking a design style that is ‘me’ helps it outlast the trend beyond years.

during this challenge month, I bought:

  • mayonnaise, peanut butter, honey and char siew marinade in glass jars – came up with some ideas for Christmas gifts this year and these reusable jars will come in handy. In the meantime, they’re useful for shopping at Superlative Foods / Scoop Wholefoods too!
  • eggs packed in cardboard cartons – sparing myself the dilemma of what to do with plastic ones, and either recycling these or reusing them the next time I purchase eggs at the market
  • fresh chicken and seafood from online grocers – found another grocery store that collects any carton boxes/chiller bags to clean and reuse
  • some water on-the-go because I forgot my bottle – spent a little bit more for this one that comes in compostable carton
  • a few nifty kitchen gadgets online (I admit this to be my area of weakness) – planning to drop off the delivery packaging here to be reused
My stash of empty contact lens blister packs.
  • contact lenses – reserving the empty blister packs to drop off at this company for recycling
  • an essential oil starter pack – not every company takes back your empty bottles but this one does
  • a pre-loved coffee table from a seller on Carousell – which should last a long time in my home

and then i tried… refreshing.

Unrelated to shopping, but let’s bring another ‘R’ to the party, shall we? How many folks do we know would fix something that’s broken or restore something old but usable? Perhaps our parents, grandparents? I’m guessing most of us (my husband included 🤭) would rather pay for a brand new replacement than fork out the same cost for repairs. Not forgetting that going the extra length sourcing and arranging for a repair service takes up time as well.

But! Remember our stuff doesn’t disappear into thin air like file bytes do simply by clicking “Delete”. If we can give furniture, equipment, clothes, cars, and home fixtures a longer lifespan, why not?

The bands holding this lamp together snapped because of the heat. Instead of throwing it away, I decided to use hair ties for a quick fix!

Last month, I effectively salvaged an old lampshade that fell apart by looping some elastic hairties over. Which reminds me, I have a ceiling fan that needs a change of motor, and my dining chairs would benefit from a reupholstery since their frames are still sturdy…

the verdict:

At the end of 30 days I shared my shopping log with my colleague and here’s how she scored me:

reducing: 4/5

reusing: 3/5

+bonus points (and a beer) for refreshing!

I think I did pretty okay? Shopping eco-consciously means taking time to stop, think and source for sustainable and eco-friendly alternatives. Limiting my spending to essential items (pun not intended on the oils, alright) helps as well. Of course in reality, there are many instances where we operate out of old habits, but like I’ve shared before, doing something is better than nothing at all, and I’m glad I discovered that conscious, sustainable shopping is possible and practical.

We’re all on this green journey together, so if you know of more initiatives and programs that encourage the 3Rs (or even the fourth), do share them with us here and we might just create a handy directory for everyone!

Hoping to start shopping eco-consciously yourself? Why not check out this useful article to get you started?

stef t.

Stef believes that small steps for the environment go a long way. This proud mum of 3 teenaged boys also keeps the loveable folks at Strada Visual Lab in check, while cashing them cheques. Loves journaling and taking incredibly long walks.

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