Plastic straws are so ubiquitous in Singapore we usually don’t think much about them, whether in our ice kopi every morning, or the small bottles of Yakult we have after dinner.
However, this “necessity” contributed significantly to the 7.67 million tonnes of solid waste Singapore generated in 2017 – that’s enough to fill 3,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools. Of these, 10%, or 300 pools, will contain plastics alone.
This is the exact problem that fresh graduate and social entrepreneur, Samantha Thian, wants to tackle: her business, Seastainable, sells reusable stainless steel and glass straws which she hopes users will bring around to sip on their tehping or Gong Cha with, instead of taking – and discarding – a single-use plastic straw with each drink.
No Waste Business
Sam’s (as she is known to her friends) zero waste approach isn’t just about ditching the straws, but extends to all aspects of Seastainable’s business: her straws are beautifully packaged in canvas pouches stitched together from recycled linen, and are sent out in re-used donated envelopes and polymailers.
All of Seastainable’s collateral – including name cards and flyers are also upcycled from waste donated by corporate partners.
After a year in NUS, Sam decided to take a Leave of Absence to work as a whale shark research assistant in Cebu, Philippines, where she spent hours in the water each day.
“The experience was life-changing as I got to see first hand the impact of climate change and pollution in our oceans, such as bleaching, increased water temperatures, and tons of plastic.”
Just earlier this month, a heartbreaking video of a British diver swimming through a deluge of plastic waste and food wrappers off the coast of Bali went viral.
And if combatting plastic consumption wasn’t enough, Seastainable pledges 50% of is profits to support marine conservation in Singapore and the Philippines.
Love For The Sea
Sam’s passion for the ocean and the environment sparked at the age of 16, when her family travelled to Tioman, Malaysia, to learn how to scuba dive. While underwater, she observed how coral reefs had been trampled on and crushed by the influx of tourist divers, destroying the natural habitats of fish and decimating their populations.
She entered the National University of Singapore (NUS) Business School, where she majored in Business Administration, but began to feel increasingly frustrated – being in the classroom also meant that she wasn’t able to do “enough” for the environment.
There, she made the tie between plastic waste reduction and marine conservation: plastic waste that is disposed, or washed into the ocean does not degrade, but strangles sea creatures, leaches chemicals and breaks down into microplastics which are eaten by marine life and are eventually absorbed by humans, who are at the end of the food chain.
Given her connection to the Philippines, it is little wonder that she has continued to support marine conservation efforts around the country.
To date, sales from Seastainable’s straws has supported 8 families in Bohol with 50 manta rays, helped Watson Mariculture, Palau, to repopulate giant clams, funded Our Singaporean Reefs’ environmental conservation efforts, as well as sponsored Save Philippine Seas’ Thresher Shark Camp.
The camp provides students with the opportunity to learn about marine conservation, take action in waste management and empowers young leaders to take the lead in marine conservation.
Raising Local Awareness
Outside of Seastainable, Sam has been actively involved in coastal and underwater clean-ups in Singapore, and organises environmental talks for like-minded individuals.
While she was in the Philippines, she also obtained her Dive Master certification, hoping to impact new divers by raising their awareness of the importance of reducing single-use plastics.
While she will be embarking on her full-time career in the coming months, she will continue building Seastainable as her “passion project”. This stems from part of her desire to lead a meaningful and purposeful life in Singapore that can, at the same time, support her love for marine conservation.
She reflects: “Over the past 4 years, I’ve had the opportunity to meet many different people in the field of conservation and I even attend a marine conservation bootcamp called SEA(Sea and Earth Advocates) Camp in the Philippines. Meeting all these inspiring individuals was what sparked the belief that I could make a difference in my own way.”
Apart from moving to reusable straws, or requesting for “no straws,” here are a few other lifestyle changes Sam has made that she hopes other young Singaporeans can also take up:
- Reduce the use of plastic bottles, especially from buying mineral water. Tap water in Singapore is potable and there is no need to buy bottled drinking water;
- BYOB (Bring Your Own Bag) when shopping;
- Switch to no-plastic toiletries e.g. shampoo bars, soap bars, facial bars, use glass containers;
- Travel sustainably – support local organisations instead of foreign ones, such as staying at a locally-owned resort, or diving with local dive groups.
To find out more about Seastainable, click here.