What does it mean to live a zero-waste, eco-friendly lifestyle? Florence Tay, owner of UnPackt, Singapore’s first packaging-free grocery store, shares how she and her family do it. 

Sometimes, it can feel like we parents are carrying the world on our backs. We need to think about saving money, saving leftovers, saving time. I feel your pain. In our fast-paced society, saving the environment is often the last thing on our minds. Still, I believe that adopting zero-waste habits can be for everyone, even parents who don’t have a lot of time or money to spare. In fact, eco-friendly options might even make day-to-day tasks easier for you! Here are seven easy steps you can take to help reduce waste in your household, teach your child about living an eco-friendly lifestyle, and save the environment as well!


1) Start early

Your kids are never too young to start thinking about the environment. Environmental friendliness should ideally be the default option in our lives, not an afterthought. The earlier you start inculcating eco-conscious values, the easier it is to make it a part of your family’s lifestyle.

I made sure to pass on habits that I learned from my own parents to my daughter Anastasia. We pack our own meals in tingkat containers, like my parents did when I was younger. I brought her up on cloth diapers, just as I was. Inculcating eco-friendly habits is like passing on a torch, and once your children are brought up in this way, the habits will stay with them for life.

2) Make conscious decisions

It’s usually not just the kids who have a lot of learning to do, we grownups do too. This might mean walking away from an attractive one-for-one deal at the supermarket if we don’t really need it.

With packaging-free groceries, it is my aim to get customers to plan their grocery lists in detail before coming. Doing this helps them save money because they get only what they need. This is great especially for small families like mine, since supermarket portions are often too big for us to finish. As parents, we can set good examples for our kids by making conscious decisions.

This can help kids to apply mindfulness to all other decisions in their lives too. For instance, if you agree beforehand that they can only buy potato chips, but they want to get ice cream as well later, ask them to choose either one. With enough practice, they’ll learn to think about the best choice, instead of acting on impulse.

3) Form new habits

Once we’ve reconsidered our old habits, we can replace them with new ones. Your zero-waste journey can start from refusing unnecessary plastic packaging at stores. Later, you can start bringing your own reusable containers or ​bento bags​. It may be a small inconvenience at first, but like with all habits, it becomes easier the more you do it.

4) Explore options

It’s important to take the time to find zero-waste habits and/or products that are sustainable for our lifestyle. Most people don’t realise that there is a huge world of eco-friendly options available out there, beyond bringing your own bag!

Take beeswax wraps, for instance. These cloths are flexible enough to wrap over the rims of bowls and cups, and the beeswax helps to keep them rigid enough to “cling”. This makes them a great reusable swap for cling wrap, which is used once and then discarded.

5) Make small changes

Everyone is at different stages of their zero-waste journey. You don’t have to make big changes if you feel that you can’t keep up with them consistently. A small step is better than doing nothing, and small steps add up to big impacts when done collectively!

6) Find a supportive network

Following on from the previous point, everything becomes easier when you do it with friends. We love it when customers bring their friends in to the store, and when they start chatting with other customers about what they buy. It’s a ripple effect when you can share your experiences and challenges, making it a lot more enjoyable to go zero-waste.

7) Make it fun!

Make your eco-friendly journey a hands-on experience for your kids – get them to fill your reusable containers with grains, let them unfold your collapsible coffee cup for you, or put them in charge of reminding you to bring your own reusable items. Don’t forget to reward them for being good helpers!

It’s a big world for our children to explore, and with just a few tweaks to our lifestyles, we can make sure that we’ll be passing a healthy, sustainable Earth on to the next generation.

Mother, environmental advocate, and business owner, Florence Tay, 36, was inspired to start a packaging-free grocery store after learning about the zero-waste movement from an online video. In May 2018, she opened Singapore’s first zero-waste grocery store, UnPackt.

Images: Unpackt