“We generate almost 8 million tonnes of waste a year in Singapore. That is enough to fill up 500,000 double-decker buses. This park won’t be able to contain that much of rubbish, too,” said Masagos Zulkifli, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, during the LitteRally 2019 event.
The event, which was organised by Habitat for Humanity Singapore (a VWO) in conjunction with the “Keep Clean, Singapore!” campaign, was held on 26th May 2019. In his speech, the Minister spoke of how the founding father of modern Singapore, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, started the “Keep Singapore Clean” campaign in 1968. Today, efforts in promoting this cultural heritage have shifted from the government to communities island-wide.
Within a short span of 3 hours, 647 participants went separate ways to pick up litter in the neighbourhoods of Ang Mo Kio, Bishan, Marymount and Serangoon, and brought back 300 kilograms of trash.
"I hope that one day, we do not have to rely on the 58,000 cleaners to clean up our streets and all of us can keep Singapore clean with our own hands," said the Minister.
Seeing how some students actively participated in the event, the Minister felt happy and comforted, and was full of praise for the youths. He also encouraged the public to move towards zero waste by using their own shopping bags and containers, and by sorting recyclables the right way and not contaminating the blue recycling bins in the neighbourhoods.
Picking up litter to promote a culture of cleanliness
How much trash on our streets is actually recyclable and how much of it is not?
As one of the partnering organisations present at the event, Tzu Chi Foundation (Singapore) not only guided people how to sort recyclables at the culmination point, but also promoted the 5Rs of environmental sustainability, namely “Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Repair, and Recycle”.
Tzu Chi volunteers also patiently reminded all participants that used tissue paper is non-recyclable. The participants used trash tongs to search for recyclables and then put them into the blue recycling bins while throwing non-recyclable trash into the dark green bins.
Four students from Dunman Secondary School came to participate in the event after learning about it on the Internet. One of them, Li Ruo Qi, shared that she would feel awkward to pick up litter on the streets alone. She added that when she participated in the activity together with her friends, they could collect more trash, and it also encouraged her to pick up litter on her own accord.
When she saw the four trash bins filled to the brim and that there was only one recycling bin, Ruo Qi opined that everyone must work harder to reduce waste.
"I have been influenced by friends who are environmentally conscious, so now, I bring my own shopping bag and containers for takeaways. I can do my part to protect the environment," shared Ruo Qi.
18-year-old Li Li Wen (pictured below second from the right) said that she was afraid of picking up recyclables that she saw on the streets, and that participating in this event had helped conquer her fear.
"We need to start practising environmental protection ourselves before trying to promote the concept to others. Then we can slowly influence the people around us!" shared Li Wen.
After listening to a Tzu Chi volunteer’s sharing, she smiled and said, "It turns out that recyclables actually carry (monetary) value!"
At the “environmental protection zone” located on the left side of the venue, Tzu Chi volunteers had set up eye-catching display boards with the theme “Raising the quality of recycling by being clean at the source”. There were also display boards teaching people how to sort recyclables into various different categories with the “Ten-Finger Mnemonic” (a formula for remembering different types of recyclables). In addition, the volunteers had designed interesting interactive games based on the 5R concept, with the aim of enhancing people’s environmental awareness.
11-year-old Nihitha (pictured below second from the left) firmly said, “The most important practice in 5R is ‘Refuse’. I refuse to use plastic bags and straws as they damage the environment and kill many fishes after entering the sea.”
She believes that if we, the consumers, refuse to use plastic items from the start, the manufacturers will reduce their production, then we won’t have to spend a lot of time doing recycling.
Nihitha’s parents had expressly brought her and her sister from Tampines to participate in this event, in the hope of instilling environmental awareness in their children. They also took part in an upcycling activity, where they made a variety of items from used drink cartons.
There was also a “MOBY the Book Whale” book exchange corner at the venue, allowing people to exchange their pre-loved books or to donate them for recycling. Next to the Tzu Chi booth, there was a booth called “The Sustainability Project”, which showcased environmental friendly products made from plants and shopping bags sewn from pretty packaging bags.
An abundant mindset creates a beautiful and clean environment
Under the lead of their teacher, 35 Secondary One students from Beatty Secondary School arrived at the finishing line at noon with many bags of trash. They were also the last batch of participants of the event.
The main sponsor of the event, Habitat for Humanity Singapore, is an organisation whose goal is to create a livable environment for everyone and to improve people’s living environment. Mr. Yong Teck Meng, National Director of Habitat for Humanity Singapore, said it is fortunate that most people in Singapore have a home to live in, so there is no need to help construct houses here.
He added that the surroundings of the houses are very important, too, as the late founder of his organisation, Millard Fuller, once said that if one’s environment is dirty, then one is still dwelling in a poverty mindset.
The cleanliness of Singapore, which has been termed “Garden City”, is attributed to the cleaners who work behind the scenes. Yong hopes to encourage more young people, including young children, to take part in litter-picking activities. The aim is not about picking up litter, but about making the efforts in caring for our homeland more visible to the public so as to promote such a trend and culture in our society.
Yong got connected with Tzu Chi more than 10 years ago through the Foundation’s housing rebuilding programme for Indonesian tsunami victims. He discovered that Tzu Chi is not only active in providing disaster relief and alleviating poverty, but also focusses its efforts on environmental education and protection. Thus, he had invited the NGO to promote the green cause together with Habitat for Humanity Singapore.
There is still room for improvement in the area of environmental protection in Singapore, and Yong opined that we must work harder on that. He expressed his hope to continue cooperating with Tzu Chi, to keep Singapore clean through action.