Recently I have started volunteering with Trash Hero Singapore to organize beach clean ups and community education programs across Singapore.
How this started was quite accidental.
For my entire life, the ocean has been a place of peace and rejuvenation. My husband and I lived in Thailand 13 years ago. We traveled all through Southeast Asia and loved to go to the beach. Back then, I don’t remember seeing any trash in the ocean, ever. Moving back to Asia, over a decade later has been eye opening and heartbreaking. It is impossible to describe the dramatic increase of trash and plastic in the ocean over the past 10 years.
One day this summer my son and I went for a bike ride along the east coast of Singapore and we saw this mom and her son just picking up trash. My son asked if we could do this the next time we went to the beach, so I said sure, great idea! I asked some of my other friends with kids if they wanted to join us. That first beach cleanup we had 3 parents and 4 kids. It was really fun but a friend suggested I post the next cleanup on a local Facebook group for Expats. The second cleanup was about 30 people. It just took off from there. For the 3rd, about 70 people came, and for the 4th, there was over 100. The response has been incredible. There is so much interest. People want to do something about it. Early on, Trash Hero Singapore noticed my efforts and they asked me to join them. Trash Hero Singapore is part of the Global Trash Hero World Organization and in Singapore we are a group of 5 volunteers working together to educate the community about sustainable living by organizing beach clean ups every month. It is great to work with a group of people just as passionate as I am.
The thing about the beach clean ups is that, it’s not really about picking up trash, that’s important, of course. But the beach clean ups are really about getting people to recognize how their daily choices can have a much greater impact to reduce the waste in the world.
I love to organize cleanups with kids. Kids can be fiercely passionate and its easy for them to speak up in their families and remind them to think carefully about their consumption.
I think, in part, because there is an efficient waste management system where we live, we as a community do not develop a good understanding of how much waste we consume in a single day. We are so disconnected. It’s so easy to get that bubble tea or grocery bag and throw it in the trash 5 minutes later without a thought. However, if I can get someone to spend 45 minutes cleaning up straws or plastic bottles, or digging through the sand to see all of the microplastics, it is my hope that they will stop and think next time, “Wait I don’t need this straw. Let me get a reusable bottle and bring my own bags”.
United Nations’ Global Goals
# 12 — Responsible Consumption and Production
#14 — Life Below Water
What Can Families Do?
1. Plastic Audit
When I ask beach cleanup participants to take little steps towards making a big impact I first ask them to start with a plastic/trash audit.
Spend one week saving and collecting ALL of the plastic you and your entire household uses. Take a photograph for each day, and put everything together at the end of the week for a one final photograph. When you are doing this, pay attention to the changes you can make to reduce your waste and commit to at least one change that you can stick to. Don’t be afraid to start small, and be graceful to yourself when you mess up.
2. Compost It!
The kids and I have started a compost bin on my balcony. It’s amazing how much waste you can divert from the trash even if you live in a tiny apartment in the city!
3. Speak Up and Speak Out
Making a difference in our own lives is important but it’s also about recognizing the systematic changes that societies and businesses need to do as well. So don’t be afraid when you are in a store and ask for them to stop wrapping their produce in plastic or to use environmentally friendly take away options (if you can’t bring your own). If they refuse to change, don’t shop there anymore.
Becoming a Trash Hero wasn’t something I planned. But it feels good to do something about our world, however small. I get a lot of people requesting support in organizing a beach cleanup. I just want to remind everyone that it doesn’t take any special skills. Anyone can do it. Even if it’s simply keeping a bag with you and the next time you are at a beach spending a few moments picking up trash.
Trash Hero Singapore
Trash Hero World
About this Social Good Family:
My name is Robin Hayes, I am a mother to the amazingly empathetic June (7) and the funny and generous trickster Joey (almost 5!), and wife to my generous and supportive husband Justin. I am also a photographer. (Robyne Hayes Photography www.robynehayes.com Instagram is robynehayes). A few years ago we moved to Singapore as a family. We wanted our children to experience different cultures and see the world through a different lens. We moved knowing I would be on a dependent pass and that it would be difficult for me to work as a freelance photographer. So I have learned to let go of the idea that my value is tied to money or career title. I am cultivating my art, and spending time doing things that I feel are important for my family and the larger community. That also means I get to volunteer a lot.