Meet the driving force behind Zero Waste SG

BY VANESSA LIU, FIRST PUBLISHED IN THE STRAITS TIMES, 25 NOV 2020

The Sunday Times speaks to Ms Pek Hai Lin, executive director of Zero Waste SG, one of the more prominent non-profit organisations here seeking to make Singapore a zero-waste nation

Tell us more about the work that Zero Waste SG is doing in Singapore.

When Zero Waste SG was started, the whole idea was to bridge the huge knowledge-to-action gap in Singapore when it comes to waste management or mindful consumption. We have been doing different things to bridge this gap, such as trying to convince the Government to (conduct) trials for sorting-at-source for recyclables to advocating for a single-use carrier bag charge.

We also conduct workshops for schools, companies and organisations to raise awareness about different issues, such as food waste.

During our workshops, we show a video to explain how cosmetic filtering starts from farms and shapes consumer expectations downstream, and in turn, affects how food is supplied or filtered upstream.

In the case of xiao bai cai, 15 per cent of less-than-perfect, but still edible parts of the vegetables will be removed during the first round of filtering at the farms, and another 10 per cent will be removed at the point of packaging before it goes to the supermarkets.

By learning about cosmetic filtering, we hope that people would be more accepting towards less-than-perfect food and appreciate the process of what happens to food before it reaches us, which can ultimately reduce food waste in the long run.

What do you do to cut food waste in your life?

I don't cook often, but when I do, I will compost. I also upcycle fruit peels into eco-enzymes which can be used for cleaning. I soak orange peels in vinegar, and after a few weeks, it can be used as a multi-purpose cleaner to clean surfaces such as kitchen tabletops and windows.

What is your day-to-day job scope?

I'm the executive director in an NGO (non-governmental organisation), which means I do everything from partnerships and education to strategic planning and media relations.

Have there been times when you wanted to give up what you were doing?

Yes. An organisation like ours does not only do advocacy work, we also have to maintain our operations, which is the tough part.

We want to do many things, but we cannot afford to do everything. A lot of what we want to do does not generate money, so it is about how we can circumvent that.

Half of my work is about strategising and being creative about how we can sustain ourselves monetarily. That is tiring and can be mentally straining.

What keeps you going in what you do?

I would say it is really passion. I joined Zero Waste SG at a point when change was happening.

People are starting to become more engaged, and the urgency of the situation is causing positive reactions.

Every time people are more aware, and a bit more okay with, for instance, supermarkets charging for or not providing plastic bags, it paves the way for policies.

The Sunday Times and DBS are partnering in a six-part series to delve into Singapore’s growing food waste problem and its cost to families, businesses and the environment. #TowardsZeroFoodWaste

More on this topic: Calls to change eating habits and overhaul food supply chain to cut Singapore's food waste

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