In the face of major disasters, we must awaken to the lessons they bring.”
Since September 2019, Australia has been ravaged by record-breaking bushfires. According to the World Meteorological Organisation, one of the factors responsible for the wildfires across Australia is climate change. Dharma Master Cheng Yen says, "In the face of major disasters, we must awaken to the lessons they bring.” The explosive world population and the swift depletion of natural resources have greatly overburdened our planet. Hence, the Master continues to urge and appeal to all to do their part to protect the environment.
Tzu Chi Merit Organization (Singapore) held its annual Festive Charity Fair from 11th January to 12th January 2020, with a focus on green practices. The public was invited to shop and enjoy various vegetarian dishes at the fair to support the NGO’s charity causes. “Environmental protection” continued to be a major highlight of the event, where people were urged to bring their own utensils and shopping bags to avoid using plastic disposables.
Since last year, Tzu Chi’s environmental protection volunteers have partnered with United World College of South East Asia (known as “UWC”) to recycle raw food waste, such as fruit peels, coffee and sugarcane grounds, etc. to turn them into compost for the school.
Unlike previous occasions, Tzu Chi volunteers also collected cooked food waste at the Charity Fair. In the past, more than 400 litres of cooked food waste were discarded during the event. This year, Tzu Chi collaborated with Khoo Teck Puat Hospital to recycle used cooking oil and cooked food waste to make compost for the hospital's greenery.
Besides recycling cooked food waste, there was also a recycling zone for recyclables, non-recyclable trash, and food waste.
Plastic pollution is a widespread issue, but how are we to cut down on plastic usage? The answer is: “start from the source”.
Therefore, no disposables were provided at the Charity Fair; instead, reusable cutlery and utensils were provided for diners. People were also reminded to bring their own reusable cutlery, utensils and shopping bags through the event’s coupons and posters. Based on past experience, the volunteers were aware that most of the recyclables collected would be soiled, and so could not be sent for recycling.
Thus, the volunteers strongly urged all the stallholders at the Fair to do the initial round of sorting of the waste. There were also many Tzu Chi youth volunteers walking around carrying posters to promote environmental protection to people. Some volunteers could be seen picking up the litter from the ground to be sorted at the recycling zone.
Fernanda De Melo, a young lady from Brazil, signed up as a volunteer for the Festive Charity Fair through Tzu Chi’s website to help with sorting recyclables.
Fernanda, who had lived in Beijing previously, was aware of the severity of pollution. Through studying news and information online, she knew that only when everyone plays a part in protecting the environment can pollution be mitigated. After moving to Singapore, she wholeheartedly wished to do her part to protect the environment, and discovered about the recycling activity at Tzu Chi’s Charity Fair.
Before the volunteers started to sort the recyclables, Tzu Chi’s environmental volunteer leaders explained to them the 5Rs of sustainability, namely “Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Repair, and Recycle”. From that, Fernanda realised that it is not easy to do recycling.
“Sorting recyclables is actually very exhaustive and time consuming. I hope that more people can understand the 5Rs, so that they would consider whether they really need an item before buying it. Then, we will be able to reduce trash."
"In the face of global warming, I dare not expect myself to be able to do much in saving the earth and promoting environmental protection. However, I can always start (conserving resources) from myself,” shared a shopper, Huang Yun Ting.
She had brought with her around 10 pieces of reusable cutlery, and said that she sorts her trash for recycling at home and that bringing along reusable cutlery has become her habit.
Mitigating global warming through green solutions
Besides doing recycling, the most appealing feature of the Charity Fair was the great variety of delicious vegetarian food. Research has shown that going vegetarian is one of the best ways to protect the environment. For two years in a row, owner of “Bao Today” (a local restaurant chain) Jiang Mei Xin has sponsored a food stall at the Charity Fair. She said that the main dishes of her restaurants are mostly made of meat, and in order to sell her buns at the fair, she has specially turned her Teochew crystal buns into vegetarian buns.
"Our restaurants are also coming up with more Teochew vegetarian dishes to help promote an eco-vegetarian lifestyle to people,” revealed Jiang.
Huang Chun Lan, who has also been supporting Tzu Chi’s Charity Fair for many years, is one of the founders of Mr. Bean Limited. Since soy milk and ice cream are packed in plastic cups, she decided to sponsor UNISOY soy powder and granola bars, which do not require additional packaging. And the granola bars are made of soybean grounds.
"To help protect the environment, most of our products are packed using refill packs instead of individual packaging. Our stores also offer discounts for those who bring their own mugs. We actively promote vegetarian food items, such as bean burgers, bean and oat milk, vegetarian dumplings, etc. Our R & D department will also continue to develop more solutions to reduce carbon footprint, such as cutting down on the use of plastic packaging," said Huang, as she shared about her business practices.
Apart from festive goods stalls, food stalls, a reception area and a Jing Si product display zone, the Charity Fair also included stage performances and handcraft workshops. From time to time, young children from the Tzu Chi Great Love PreSchool were seen walking around carrying baskets of festive goods to sell to people in support for a good cause.
Senior citizens from Tzu Chi Seniors’ Engagement and Enabling Node (SEEN) have also handmade shopping bags to be sold at the Charity Fair. The elderly volunteered enthusiastically when they knew that they could weave shopping bags for sale at the event.
A senior, Qiu Bao Xi, said, “We made these to help protect the environment and for the good of our health as we could make use of our hands and fingers. Besides, the bags can also be used to raise funds for Tzu Chi’s charity programmes.”
The colourful shopping bags that were of different sizes were not easy to make. It required a lot of concentration and intricate handicraft skills.
Qiu said, "Our hands hurt when we made these bags, but we still did our best. We feel happy as we made them with our own hands.”
Starting from 2006, Tzu Chi has been holding a Festive Charity Fair annually prior to the Lunar New Year. The event was held at its Jing Si Hall in the first few years and was later shifted to an open space next to Pasir Ris MRT station. This year, the venue has changed (again) to the Multi-Purpose sports court apposite Khatib MRT station. Despite the change in location, the event still drew large crowds of people across the island, who had not only gave to charity, but also played a part in protecting the planet.