Credit: Benjamin King

When we meet at a cafe on a rainy Saturday afternoon, self-declared #earthwarrior Karyn Wong went for a steaming cup of hot tea — both for warmth and to avoid using a straw, she tells me.

I steal a glance at my own plastic straw peeking conspicuously out of a disposable cup. Oops.

But any guilt I feel is quickly dampened when she reassures me that her particular brand of environmental activism is more about celebrating the small successes rather than focusing on one’s imperfections (more on that later).

(Here are “10 Small Lifestyle Changes To Help The Environment“)

The 32-year-old works a part-time marketing job, does singing and mermaid performances on the weekends, occasionally DJs on Love 97.2 FM and somehow still finds the time to advocate for environmental issues, sharing daily updates and tips on her social media.

When asked what fuels her, she ponders for a second.

It’s just a lifestyle that I want to achieve,” she explains. “It’s a way of living that I’m very accustomed to and want to celebrate.”

“It all started because I was trying to save money”

Her journey towards a greener lifestyle started some three or four years ago, says Karyn.

“It all started because I wanted to save money. It really was because I felt that I was spending way too much money on beauty products, cosmetics and all that,” she says.

She went through a “DIY phase”, she recalls, describing how she started using baby oil as makeup remover and even tried making her own facial wash.

Gradually, as she did more research on various DIY projects, she began to become more aware of the idea of being sustainable and reducing plastic waste.

But her ‘epiphany’ only came later. It happened when she was listening to local singer Tay Kewei’s song Plastic Mannequin Love, a story of a mannequin in the Great Pacific garbage patch pining for love.

“It just clicked for me that, you know, this is really something happening to the world right now,” she shares, adding that she’d actually first heard the song many years ago without realising the meaning behind it.

Trying to go green? Just have fun; perfection is impossible

But things weren’t all smooth-sailing.

When she first started going green, she set a goal to be “really zero waste“, she recounts. This eventually took a toll on her and she would beat herself up for mistakes like forgetting to bring her reusable straws out.

“My husband would be like, ‘Why are you so upset? It’s really an honest mistake.'”

Now, she says she’s managed to come to terms with the fact that perfection is impossible. Instead, she focuses on patting herself on the back for the little things such as managing to stash her shopping in her backpack instead of a plastic bag, getting her groceries from zero-waste stores, and carpooling.

“For example, if today, I really feel like drinking a cup of bubble tea, but I did not bring my cup with me, I’ll still drink it.

“It’s really fine. We still need to enjoy life!”

Karyn’s top tips to be eco-friendly on a budget

1. Borrow and rent clothes instead of buying

Don’t be afraid to raid your friends’ closets. Karyn shares that she often borrows clothes from her friends as she believes that we “don’t always have to own things”.

They also turn raiding each other’s closets into a bonding activity, she adds.

“We have so much fun together! And to show my appreciation, I’ll buy delicious food for them. This spreads the love and joy around.”

2. For cleaning, try switching to multi-tasking products such as vinegar

PHOTO: Instagram/iamnotagirl

One of her favourite cleaning hacks is to use vinegar mixed with baking soda for everything from clearing her sink to removing stains from white shoes.

Not only is this paste simple and effective, you’ll save on buying various cleaning products — many of which come in single-use plastic packaging.

Admitting that she’s ‘kiam siap’, or cheap, Karyn tells me that the cheapest vinegar she’s come across is the one from zero-waste bulk retailer Unpackt ($0.11 for 100ml).

(Read also “30 Things You Can Do To Be More Eco-Friendly“)

3. Don’t be fooled by ‘eco-friendly’ items

Think twice and do your research before buying anything, Karyn advises.

While you may feel tempted to splurge on that cute reusable bottle or a shiny new set of utensils, these ‘eco-friendly’ items will just result in more waste (both plastic and monetary) if you don’t end up making full use of them.

Instead of trying to emulate Instagrammers and their picture-perfect pantries stocked with matching jars, it’s perfectly okay to just reuse takeaway containers, she says.

This article was first published in AsiaOne.