We The People is our August column commemorating Singapore’s 55th birthday. In it, we speak to a diverse slate of personalities, from heritage warriors to environmentalists, entrepreneurs to filmmakers for their vision of society. These are the voices that make Singapore home.

Melissa Lam, founder of Bamboo Straw Girl is striving to save Mother Earth — one bamboo straw at a time.

A pioneer in bamboo straw production since 2013, the company she leads strives to be as plastic-free and low-impact as they can “from production to point of sale.”

It also has a strong focus on waste reduction, with an aim to “find a way to make an impact on the communities that we work in.”

(Image credit: Bamboo Straw Girl)

Bamboo Straw Girl since has expanded its range to include lifestyle products like cutlery and soaps. Besides providing these wares, there’s a bigger picture: It hopes to “inspire people to consider their connection to and responsibility for our land through thoughtfully crafted, practical handmade products.”

Yet, as we strive towards an eco-friendly future, what does sustainability actually mean to green advocates? We chat with the young founder as she clears up misconceptions of sustainable behaviour, and how everyone can get started on their own eco journeys.

In terms of your career as the founder of Bamboo Straw Girl, what achievements are you proudest of?
I’m proud of taking the first step — the “let’s just do it” attitude towards problem-solving that led to me making the first batch of bamboo straws for distribution, with the purpose of starting important and meaningful conversations around our consumption habits, waste, and more through our first product, the simple bamboo straw.

I’m happy to see how far the collective conversation about sustainability has come now and am proud to think that maybe we were a little ripple in this whole wave.

(Image credit: @bamboostrawgirl via Instagram)

Sustainability is the latest buzzword. What does this term mean to you, and what are some of the biggest misconceptions people have for green advocates like yourself?
“Sustainability” to me is compassion — towards our fellow living beings, to the planet and the land that we live on, and to future generations. When we are compassionate, in our own way, we will make the best choices based on our situation.

People tend to think that “sustainability” is a black and white thing — you are either “green” or you are not. For example, if you make environmentally conscious choices in one area but not in another, you have “failed” and cannot call yourself an environmentalist. It’s not true. I think that when it comes to sustainability, collective community or societal change is important. Many people trying their best, within their means, is better than no one doing anything at all.

(Image credit: @bamboostrawgirl via Instagram)

What steps do you suggest should someone take to become more sustainable? 
As always, my first tip is to just get started! You don’t need to start out completely perfect, and please don’t go tossing out all of your “non-eco” possessions ok! I always advise people to identify one area of their lifestyle that they want to change, and start with the smallest and easiest action, then build upwards. Every little step is an achievement!

Also, always look at what you have first and use that up or make do with it rather than thinking about buying something new right away. For example, if you’ve decided to use reusable cutlery rather than disposable, just look in your kitchen drawer and cobble together a set from there! Add it to your bag and make sure to use it when you need!

(Image credit: @bamboostrawgirl via Instagram)

This year has been challenging for us all. What to you, are the silver linings?
I’m lucky enough to have a comfortable spot to work from at home, and I’ve finally got the time to look at some new designs and ideas that I’ve been putting aside. 

We’ve also adapted to the needs of our customers and have launched a little project where we make reusable masks from offcut fabric and donate 100% of the profits to a charity (during June it was to the Migrant Workers’ Centre) and we’ve launched a new dishwashing bar soap!

What is your personal vision for Singapore?
That Singaporeans have true compassion for one another. 

Would it help to have a system in place that is actively involved in promoting sustainability?
Recognise that WE ARE READY for the status quo to change.
It is not helpful, it’s essential!

In what areas do you think the country can improve?
To be open to new ideas.

(Hero and featured image credit: Artem Beliaikin from Pexels)

Jocelyn Tan
Writer
Jocelyn Tan is a travel and design writer. She's probably indulging in serial killer podcasts or reading one too many books on East Asian history. When she actually gets to travel, you can find her attempting to stuff her entire wardrobe into her luggage. Yes, she's a chronic over-packer.