Green Travel Guide to Singapore
Knowing that chewing gum is illegal in Singapore and spitting out gum publicly without disposing it properly can be subject to a fine and jail penalty (yap, read more in the “waste” chapter below), we were expecting Singapore to be a green oasis with vegan food, zero plastic and water-dispensers on every street corner. Read on to find out… that we were wrong, but learned a few things and made new friends along the way!
Getting around Singapore (WOMB’s green score: 4/5)
We are subtracting one point from our green score because we flew into Singapore. There were not many other options, as we were arriving from Europe, however we do understand the impact of taking the plane just to be in Singapore for 4 days! Good news is that getting around Singapore with public transportation and/or on foot is fairly easy (Singapore is very walkable and both Google and Apple Navigation work well)! The MRT (underground) network works really well, and the busses go frequently even during the night. On your arrival in Singapore, you can get a travel card (they charge you 12 SG dollars, of which 7 SGD is a non-refundable card fee), and this travel pass can be used on both the MRT and busses. While most fast-life-paced expat locals use popular Grab (a type of Uber) in Singapore, we strongly encourage public transport and your own foot, which is also made easier because the town is mostly very flat.
We did not see many bikers, let alone electric scooters which seem to be the new trend in cities like Paris or Copenhagen that we blogged about earlier this summer (and a true plague in Chinese cities like Beijing or Shanghai) , but we also did not drown in a sea of taxis, like one can do in Hong Kong.
Green Eating in Singapore (WOMB’s Green Score: 5/5)
We did a beautiful job finding vegan food, but we must tell you - it was NOT an easy task! On our first morning, we went to Food Rebels Singapore. It is a small café that serves healthy food, yet not entirely vegan. We were able to get a yummy raw cake with avocado-lime “custard” and a coffee with (delicious) home-made oat milk. The staff was lovely, and the prices were… well. It is Singapore after all. The place was very cute but did not have the cosy vibe of other places known to us, like eg. Mana! in Hong Kong (have you visited their newly opened third location on Star Street yet?!).
Singapore is a food Mecca, and there was indeed a beautiful variety of Cantonese, Malay, Indian… oh, all ‘em cuisines! We appreciated the fact that many restaurants indeed specified in the menu whether a dish was containing meat, traces of meat or were meat-based (eg. all Chinese soups, even the ones only with vegetables were not marked as vegetarian; they were probably made on meat broth). Our inner vegan was treated very well in “Little India”. There were no difficulties in communicating that we were vegan, asking for a “full veg” banana-leaf meal (a generous serving of rice that comes with several curries, a daal and a piece of papadum bread/cracker, all served on a banana leaf that is disposed with the food waste afterwards - zero waste eating, on top of that!).
On our trip, we also had a “vegan lucky strike”. We went to Old Hen Coffee Bar one early morning and when ordering a coffee we learned that they ONLY served oat milk! Which made us think that maybe we indeed are on a way towards a transformation where cruelty-free becomes the new normal, and “mylk” becomes the new “milk”.
For vegans in dire need and risk of death from starvation, we can also tell that 7eleven shops in Singapore have vegan snacks (plastic-packaged and of dubious quality, nevertheless!) like steamed corn, nuts and, of course, fruits. However, all in all, we had absolutely zero problems with vegan food and anywhere we went we could find an option for us - even some ice cream shops have vegan options, if you are into ice cream.
Conscious Shopping in Singapore (WOMB’s Green Score: 4/5)
Ah yes, the shopping part. We did not shop, so unlike during our Parisian adventures we cannot vouch for an item that we got and is now serving us well. We did visit a few interesting locations and met incredible people who push the conscious change on the Singaporean green retail market. All thanks to Zerrin, a physical (during their 3-month long pop-up) and digital concept store for conscious womenswear brands, we attended a panel hosted by Zerrin’s founder, beautiful Susannah. The event took place in The Social Space, a co-working space and a cafe that is also a conscious supply store. You get products of daily use like washing detergent in bulk, there is zero-waste lifestyle gear like reusable straws of KeepCups, but Social Space is more than a shop. Part of their services is eg. The Nail Social - “socially-conscious nail salon that provides training and employment to local underprivileged women, so as to help them progress from a position of vulnerability to self-sufficiency.” The place operates only with non-toxic, eco-friendly (not sure what that means, to be absolutely honest with you), cruelty-free (as in without animal derived substances and not tested on animals) nail polishes. The space also promotes the ideology of wellness, slow-life, mindful and balanced lifestyle as opposed to “harder, better, faster, stronger” of the world outside. WOMB-approved values for sure! Let’s get back to the Zerrin talk though! We were introduced to two of the represented brands - Emi & Eve and Truth&All eyewear. The first is a jewellery brand where old bullets and ammunition found in Cambodia is being recycled into wearables, at the same time securing employment for Cambodian women. The latter produces fully-compostable sunglasses that look… wow, so sleek! We loved the design, and we loved the concept. As for the event itself, it was an interesting panel, touching on topics close to the hearts of founders of sustainable businesses.
How does one secure sustainable growth? How does one scale without going mass and mainstream?
How does one advertise without being pushy and ending up spinning yet another wheel of consumption?
During the panel we also had the honour to meet Elisa Navarro in real life. What a pleasure! She is a conscious blogger based in Singapore, make sure you don’t miss our recently published interview with her!
Waste (WOMB’s Green Score: 3/5)
Indeed, walking around the streets of Singapore we saw very little trash. There were bins everywhere, many placed we spotted segregation bins too. But we know that, sadly, this does not count for much any more. The recycling myth where the consumers believe that what they dispose in the “right” bin gets recycled, while all the trash gets mixed and ends up in a landfill or gets burned, also applies in Singapore. So… what’s up with the chewing gum?
“Police started enforcing strict measurements for punishment of anyone who disturbed the public areas with chewing gum leftovers and spitting. Import of all kinds of chewing gums ceased immediately, but minor window remained in place for local stores to sell their dwindling stock. In 2004, international pressure from United States brought the change in the Singaporean law that reinstated the legal use of some small amounts of therapeutic dental chewing gums. Their use is heavily regulated and has to be purchased directly from dentist or doctor (if they fail to send your credentials to the government, then they can be jailed up to two years and fined $3,000). Tourists that visit Singapore are allowed to bring chewing gum with them, but only maximum of two packs per person. Any more than that and they will be susceptible to be charged with "gum smuggling" which carries the penalty of one year in jail and $5,500 fine. People that are caught with leaving chewing gum remains in the public space can be charged with monetary fine, community work, or often - public beating with the bamboo stick. “
Maybe public beating is an overkill, but who knows whether strict rules like these would help regulate waste creation and management in other parts of the world? The question is though, whether those can be enforced because of the general wealth and relatively high level of education in Singapore. Enforcing laws like these in eg. Bangladesh would probably result in the entire population ending up in jail (additionally indebted, on top of that). What we saw in Singapore was that maybe the waste management is there on paper, but in daily life it does not necessarily apply. We even got a plastic straw served, and hence 2 minus point on the green traveler scale for forgetting our reusable bamboo straw!
Singapore Travel Conclusion
If there is a will, there is a way, as with everything. However, Singapore is a place where the surface looks very bright and shiny, and yet, behind the scenes, we are facing major problems that are not fun to be talked about. The obvious problem is the unequal wealth distribution and a huge gap of professional opportunities between the wealthier expats and under-privileged locals - the phenomenon possible to be observed in most of the giga-cities of Asia.
Walking around the many of Singapore’s gardens, reading and learning about the eco systems of the plants, we get the impression of being in a place where natural paths and lives of the fauna and flora are not only respected but also helped on their way. And we are sure they are, partially. But it creates a false positive of the man-made being the equivalent of a natural eco-system. The Sentosa beach is man-made, the Gardens by the Bay and Botanical Gardens are curated, the Singaporean ”nature” is yet another pretty cover of the Anthropocene.
And therefore, to seal this little travel piece, we would like to do a shout-out to the Red Dot Design Museum which we visited during our trip. The museum showcased an exhibition on humans and technology, delving upon the pros, cons and challenges of an increasing technological development, of AI reaching new heights and of us, humans disappearing (maybe?) in the sea of our material (eg. trash) and immaterial (eg. data) creations. We hope it is clear for you why we choose to end this piece with a note on humanity and the Anthropocene; sustainability, a green future and ecologically balanced lifestyle are more than on-the-surface actions like skipping your plastic straw (however, of course, cutting off plastics helps tremendously!). Sustainability is a mindset, a mindset of holistic living where we develop all together, develop united and grow with each other’s well-being in mind.
Ah, we almost forgot!
WOMB’s total Green Score from Singapore ended up on 16/20 - could have been better for sure, but taking pride in not-compromising our vegan diet and seeing hope in the cool eco-warriors we had the chance to meet!