Frequently Asked Questions
Due to many repeated requests for school projects, the following frequently asked questions and answers are compiled for general information. Hope that the little effort of Eco.Le will draw out the similar efforts to do our part, no matter how small, to contribute to sustainability and reduce waste. 抛砖引玉，为环保尽全力。
1. When and why was Eco.Le formed?
The increasing suffering of animals and humans from pollution; the increasingly destructive weather events and the knowledge that we can change if not reverse the climate crisis, gave rise to the determination to do my utmost wherever practically possible. The absence of adequate actions from leaders and institutions of the world meant that little individuals will need to step up and be the change.
The idea and planning for Eco.Le started in 2017, inspired by the many bulk stores in the west, that help consumers reduce packaging wastes and some promoting repair and up-cycling.
A group of like-minded ladies gathered to brainstorm the possibility of applying for the OCBC grant to start the zero-waste bulk store to help ourselves and others consume without the unnecessary packaging. After a trip to Europe, visiting the zero-waste stores, the form and purpose of the store started to materialize gradually. Though the project did not manage to meet the deadline for grant submission, the determination to start the zero-waste bulk store was not diminished. By now just a one-woman venture, the business was registered and preparations rolled on even if the scale to be embarked on is considered foolish in the commercial retail scene in Singapore.
In April 2018, with the like-minded green business owners, a group spear-headed by Danielle Champagne of Zhai Eco, started a 3 months pop-up at OneKM Mall (now KINEX). A consortium of 15 local green businesses known as The Green Collectives SG, we brought our advocacy for sustainability from online space into a physical store to reach out to more consumers in Singapore.
From the 2 shelves in The Green Collective SG, Eco.Le the bulk store found its home in the little nondescript corner shop facing the greens of Bukit Timah Nature Reserve/ Rifle Range Nature Park.
2. What are the challenges faced in starting Eco.Le?
A) Sourcing for products in bulk in Singapore is very difficult. Most of the time, it boils down to the very inflexible concept of MOQ (minimum order quantity) even from most local distributors. Some businesses will not consider supplying in bigger packaging SKU (stock keeping unit) if the order quantity (and frequency) is not attractive to them.
B) Lower rental means limited visibility and low foot-traffic for conversion of the community to more sustainable bulk shopping.
C) A slowly growing small customer base who are into making more efforts to BYO and the small margin of the products make balancing the expenses challenging. There are of course products that could be sold with higher margin with more presentation or marketing but it will be contrary to the objective of Eco.Le which is to promote zero-waste and need-based consumption.
D) The delicate balance of cash flow; publicity; ethical production consideration, carbon footprint, environmental sustainability, goods expiry/spoilage, growing the awareness, habit, trust and discipline among the community. All these with the background of controversial green consumerism, green washing, nay-sayings all add on to the challenges.
But one has to do what one can and not wait for the planets to fall in line. We no longer have the luxury of time to wait with inaction.
All these challenges can only be alleviated via collaborations with fellow green businesses that have grown over the past year, changing their mindset, operating outside the SOP (standard operating procedure), giving small bulk shops like Eco.Le the chance to try.
Friends, customers-turn-friends, new passerby's who stop to listen to this zero-waste cause/movement and of course the children to whom we owe the future to, all of you provide the encouragement to continue this journey. With every person converted, even if just to reduce trash for one product, is gratification to keep trying.
3. How should people start/ continue the zero-waste journey?
Start at your own pace. Refusing [politely] unnecessary items, freebies, disposables. If you forget to bring along your reusable bag/ mug like I do at times, make the sacrifice to not consume if permissible (more often possible than not). This is how discipline takes hold and becomes habit. You don't have to pay more to buy a kit or a mesh bag or a collapsible cup. Zero-waste is actually money saving, material saving, if only one can detach the normal expsectations and perceptions.
Like sports or music, practice makes perfect. There is no short-cut.
Next, read up more, question and not take opinions/ claims at face value. No one can convince you except yourself. Be a responsible consumer because what goes around comes around. Micro-plastics have come around onto our meals.
4. Are there savings from buying without packaging?
The savings come from buying the exact quantity that you need. As the conventional market scene rewards for volume, small business like Eco.Le generally does not enjoy the economies of scale like bigger supermarket players. Hence there is limited ability to transfer savings from bulk, reduced packaging to customers but where possible, prices are kept competitive, to best match supermarket pricing where possible, to encourage zero-waste and sustainability to customers.
Tips on reducing waste like dilution of liquid soaps with foaming pumps, savings from bulk essential oils for aromatherapy or workshops to teach customers how to make their own Kombucha; cheap cutlery rental services are made available in store to prove that zero waste is not for the privileged.
5. Aren't Organic food/ Fair Trade marketing gimmicks and organic farming a hoax to jack up prices?
Also it is hoped that through the discussions, consumers can rethink the cost of food that has been reduced over the years through alleged improvement in technology and productivity.
The reality though is productivity achieved via unsustainable mono-cropping (planting a single crop over a huge expanse of land); inhumane and unsustainable factory farms (rearing of animals in overcrowded, unhygienic environment). Mono-cropping allows for use of automated harvesting machines and less man-power. Such productivity has been achieved at the expense of soil destruction; animal cruelty; and ultimately the spilled over effects that affects human health due to excessive antibiotics, pesticides, herbicides, pollution from the food and resource manufacturing.
Organic farming and ethical farming is not just about safer food and products but emphasizes on ecological sustainability. These come in the perception of lower yield/productivity. The process of having to verify and certify organic/ethical farming practices adds on to the cost of organic and ethical farming/manufacturing.
Unfortunately, there will always be black-sheeps in the market selling conventionally farmed/grown products as 'organic/ Fair Trade'. The necessity of the organic and Fair Trade movement is so much more important that we should continue to support and try to persecute the black-sheeps instead.
5. What should businesses do more to support sustainability?
Businesses should urgently put sustainability and reduction of trash as key factors in their decision making. Products should be designed to last and instead of selling more products, businesses should change their business model to reliable servicing and maintenance of their products.
If the sales is prohibitively expensive for a quality product, purchases can still be made accessible via installments which is already a common practice.
Workshops can replace shopping malls. Workshop space that allows customer to spend on DIY/ repairs/ upcycling/ creation/ invention/ prototyping.
Policies to mandate building design and usage to support collection and cleaning of reusable cutlery, cups instead of 'recycling' bins. Policies to discourage food wastage much like how customers at buffets can be charged for leftover food, businesses should be held responsible for food wastes.
Product designs should be mandated to support collection, cleaning and refill by the manufacturers. This process is not new and has been in practice in the past and still in practice by a small number of businesses who have taken up the responsibility.
5. Singapore is so small, what can we do?
Everything starts small even if we our footprint in total is small, our role as part of the influence is significant. If everyone thinks like that are insignificant, then nothing will start. Singapore despite our size, have grown in influence and reputation so why can't we do the same in sustainability? Just as a fire starts from a small spark, a defeatist mindset is like a disease that spreads only from one small point source, when unchecked. Instead of the sense of futility, it is important that we remember how humans have achieved what was considered impossible, like the following events in the past:
Ending of apartheid in South Africa,
Healed the ozone layer in the stratosphere
Slavery made illegal
Enabled literacy to the mass via the printing press,
Singapore becomes a sovereign state with no natural resources,
Even if we cannot lead the efforts, we should join the efforts, reduce our carbon footprint no matter how small. Nothing big can ever be achieved if the individuals cannot be moved to participate. No one is too small or insignificant to make a difference. In the face of climate collapse and the scale of the impending consequences starvation, extreme weather calamities and violence due to insecurity, it is a moral responsibility to try to do our utmost to delay if not to reverse the situation.
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PUBLISHED by Straits Times
SEP 9, 2018, 5:00 AM SGT
Written by Michelle Ng
来自 / 联合早报
文 / 陈映蓁发布 / 2019年5月7日 3:30 AM