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5 reasons why Malaysians should start living a zero-waste lifestyle


Melissa Tan reveals how she got herself, her friends and family started on the zero-waste lifestyle.

Going zero-waste while grocery shopping

Previously, we spoke to Melissa Tan on her 10 simple ways to start living a zero-waste lifestyle. As a model, TV host and passionate eco-warrior, she believes in using her platform to challenge individuals to influence and incite change in their social circles, with the power of the people leading change from the group-up.

“I was always an eco-loving girl furiously recycling everything in sight, even as a child. I did everything an eco-conscious person of that time would do and embraced the tagline ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’.

“But then I heard about the zero-waste movement from Claire Sancelot (of The Hive Bulk Foods) and the concept of how we can REFUSE the creation of trash in the first place. That was my lightbulb moment. It made so much sense. It’s a solution so simple, I could almost laugh wondering why I didn’t think of it sooner.”

Melissa’s eco-heroes are Claire Sancelot who inspired her a lot when she was looking into this lifestyle; Kathryn Kellogg of who has a genuine nature about being optimistic and non-judgemental in encouraging others towards zero-waste living; and also Rob J Greenfield @robjgreenfield who is slowly growing towards a fully sustainable life, showing us that there’s always more that we can do.

Now, we have already spoken to her previously on the importance of changing our lifestyles and how it can help our environment. With trash reduction being the new ‘go green’, these are reasons why we should start doing our part for planet Earth.

Read more: Is it possible to go zero waste on a budget?

1. Waste creation is our own bad habit

Okay guys, so packaging is honestly a very ‘new’ thing that came into being just decades ago. It was at a time when humans were entering the phase of mass industrialisation and commercialisation that required the usage of tons of paper and plastic bags. Disposable plastic wastes have only started to become a thing two generations ago.

We were living zero-waste since we were just cavemen until the early 1700s. That’s a pretty long time, and our bad habits are relatively new. So, it’s not too late to start changing our habits, can’t we? They don’t call it early intervention for anything.

“We spend so much time, effort and resources to create plastic waste which we eventually get rid of. Why are we doing that if the waste is unnecessary? And why are we willing to throw the environment, Earth’s climate, as well as our health and wellbeing into chaos for it? Now that we have all the benefits of modern life, it’s just about removing the unnecessary, harmful practices that have crept in.”

2. Going zero-waste can help you save money, for real!

When you reduce waste by being conscious of buying only things you really need – you save money! For example, bring your own bag to shop in the supermarket, and you save 20 cents each time you refuse the plastic bag.

Carry your own bottle out to be refilled at the public drinking fountain, and you save at least RM1 each time (some places sell water at a ridiculous sum of RM3!). Save money while creating zero wastage – win-win!

“I do notice my wallet was coming out of my pocket a lot less because I became a lot more mindful of my purchases. I have avoided countless unnecessary purchases purely on the basis that it had plastic packaging on it, or it came from unsustainable sources (e.g. fast fashion), or I thought twice and figured I could get an item second hand or borrow it from a friend, thus saving the resource completely.”

Read more: 5 zero-waste stores in Kuala Lumpur

3. It’s always all for one and one for all 

© 123rf

While we may not be real-life Musketeers, zero-waste living does not happen with just one person doing all the work. It takes effort from everyone to consciously WANT to start living this lifestyle for the actual process to actually begin.

The first place to start is from home. That’s the easiest place as you are able to control when and how you want to do things, and move forward from there. How you should sort your trash:

  1. Glass bottles
  2. Thin plastic
  3. Thick plastic
  4. Cardboard
  5. Random bits
  6. Cans
  7. Paper
  8. Polystyrene
  9. Glass fragments
  10. Batteries
  11. Metals
  12. Organics
  13. Tetrapak
  14. Fabric
  15. Sanitaries

“Melissa’s personal trash for the whole of 2018 could nicely fit into a single coffee can!”

“I’m the only zero-waste practitioner in my family. I manage my own waste creation and also having to do a lot of anticipating for my family creating waste, and stepping in before it happens. It usually ends up with me sorting the trash, diverting food scraps from the trash to my compost bin and being the magical person who whips out containers and bags two seconds before they buy anything.

Over time, I’ve seen them become more conscious of these little habits and picked it up for themselves too. Our family of four used to average one trash bag a day, but it is now one small fist-sized bag every few days.

4. Our government is making an effort, so should we

In Selangor, we now have curbside recycling pickups and supermarkets have been charging 20 cents for plastic bags to discourage people from using them. This has resulted in the majority of shoppers bringing their own shopping bags!

With clear efforts from our government in the hopes of making Malaysia a greener country, we should all take advantage of this and put our own personal efforts to work!

“The Malaysian government has made some notable milestones this year. I imagine the next steps we’ll be seeing is the government imposing and enforcing more regulations on businesses for sustainable practices. Just look at how quickly the majority of the people learnt to bring reusable bags once you imposed a “20 cent tax” on it in supermarkets.

“So why not impose this everywhere, and not just the supermarkets? We’ve already seen that the old excuse of “it will affect our business” doesn’t hold water, supermarkets are thriving and have even reduced costs without the free plastic bags.”

Read more: 10 simple ways to start living a zero-waste lifestyle

5. We make our own choices

No one can make you do what you don’t want to.  ©Melissa Tan

You know how people always say that it’s so hard for them to go zero-waste – all for the sake of convenience? Honestly, that’s called ‘laziness’. Being lazy should not be an excuse to hurt our environment with unnecessary waste.

If we choose to be mindful, we can choose how and where we want to practice our zero-waste efforts, and not let others dictate what we can or cannot do.

“We are smarter and more resourceful than we give ourselves credit for. Instead of saying, “oh but everything makes it impossible!”, we need to be honest with ourselves and put in some real effort before throwing in the towel.

“For me, if washing a metal straw doesn’t work for me, I opt for an alternative which is to not use a straw at all. If a restaurant won’t allow me to have my food package-free after asking, I have 10 others I could eat at instead. We have choices, so don’t let someone else choose for you.”

If you’d like to know more about Melissa Tan and her personal practices, you can find her at and @melissatanlh on Instagram and Facebook as she writes about #zerowaste living and other areas of sustainability close to her heart

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