The first time Yasser Amin went for a beach clean-up two years ago was on the morning of 9th August. National Day for many would probably mean showing some form of patriotism – for Yasser, that coincidentally meant kickstarting his journey towards making the shores of Singapore litter-free.
“Honestly, I just had nothing better to do. I was interested in environmentalism – I followed the Instagram pages and read the articles, but I did not know how to put it in actionables,” said Yasser, whose participation in his first beach clean-up in 2020 under The East Coast Beach Plan, sparked his passion about issues like waste-management, local littering and coastal litter.
Yasser spends almost all of his Wednesday mornings armed with claspers, tongs and a sack by the shores of East Coast Park, and in the two years since he first started, Yasser has picked up more than just bottle caps and shreds of styrofoam. Along the way, he has gained knowledge about the issue of poor waste management and found a community of like-minded individuals who believe in spending their time to make a difference.
Going the Extra Mile
When it comes to the issue of environmentalism however, one consistent sentiment across media and public perception is that the problem seems insurmountable. When asked how bad the issue of marine litter is, Yasser said, “Imagine that if the whole world were to stop polluting the oceans today, I think for the next 10 to 20 years, we’d still see trash flowing out in the oceans.” Yet, the large and looming nature of the issue doesn’t faze Yasser – in fact; it gives him a reason to want to do more.
After one and a half years of being on the ground, actively going for beach clean-ups and having deeper conversations about the issue of waste management, Yasser knew more could be done. “Beach clean-ups are far from being the solution”, he said, explaining that there was still a gap in outreach to the community and education about coastal cleanliness.
As such, along with Ken, another regular volunteer at beach clean-up sessions and a marine diver equally passionate about sustainability, Yasser co-founded The Re-Purpose Collective (TRPC) this year. The Re-Purpose Collective, seeks to go beyond beach clean-ups as a solution to tackling marine litter and promoting better waste management. Instead, their priority lies in driving plastic repurposing and encouraging greater community engagement and education.
Giving plastics a new lease of life
If you were to see TRPC’s Instagram page, one of the things that might instantly interest you might be this machine! According to Yasser, this is a plastics repurposing machine which can shred, melt and inject old plastics into new, usable products. However, did you know that not all types of plastics are recyclable?
Well, if you’re a little bit of a plastic newbie like me, fret not! Here is some trivia for you. As Yasser explained, there are 7 types of plastics, each with its own unique properties. The plastics repurposing machine can only recycle Type 2 and Type 5 plastics, including milk jugs, shampoo bottles, cleaning product containers, prescription medicine bottles, and yoghurt cups; just to name a few.
Another common misconception is that the plastics collected and recycled are from beach-clean ups. Yasser clarified that plastics from the beach are often dirty and need to go through a process of cleaning before they can even be considered for recycling. Furthermore, some plastics from the beach are not biodegradable. As such, most of the post-consumer plastics TRPC collects to put through the machine actually come from businesses and organisations and donations from the community.
The plastics are repurposed to make items like coasters and even phone stands! Currently, while these products are for sale, Yasser emphasised that the priority still lies in spreading awareness and educating the public about plastic repurposing instead of making a profit.
Engaging the Community
The issue of environmentalism and the need to protect our planet has been a conversation that spans decades. Yet, it always feels like there is a general sense of apathy on the ground.
When I asked Yasser why he thinks this is the case, he mentioned, “You and I are in a bubble which I see as the sustainability space. The accounts we follow and the people we speak to care about the environment. Unfortunately, there’s a huge number of people who are in their own bubble – and it’s convenient. In Singapore, you don’t have to think twice about what happens to your waste.”
This is why Yasser feels it’s important for people to be exposed to the issue in the first place. When he organises beach clean-ups or clean-ups aimed at picking up local litter, he says it’s common for individuals to express shock at the amount of trash there is. “People never thought that there would be so much trash in car parks or the MacDonalds at Parkland Green,” he says.
This is the chasm in knowledge that TRPC intends to close. So far, they have been setting up booths in heartland spaces like HeartBeat at Bedok to share with residents about repurposing as well as organising weekly beach clean-ups so that individuals can truly see the extent of trash present. However, for the folks at TRPC, this is merely the start of some of the bigger endeavours they have to engage with the community.
Paving Greener Pastures Ahead
“From day 1, Ken and I knew that we don’t just want to have a space for us to do our own thing for TRPC; we knew that we wanted to engage the community”, said Yasser as he pulled out a picture – a mockup done by @earthtodorcas – revealing TRPC’s magnum opus for the near future.
Yasser explained that TRPC would soon have a space at Raintree Cove at East Coast Park where they will have their own shipping container, acting as a booth of sorts to conduct workshops and include the plastic repurposing machine, which members of the public can learn to use! The path leading up to the shipping container will also act as an interactive walkway, filled with information boards about various local sustainability initiatives.
The shipping container is looking to be placed by the end of the year, and TRPC intends to start their workshops and open the space to the public by early next year. However, beyond just conducting workshops and reaching out to the public, one of their long-term goals is to get the ball rolling for individuals to pick up their own sustainable habits and use the space for their own endeavours.
For example, Yasser mentioned that with the plastic re-purposing machine, he hopes that after initial rounds of making members of the public accustomed to the machine, they will be able to use it to create their own products and even turn it into businesses if they intend to. “It’s a decentralised approach, where we hope that people will be able to take their own initiative,” said Yasser.
Indeed, with an issue as large and complex as waste management, sustainability and all its other related effects and implications, the most important resource that can be harnessed is people. This is why Yasser acknowledges that the simplest, yet most challenging thing to do, is to shift mindsets and catalyse people to take the initiative to make their own lives more sustainable.
There are many “low-hanging fruits”, as he says, which we can implement in our day-to-day lives. “It might sound cliche to say being your own bags or bottles, but these actions really do make a difference”, says Yasser, especially when it can cause a ripple effect on those around us. Probably the biggest testament to this is Yasser and TRPC themselves. They have come so far in influencing many to adopt sustainable practices and are still on the journey to share the knowledge and equip others with the power to make a difference.
Visuals courtesy of Clean & Green Singapore.