For those who want to cut down on disposables and plastics without forfeiting take-away and bubble tea (hmmm), BYO is the way to go.
There are two kinds of people reading this: those who read « wine » vs those who read « keep-a-cup ». Possibly a third group thought of the two combined and will deny that alcohol came first. Either way, we all agree that it’s time to put a stop to disposables. This is the BYO guide to eating out in Singapore plastic-guilt free.
How to Bring-Your-Own [anything]
What is byo and BYOB?
Long before the plastic bag tax and #instagrammable #nostraw movement, the great people of Britain had decided that in order to drink more and spend less they would allow customers to « bring your own bottle / beer/ booze/ beverage» at restaurants. Used interchangeably with #BYO though the latter is more commonly used on invitations to ask guests to bring one’s own anything, the BYO or BYOB (Bring-your-own-bowl) you now see on vendor displays is to encourage customers to bring their own containers, such as lunchbox, straws, or coffee cup.
In Singapore, the BYO campaign launched last year aimed to sensitise the public and food vendors to the habit of using reusable containers and cutlery to cut down on the massive amount of single-use plastics the country goes through daily; most of which the life spans are typically no more than half an hour, and some barely 10 mins, the time it takes to walk from the nearest Koi Thé or Starbucks and the office. It resulted in vendors offering reductions, free toppings or extra vendor points for bringing your own container. Singapore has declared 2019 as the year of Zero-Waste (last year focused efforts to combat climate change). How to make the most of this and become a zero-waste warrior?
#1 Choose your weapons
You don't even need to splash on anything expensive if you're in an office that has the bare minimums for a kitchen. If you don't have a bowl at work, we're sure you have what it takes at home to collect clean empty take-away boxes and juice bottles. Better still, if you want to be able to re-heat safely, invest in non-plastic containers altogether suitable for micro-waves. For snacks like fruit pieces, and loose nuts, mason jars with wide openings do quite well. They’re also our favourite for Frappuccino and açai bowls even when we’re dining in.
Tote bags make great lunch bags, and are handed out for free at every other event - so reuse them! Roomy, washable and durable, they beat plastic bags, especially the "biodegradable" types that by the way, the majority of which ends up in landfills, where nothing biodegrades and can't be recycled with other plastics. And if you thought totes were for girls, how’s this for cool guy?
#2 Find the partners for freebies
The partners of the BYO campaign in Singapore contributed to the movement by offering anything from 50 cents off or more to free toppings and special rewards on purchases when customers presented their own bowl, bottle or cup. The best lists of places can be found on Dollars&Sense which lists the most generous participants (iow where do you get the most freebies!), or the comprehensive list detailing the campaigns and other engagements towards less waste can be found on the BYO website. The top 3 are Plain Vanilla Bakery, Common Man Coffee Roasters and SaladStop!
Special mention to Starbucks for inadvertently being pioneers in the BYO movement and have $0.50 off all drinks when you bring your tumbler - a bigger discount in proportion to the same amount off a salad for instance. Another reason to go? This one is a "secret" only because no one reads the Starbucks refill policy online: you can get free refills on hot brewed coffee, iced coffee, cold brew, and any teas hot or cold.
#3 Smile & be polite
Remember how you could get your way as a kid with a cute face? Well that doesn't really work anymore. However, being polite, friendly and open-minded will get you a ticket to using your own container/bottle/cup anywhere. Yes, we have tried it even in the most unlikely places, such as McDonald's, Burger King, Koi Thé... And while they may not advertise it, the truth is with so much commotion on disposable plastic reduction, it's not a hard bet they will want to at least accomodate. In a few years we will laugh at the memory of coming to McDonald's with a 1L silicone bottle that didn't fit under the free-flow machine and caused them to use a Medium cup to measure out the right quantity. I just asked them to please keep the cup for another Coke Zero! Still a cup, straw and lid saved.
And if you're wondering whether you'd get a stingier portion, let us tell you that, from experience, vendors have all been inclined to give more rather than less for fear of someone complaining they feel they aren't being served the same. As an fyi, most hawker centres serve maximum 1200ml containers or less in Singapore (the Styrofoam boxes fill up even less as they can't pile properly - we won't even start talking about what toxins they contain!), so if you have something of that size you know you will never be getting less than the rest.
#4 Remember to say no
As part of our best Bare Top 5 New Year Resolutions for a more sustainable 2019, we remind you that the BYO really isn't complete without the habit of kindly declining the plastic bag, saying no to the straw, and no cutlery if you have your own or are going back to the office where the pantry has ample supply. What you can say no to:
- plastic bag
- coffee cup holder (especially if you have your own cup!)
- sauce containers (ask for it directly on your meal or BYO!)
Oh and by the way, did you know those disposable wooden chopsticks destroy over 20 million mature trees every year and contain industrial chemicals? And plastic straws might affect oestrogen levels (among other things). Basically, you're always better off with your own reusable chopsticks and straws.
#5 Create a work Green Team
Chances are that your company has a green plan in action to respond to the regulatory measures that the NEA is putting in place to minimise plastic waste and impose reduction plans for 2020. Many companies are starting their own "Green Team" and seeing increasing budgets allocated for such initiatives towards a Zero-waste office. Why not ask to become a part of them or initiate the launch in your company if you don't yet have one? It's easier to remember to BYO when you get everyone in. Our barePack kits are the most practically designed and safest food grade options and we enable companies to provide them for their employees for only $1.50/month, so why not suggest it as part of the company's green budget? We promise it's the best solution for eating lunch without plastic waste and to responsibly recycle any broken returned items for free!
And maybe as a reward for the effort to save the planet, you can ask if they BYOBacardi next time. Who knows, they might accept that too after all!