[EXCLUSIVE] Model And Host Melissa Tan On Her Zero Waste Lifestyle

Text and Interview Joash Kong Photography Courtesy of Melissa Tan 

The zero waste lifestyle can be a little intimidating to start even when you really want to. It’s about looking for the right resources, or even better a person who’s already living it, so you can slowly transition into making small habits a part of your daily life.

Model Melissa Tan is not just a pretty face, and she isn’t like the rest of us, either! She’s an eco-warrior who lives and breathes for sustainable living and zero waste habits.

Melissa’s changing the world one plastic bag at a time! Image: Courtesy of Melissa Tan

Having always had a passion for living the eco life, she found herself recycling everything that she could. Being frustrated with how there’s only so much we can recycle, she wondered if there was a better way.

It’s when she met Claire Sancelot of the Hive Bulk Foods that she learnt about zero waste and how it can totally be made into a lifestyle.

If you want to make a change for Earth Day and beyond, Melissa takes us through the tiny steps you can take to use less, waste less and do better for the planet.

Scroll through to read what she says!

Always an eco-loving girl. Image: Courtesy of Melissa Tan

How and why did you get into a zero waste lifestyle?

I was always an eco-loving girl furiously recycling everything in sight, even as a child. But there was so much that was not recyclable, especially with plastic, I could only reduce my usage.

Then one day, I heard about the zero waste lifestyle from Claire of the Hive Bulk Foods, and how we can refuse the creation of trash in the first place, avoid it all together.

We don’t have to buy into the culture of excessive plastic consumption and endless waste creation. Every day, we can choose to contribute to the destruction or make a choice that sparks new positive outcomes that ripple forward. 

What was the hardest part for you when it came to going zero waste?

There were many little challenges to overcome; the fear of being judged, the “paiseh” feeling is especially strong when it comes to gifts. Often, people show kindness through gifting things, even if we do not need them.

The hardest part for me is to try and turn away those gifts in a kind and gentle manner, as well as explaining simply that I didn’t want to waste, without hurting anyone’s feelings. It doesn’t always work, but I will still try because if I just accept it, it sends a signal that “I want this, please continue to produce it”.

Reusable is the way of the future. Image: Courtesy of Melissa Tan

What can we do to implement a zero waste lifestyle?

Start small and keep building – refuse that straw, refuse that bag, use a reusable container or bottle.

Buy your household goods without packaging e.g. refill cleaning detergents at BYOB, buy loose vegetables and dry goods (rice, beans, etc.) without packaging by bringing your own containers to local markets and traditional stores, challenge yourself to #buynothingnew.

Keep learning more ways to go zero waste in your life with inspiration and tips online. It’s equally important to understand why we’re doing this. There is so much we don’t notice.

“Start small and keep building – refuse that straw, refuse that bag, use a reusable container or bottle.”

If you don’t have a car, what other tips and tricks can you do to contribute to a zero waste lifestyle? 

I move around by public transport and ridesharing most of the time, so I always have one food container with a spoon and my bottle in my bag. An easy way to keep things lean is to pack a produce bag which is practically weightless but can hold most things.

You can buy one, or better yet sew or tie an old T-shirt shut to make one, or use a large scarf for Furoshiki wrapping to wrap any food or loose produce you buy. If you are trying to make a larger buy then plan for it with more bags, but other than that most of the time we only need to carry one.

Other easy ways to reduce your carbon impact is to skip meat in your meals (beef has the highest carbon footprint), avoid fast fashion, shop second-hand, and try borrowing before you resort to buying.

BYOB wherever you go! Image: Courtesy of Melissa Tan

What was the biggest zero waste “accomplishment” for you?

My biggest accomplishment is when someone else is influenced to start living more environmentally conscious from my sharing. Every time someone comes up to me to say they’ve started their own journey after reading a post, or tried a tip, I’m reaffirmed again and again that a ripple effect can happen.

I have also not bought any new clothes for two years. And no, models don’t get free clothes (and if it happens, it’s rare). I revamp my wardrobe by borrowing from friends and local businesses I’ve worked with before, organising clothes swaps, and buying second-hand from thrift stores.

“Living zero waste is a lot simpler than people think. There’s always a more earth-friendly option.”

Any parting words or advice for anyone who is keen on going zero waste?

Living zero waste is a lot simpler than people think. There’s always a more earth-friendly option, it’s just being conscious of our actions instead of going on auto-pilot. 

Our simple steps could inspire a change in someone else’s habits too. All you need is your voice and actions to be an example. It’s the small sparks in us rippling outward that can impact the change our world desperately needs.

So just start. Instead of thinking “it is difficult for me”, give yourself credit for how resourceful you can be once you decide to create less waste. It becomes a very rewarding experience as you keep moving in the right direction.

I share daily tips on instagram.com/melissatanlh and write on how to go zero waste in Malaysia on www.heymelissatan.com.

“Start small and keep going.” Image: Melissa Tan

This story was first published in the CLEO March/April 2019 issue.

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