14-year-old helps cut school canteen's use of plastic

Clarissa Song is the youngest ever winner of the EcoFriend Awards, given by the National Environment Agency (NEA).
Clarissa Song is the youngest ever winner of the EcoFriend Awards, given by the National Environment Agency (NEA).ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

SINGAPORE - At most canteens, vendors use plastic disposables for take-away orders. Not at Anderson Secondary School.

This is the result of campaigning led by 14-year-old Clarissa Song, the youngest ever winner of the EcoFriend Awards given by the National Environment Agency (NEA).

Clarissa knew she had to do something after learning about how marine animals were choking to death on plastic objects that had found their way into the ocean.

The Sec 2 student of Anderson Secondary had observed that plastic items were used in her school canteen for take-away orders.

"I noticed the stall vendors gave out plastic bags, cutlery and straws, which I found to be unnecessary," she said.

With the help of her fellow Green Club members, she approached the canteen vendors in March to try to get them to stop using plastic disposables.

While initially reluctant as they fear that fewer students would buy from their stalls, the vendors eventually agreed to stop using disposables for packing, in line with Clarissa's Refuse Plastic Project.

Today, plastic disposables are hardly used in the school canteen. Those who want to pack their food orders are encouraged to bring their own lunch boxes.

"Even teachers have joined in by bringing their own lunch boxes when they pack food from the canteen," Clarissa said.

On Wednesday (Sept 20), she received her award at the EcoFriend Awards Ceremony at the Mandarin Orchard hotel. These awards are given out annually by NEA to individuals in Singapore who have contributed significantly to environmental sustainability.

Nine other individuals received the award, including Ms Kia Jiehui, who co-founded the Save That Pen movement in 2010, which has given some 10,000 old pens a new lease of life.

Ms Kia noted that used pens are difficult to recycle as they are made of many different materials and too much labour is needed to take them apart to be recycled.

She decided to encourage people to refurbish pens, including turning them into art pieces.

"Our message is really to ask people to question if we should be designing our products in this way (with many different materials), which makes them very difficult to recycle," said Ms Kia, 28, a senior strategist at Forum for the Future, a green group.

Another winner was teacher Heng Chong Yong, 42, who leads several green initiatives at Bukit View Secondary. These include an eco-garden which has a self-cleaning pond - the pond has plants like pandan, water lily and lotus which act as natural filters to absorb decomposing leaves and fish faeces.

"As an educator, I see environmental education as a platform to educate the whole child, to teach academic subjects as well as citizenship and character education values, like respect and responsibility, and leadership," said Mr Heng.

At the ceremony, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli said: "I hope that the stories of our award recipients and partners will inspire others to continue to protect our fragile environment and precious resources, as well as increase ownership and collective action in the community."

Correction note: An earlier version of this story said that plastic disposables are no longer used in the canteen. The school has clarified that they may be still be used in certain circumstances. Lunch boxes are also not required, but encouraged for takeaways.