How to spot a fake environmentalist

More people are going green with environmentally friendly metal straws and reusable bags, but are they really helping the Earth?

Jamie Leo

Published: 24 January 2019, 3:34 PM

Lately, it seems like everyone and their mother owns a metal straw.

Indeed, as green becomes the new black, more packaging-free grocery stores are popping up in Singapore. Even online marketplaces like Shopee and Lazada are selling ‘eco-friendly’ and ‘sustainable’ products like wheat cutlery sets and reusable lunchboxes.

But as someone who jumped on the crowded bandwagon myself, I have come to realise that some of my habits were not so green after all.

Here are three habits of fake environmentalists that are not as environmentally friendly as they seem.

1. Collecting reusable straws and bags…only to leave them at home 

It is no news that Singapore’s plastic bag and straw usage is excessive and harmful to the environment.

The vilification of plastic straws brought about alternative options, which sound great. Bamboo? Sure. Glass? Covered. Hotel? Trivago.

The struggle of choosing between different types of reusable straws is all too real, and I have amassed sets of bamboo and stainless steel straws of all sizes, including those that fit bubble tea pearls.

Did you know that if you force a metal straw into a cup of bubble tea, the cup pretty much explodes? I learnt that the hard way. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTH.SG/JAMIE LEO

However, I rarely use these straws. I either forget to take them out or find it inconvenient to use them, so I end up still taking single use straws. Guilty as charged.

My collection of reusable bags suffers the same fate.

While we may think reusable bags are environmentally friendly, the sobering fact is that a reusable bag can be more detrimental to the environment if only used once. This is because the amount of energy and resources used to make a reusable bag outweighs those of a plastic bag.

TL;DR: Buying a reusable bag only to use it once may be worse than using a single-use plastic bag.

However, while they may require less resources to make, plastic can be harder to recycle. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTH.SG/JAMIE LEO

Whichever bag or straw you eventually decide to use, please use it as many times as possible and refrain from adding to your pile of unused items.

Alternatively, you could go without using straws altogether.

2. Buying a new phone every two years 

It might be enticing and cheaper to upgrade to the latest iPhone X, XR and all the other alphabets that follow, but this comes at a cost to the environment.

Newflash: it is not compulsory to switch phones after your contract ends.

Phones are manufactured with vast amounts of resources like metals, alloys and chemicals. Tossing functional phones after several years is not sustainable and causes a strain on the environment because resources are finite and will eventually run out.

Researchers have found that the manufacturing process makes up about 90 per cent of a phone’s total carbon dioxide emissions for two years. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTH.SG/JAMIE LEO

Furthermore, if phones are discarded improperly, it adds to Singapore’s e-waste and can pose health risks due to hazardous substances in the electronics.

So when the time comes to renew your plan and change your phone, take some time to assess if you really have to switch. Are there alternatives like replacing certain parts that will make the phone good as new?

Also, maximising battery life and not smashing the screen to smithereens by dropping your phone helps prolong its lifespan.

Should you wish to discard your phone, do dispose it at appropriate recycling points so that they can be responsibly recycled. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTH.SG/JAMIE LEO

3. Opting for express package delivery 

In today’s society where we desire instant gratification, we are spoiled with the ease of international deliveries from all over the world (ASOS and Taobao packages, come to mama).

The issue arises when we demand speed. Opting for express delivery often has a larger carbon footprint than regular delivery.

Most express deliveries are transported via air, which has notoriously higher environmental impact due to factors like fuel costs and emissions. Even for shorter distances, companies are more likely to send out trucks that are not at full capacity so that packages reach on time.

The next time you find yourself at the checkout page, please ownself check ownself; do you need that Exploding Kittens game to arrive in three days?

After personally diving headfirst (and crashing) into sustainable living, I realised that small educated steps matter more than trying to change every habit in one shot.

For example, evaluating personal habits before purchasing an ‘eco-friendly’ item rather than blindly purchasing sustainable items just because they are trending.

After all, going green is a lifestyle that requires commitment and we should be mindful of unsustainable consumerism in our bid to go green. May 2019 be the year that we get better educated and practice mindful consumption.

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