Published 3 November 2019 ● Last Updated on 27 October 2020

As most of us head into work, everyday, we grab our favourite beverage in a non recyclable cup with a plastic lid (who wants to deal with a spill in the morning!). That’s an average of 20 + cups with lids in a month. That’s 240 per person in 1 year. If one was to calculate the number of cups that end up in the garbage bin per day in an entire office building, the number would be quite a shocker. And that’s just cups! All in all, last year, Singapore created 949,300 tonnes of plastic waste and only 40,700 tonnes of it were recycled.

Surveys show that most Singaporeans agree that their habits have an impact on the environment, yet nearly half of them find it inconvenient to change habits for betterment of the planet.  With the objective to tackle this growing problem, Singapore Government declared the year 2019 as the ‘Year Towards Zero Waste’ … And we at Secondsguru launched our series of Zero Waste Bootcamps (ZWBs). Aiming to encourage environmental stewardship, our bootcamps equip youth [18-30 yrs old] in Singapore with knowledge and skills on ways to embrace zero waste lifestyles, so that they, in turn, become change makers and shape their communities. With 3 Zero Waste Bootcamps successfully completed in 2019, our next bootcamp is slated for December 7 [Update! Bootcamp #5 slated for Nov 21, 2020! Details here and sign up here. Mail us at if you have any questions].

Today we share the story of Team ReFeel, the team from our 2nd Zero Waste Bootcamp [Bootcamp#2 on June 1, Pics here], whose members won a grant from Seastainable to carry forward their community initiative and drool-worthy eco goodies. Their mission: To encourage people to carry their own reusable cups [pitch presentation day pics here]. They presented their journey and future plans to a group of 4 judges, including Samantha Thian, Founder of Social enterprise Seastainable, Michael Broadhead, Founder of Earthfest and Animal Allies, as well as Lara Rath and Anuja Aggarwal – the co-founders of Secondsguru. Read on as they narrate the story of their 8 week journey as bootcamp participants, a journey that began with an idea and ended up being a successful campaign despite roadblocks and genuine time constraints as full time working millennials.

Introduction│ Who are we?

We are Team ReFeel, comprising 4 members – Crystal Pay, Huang Qinyue, Alton Koh and Vanessa Lim.

Team Refeel
Meet the team behind ReFeel : Alton Koh, Huang Qinyue, Crystal Pay and Vanessa Lim.

Crystal (Sustainability Consultant at KPMG) is determined to help corporations find the sweet spot between profits and environment. While she tries to make a large – scale impact at work, she believes that everyone can play a part in sustainability starting with their daily choices. She believes that every dollar spent is a vote for the world you want to live in.

Qinyue is a fun tax accountant (not an oxymoron) working in KPMG and she wants to do something to protect Mother Earth, a conviction that nudged her to join the Zero Waste Bootcamp to meet like-minded people and fight for a better world together. She hopes to utilise her accounting and business knowledge to integrate sustainability into business ideas. In her free time, she enjoys introverted activities like reading and doing art.

Alton, an IT consultant working in KPMG, is passionate about helping businesses solve complex problems with the use of IT as an enabler. He believes that there is more that corporations can do to contribute to sustainability in Singapore. In his free time, Alton enjoys skateboarding and diving.

Vanessa believes that determination and self-empowerment can create movements that have a bigger impact on society. She’s currently conjuring more sustainable ways of working in a food delivery company on top of her usual job as Regional Digital Marketing Specialist. She can be found at ocean clean-up drives, sharing her sustainable ways on social media or chilling with her cat.

The Problem│ Why we chose to create awareness about using reusable cups

As all of us work in the Central Business District (CBD),  we noticed how much tabao-ing was done and as a result, the amount of single-use plastic that was generated on a daily basis. Seeing this general lack of awareness and/or action really frustrated us, especially amidst constant news of climate change, plastic waste, pollution etc. We were all determined to change the status quo and decided to start by creating awareness and providing a real solution for the use of reusable cups, as drinks containers are  more standard in size compared to food containers 

Poster explaining circular economy for reusable cups
As a part of their awareness campaign, they created this poster that highlights the benefits of a circular economy with reusable cups.

From our individual experiences abroad, we had noticed various ways of encouraging consumers to use reusable cutlery and cups– some were free of charge and some involved a refundable deposit. Vessleworks in Colorado,USA and Recup in Germany were the two that were particularly striking. We also realised that carrying a reusable cup when buying takeaway drinks could be inconvenient (and possibly forgotten) for many and we felt that by giving people the option to rent a reusable cup at the point of purchase could be a real solution to reduce the use of disposable cups. 

The Process │ How we tackled the problem and plan to make this bigger

With an ambitious long-term vision in mind of enabling the circulation of reusable cups from F&B vendors to customers and back to the vendors – i.e. create a circular economy for cups, we decided to collaborate with Revolv, a start up from Bali, Indonesia, which has the same vision for a circular economy. From then on began our many fruitful meetings with Jonathan Tostevin, the Chief Development and Singapore Lead for Revolv, to tap into their network of reusable wares while we contacted beverage merchants to partner with for our “Bring Your Own Cup” day – a pilot test held on 21st August, 2019 in CBD.

To focus our efforts, we narrowed our campaign to Hong Leong Building in CBD, where KPMG is located, and where 3 of us 4 work. We reached out to 8 beverage merchants within the vicinity [via e-confrontations, calling out their wastage… just kidding ;), we mean friendly e-mails and face-to-face meetings], out of which 3 agreed to come on board the campaign and offer incentives such as discounts in order to encourage take up. 

Secondsguru Zerowaste bootcamp Refeel byoc campaign in cbd singapore
Team member Vanessa Lim, hustling, nah, encouraging passers by at Hang Leong building to try out the reusable cups by Revolv 🙂
Secondsguru Zerowaste bootcamp Refeel with Jonathan revolv
Tired but not one to give up, all members of Team ReFeel took off from work on the day of the event, August 21, 2019! [Team member Qinyue With Jonathan Tostevin of revolv]
We also partnered with the building management team in Hong Leong Building, which permitted us to use a space for our booth on the day of the campaign. 

To create awareness and educate the public, we utilised the networks of KPMG and Hong Leong Group to publicise our campaign via emails to their employees. We wrote and published an article on KPMG’s intranet and made use of the TVs situated around the KPMG office levels to broadcast our campaign video, featuring team member Venessa Lim. 

How to enjoy your drink

Feels like a long week? That's because…it is! Compared to last week, that is! Grab a drink this midweek to refuel that energy. You deserve it! At ReFeel, we have some tips on how to get the most enjoyment out of your drink. Here's how:

Posted by ReFeel on Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Even though we decided to start by tackling reusable cups, in the long run we plan to apply the same model towards crockery and cutlery by working with food merchants. The idea is to create the initial awareness around straws and cups, move to other reusable wares as well as other forms of wastage.

Challenges │ What we did to successfully complete the obstacle course

Every journey has its own set of challenges.

When we are trying to convince our friends and co-workers to make the shift to bringing their own reusable when buying takeaways, the common immediate replies we heard were “too lazy”, “need to wash – so troublesome” and “forgot to bring”. As we delved deeper, we realised that many felt that their individual actions were not enough to tackle the big problems such as reversal of climate change and elimination of pollution and waste. Our idea of providing reusable cups at the point of purchase for a refundable deposit was able to overcome the first group of excuses involving inconvenience as customers are not required to take along their reusable cups wherever they go, nor are they required to wash the cups.

However, for the second group of reasons involving the real impact of individual actions, we too unfortunately feel the same from time to time. Nonetheless, we always encourage each other that like every little drop makes up an ocean, each individual action collectively holds the power to bring about change. Hopefully, we are able to continue spreading this message to the others, retaining this positivity in our daily lives. 

ReFeel Campaign Poster - BYOC
One of the ReFeel awareness campaign posters promoting BYOC – Bring Your Own Cup.

As all of us are working full-time and the requirements of our job can be rather exhausting at times. Hence, the biggest challenge we faced as a team is finding sufficient time outside of work for this project. Nonetheless, we realised we work very well with deadlines. Therefore, with deadlines, we were highly motivated to do our part, even if it meant sacrificing some sleep or social life from time to time. 

Another big challenge we faced was the unforeseen delays with our partners. We have absolutely no control over such delays, and the only thing we could do is to push back our event and make sure everything within our control was done as soon as possible.

We had the ambition to scale up our pilot test in order to reach a larger group of audience. However, there were a few obstacles in trying to do so. For example, one of our drinks merchants did not allow us to publicise their name in the advertisement for our pilot test as approval could not be obtained for the discounts provided for the use of reusable cups. This was a first-hand experience of bureaucracy and a closed, profit-minded mindset that we could not overcome. 

Another example was the lack of response from the many drinks merchants whom we had reached out to. We attributed the lack of response to a possible misalignment of interests and vision. Perhaps many of the drinks merchants did not see the value for the use of reusable cups, and deemed the incentives provided as a reduction of revenue – their main area of concern. Hence from this, we realised that not only do we have the consumers’ mindsets to change, but that of the businesses too. It could be another chicken and egg story. 

Future│ What lies ahead for ReFeel?

We plan to extend this system of reusable cups to more drinks merchants and on a more permanent basis. To encourage people to use reusable cups, we plan to collaborate with more drinks merchants for the provision of incentives when reusables are used. CBD is our first area of target, and we are definitely seeing a slow but gradual rise in awareness and action especially amongst millennials who bring their own reusables for takeaways. 

Secondsguru Zerowaste bootcamp Refeel byoc campaign hang leong singapore
At the end of a successful campaign day at Hong Leong Buillding in CBD, Team ReFeel with the Founders of Secondsguru and Jonathan Tostevin of revolv.

Personal Impact│ We made changes to our lifestyle too

Whenever we take away food and drinks, we will definitely use our own set of reusable containers, cutlery and cups. Should we forget to bring them, we will try to minimize the use of single-use disposables as much as we can like when using disposable coffee cups, we say no to the lid, straw and carrier. 

In addition, we bring our own reusable bags and opt for fruits and vegetables that are not pre-packaged when grocery shopping. 

The key is definitely keeping a conscious mind in your everyday activities. Even if we cannot do it perfectly all the time, let’s try to act responsibly and sustainably whenever we can. Remember that we don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly, we need millions of people doing it imperfectly. Don’t beat yourself up if you forget to bring your own reusable cup; just remember it the next time.

Zero Waste Bootcamp by Secondsguru| Why we recommend it

Top of the list is definitely the connections we have made – from meeting like-minded friends to establishing relationships with various organizations, whether or not we have the same vision. 

We learnt that collaborations create impact, and that we have to take the step out of our comfort zones to network and meet various people who will facilitate our agenda in their own unique ways. To give two examples, as we attended other environmental events together, we had the good fortune to connect with a designer who helped us design our infographic, as well as a Member of Parliament, Mr Louis Ng, who shared our campaign via facebook.

Last but not least, anything is possible as long as we put our minds (together) to it. Teamwork makes the dream work!

We would recommend this bootcamp to anyone who wants to do something for a better world, but is not sure where to begin. The workshop is a good starting point!

Related Articles: 

Zero Waste Bootcamp| Combating food waste at the grassroots in Singapore

Moving towards Zero Waste: A possibility or an impossible dream?



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