Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai once said “It’s the little things citizens do. That’s what will make the difference.”

I couldn’t agree more.

I want to share a personal win that has left me energised and psyched these couple of weeks. COVID-19 has no doubt increased our use of disposable plastics, but one simple action I took can possibly lead to saving up to 8.3 million plastic gloves in a year at a chain of preschools.

I hope my story will inspire you to think passionately about finding solutions for the community and remember that small actions can lead to a big impact. I believe that safety and sustainability can co-exist harmoniously – it just takes some creativity and collaboration.

Every morning, teachers at my son’s preschool checks every child for HFMD: A teacher puts on a pair of disposable plastic gloves, checks for red blisters, and then changes to a fresh pair for the next child.

Before suggestion to combat plastic waste in Singapore preschools

That’s 2 plastic gloves x 5 days x 52 wks x 500 kids = 260,000 plastic gloves a year at that one preschool and a crazy 8.3 million across all their 30+ branches in Singapore.

8.3 million single-use plastic gloves!

I thought to myself, we can definitely do better (while maintaining the same health standards) surely? I started asking my fellow mama-friends if the preschools they send their kids to also had similar practices. Most of them said yes.

So after asking around, the idea for contactless check-ins came to me:

The procedure is simple: During the drop-off, kids old enough to do so should show their mouth, hands and feet to teachers without prompting. Younger children would have their parents with them to aid them, so that the teachers don’t have to touch the child.

This is an elegant solution for three reasons:

  1. Goes contactless in a time of Covid-19: Decreasing the amount of contact between one another is the socially responsible thing to do.
  2. Reduces single-use plastics: This is kinder to Mother Earth and is the first and most effective ‘R’ in being environmentally conscious.
  3. Saves operational costs: Money saved here can be redirected to better things such as staff training or children’s programmes.

I rang the Centre Director, braced myself for a rejection and pitched my idea. To my surprise, she jumped right on board!

The preschool started trialling contactless check-ins last week with the older cohort, and the Centre Director, Miss Goh, has updated me that the rest of the education group’s branches are also going to start implementing trials.

After suggestion to combat plastic waste in Singapore preschools

I have also thought about how I could amplify this idea further.

First, I reached out to the Early Childhood Development Association – the regulatory agency for the childcare sector in Singapore – in hopes that we can amplify this campaign across the nation. It has acknowledged my appeal and seems open to the idea. I will continue to follow up to see if this can be rolled out nation-wide. Fingers crossed!

Second, I have also published an abbreviated version of this article on my LinkedIn profile and also on the Journey to Zero Waste Life in Singapore Facebook group, which has more than 13,000 members. I hope that other like-minded individuals can champion this at their kids’ preschools.

Lastly, I also shared my article with my contacts to pass on the message to their friends and family who have kids too.

Small actions, big impact

I’m super thrilled for this initiative to take off, as is my son. I believe that we must challenge ourselves to do better in our day-to-day lives, and not be afraid to voice our suggestions and work together with others to set higher living standards.

I’m also very grateful to my son’s preschool for being open to change – a huge thank you to E-Bridge Pre-School’s Miss Goh and her team. Together as a community, we can do so much more and so much better.

Tjan Hui Shi

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