Environmentalist first Singaporean to win royal award

Mr Mark Cheng receiving his award from the queen at Buckingham Palace on Thursday. He is one of 60 young people from 45 Commonwealth countries honoured for transforming the lives of others and making a lasting impact on their communities.
Mr Mark Cheng receiving his award from the queen at Buckingham Palace on Thursday. He is one of 60 young people from 45 Commonwealth countries honoured for transforming the lives of others and making a lasting impact on their communities.PHOTO: BCA
Mr Cheng received his award for Green Xchange, a project he started in 2001 that allows elderly residents living in one-room flats to collect recyclables and exchange them for necessities such as rice and sugar.
Mr Cheng received his award for Green Xchange, a project he started in 2001 that allows elderly residents living in one-room flats to collect recyclables and exchange them for necessities such as rice and sugar.PHOTO: BCA

An environmentalist who started a project to help elderly residents exchange recyclables for groceries has become the first Singaporean to win the Queen's Young Leaders Award.

Mr Mark Cheng, 28, is one of 60 people from 45 Commonwealth countries, aged between 18 and 29, who were chosen for the award.

The winners were picked from more than 2,000 applicants for their initiative in transforming the lives of others and making a lasting impact on their communities.

Started in 2014, the Queen's Young Leaders Award allows winners to take part in a week-long residential programme in Britain. They also get the chance to meet Queen Elizabeth II during that time.

As part of this year's programme, winners also visited the British headquarters of tech giant Twitter and met senior BBC executives.

Mr Cheng received the award for his project, Green Xchange, which allows elderly residents living in one-room flats to collect recyclables and exchange them for necessities like rice and sugar.

TEAM EFFORT

This award recognises the achievements of my team at Avelife, and the difference we have made to the lives of our beneficiaries. '' MR MARK CHENG, who won a Queen's Young Leaders Award.

He started Green Xchange in 2001, when he was a Secondary 2 student in Henderson Secondary School. He and his classmates were asked to collect recyclables like bottles from elderly folk living in one-room flats as part of a class activity to promote recycling.

He found that the old folk were barely earning enough money from their recyclables to survive.

Said Mr Cheng: "Green Xchange was set up to ensure that seniors can get a good rate for their recyclables. For instance, we exchange 10kg of recyclables for 1kg of rice."

Mr Cheng is also the co-founder of Avelife, a non-governmental organisation that focuses on the environment and the community.

Avelife is involved in projects such as Project Fun Bin Singapore, which it co-organised last year with Tanjong Pagar Town Council. The Environment and Water Resources Ministry and National Environment Agency were supporting partners. The project tackles the problem of littering by getting participants to design creative bins.

The winners received their awards on Thursday from Queen Elizabeth II. Mr Cheng said: "This award recognises the achievements of my team at Avelife, and the difference we have made to the lives of our beneficiaries."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 25, 2016, with the headline 'Environmentalist first S'porean to win royal award'. Print Edition | Subscribe