Sophia Huang: Turn Waste Into Toys
As a mother of two, Sophia would rather not buy her children toys. Instead, she crafts them using upcycled materials. In a world where we dispose more than we should, learn how Sophia’s fresh perspective is helping repurpose our refuse.
What inspired me to start?
“The night my daughter turned two, we stayed up to make some ‘supermarket shelves’ out of cardboard boxes and cartons to match her new gift – a cash register. My first big upcycling project after that was a kitchen set made out of cardboard boxes, bottle caps and old CDs.
I had always saved scrap material and packaging since I was young. My mom used to call me a “karung-guni girl” because I would save nearly everything.
After I had my first child, I noticed my daughter would sometimes be more attracted to random items over her own toys. I thought, ‘Why spend money on something that she would only be interested in for five minutes? Wouldn’t it be better to create my own?’. Upcycling is really an outlet for my creative energy.”
What kept me going?
When we began, I was the main “creative director”, but now, it is my daughter who keeps asking me to make new toys. Some of her requests include a kennel for her stuffed dogs, paper shoes and owls made out of toilet rolls.
As a parent of two young children, I am always on the lookout for interactive activities and ways to spark their creativity. I share my projects on a Facebook page, Craftcycle for Kids, hoping that other parents will catch the upcycling bug.
It’s really not so much about building crafts, but building my relationship with my daughter. I also want to teach her to be resourceful and to create things with her hands. Now, she too has started making crafts based on her own ideas.
What’s next for me?
I recently published a series of children’s books called Nature Playtime which focuses on the adventures of a little girl and her grandmother, and how they bond through nature. It harks back to the good old days when children played with whatever they could find, such as flowers, seeds and leaves.
During my storytelling sessions in schools, I teach kids how to make upcycled craft out of plastic bottles and supermarket bags. Through this, I hope to do my part in encouraging a culture where people create, and not just consume.
What eco tips would you share with fellow parents who are interested in craft-making?
Toilet rolls are the easiest to collect and can be used for everything! I’ve used them to make gift packaging, a marble run as well as figurines and dolls.
The best way to begin upcycling is to just try it. The sky is the limit and you never know where your creativity will take you. It’s a great way to bond with your child and they will surprise you with their ideas!
Sumita Thiagarajan: Recipes in Kinship
Since young, Sumita always had a passion for nature and the environment. Today, she has found an avenue to channel her interest from running environmental workshops to conducting nature walks, participating in food rescue sessions organised by SG Food Rescue, and creating new recipes by rescuing unwanted produce given away by food vendors.
What got me started?
“I’ve always been interested in nature and the environment since young, and have always wanted to do my part for the environment, but I didn’t know how to get started.
It was only when I was researching on healthier plant-based diets for my family that I learnt how healthy and nutritious food is being thrown away every day. To me, it seems silly and a waste of money to be throwing away food that’s still perfectly edible, just because they were bruised or discoloured.
When we throw away food, we are also wasting precious natural resources – water and energy, that’s been invested into growing the produce that eventually gets served up on our tables. Resources are finite, especially so in Singapore, where we have limited space to build incineration plants or landfills to dispose of food waste.”
What was your first project?
“I started reading up on healthier diets when my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. Through my research, I learnt that, a lot of nutritious food was being thrown away due to cosmetic filtering.
Hence, I collect these “ugly” and blemished food that would otherwise be disposed of from fruits and vegetable suppliers and improvise new recipes with them.”
“I hope to see more people in my community take small steps where they can, to adopt a greener lifestyle. Generally, I feel that Singaporeans do want to adopt more eco-friendly habits, but are unaware of how to get started, and may feel left out if people around them do not support their efforts . The first step is to overcome the inertia of being the “first person to make the change” and start practising simple habits to reduce food waste such as ordering only what we can finish or asking for less where necessary.
The next step is to spread the awareness on what are the small steps each of us can take as individuals and how these small steps can impact the environment in big ways.
If each of us can influence just one person, that would be a great start. I’ve chosen to do what’s good for me and the environment. You can too.”
Pei Shan Yeo: The Hidden Truth
The co-founder of local initiative UglyFood, Pei Shan rescues blemished, ‘ugly’ fresh produce and encourages people to eat healthy while wasting less food. Together with her team, she strives to maximise the value of food resources, diverting fresh fruits and vegetables from the trash and transforming them into delicious and nutritious products.
What got me started?
“When my Grandma fell ill, I discovered a hidden truth. That for years, I’ve been wasting perfectly edible food. For it was only then that I started researching about healthy diets for my Grandma, and discovered how ugly foods are often being thrown away. That’s a huge waste of the natural resources it took to produce them in the first place. They are perfectly edible and as nutritious as other more aesthetically pleasing food.”
What was my first project?
UglyFood was born through a university project while I was studying at the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD). [Co-founder Augustine] and I were working on a project for Design Odyssey, a programme established by SUTD-MIT International Design Centre, in partnership with the JP Morgan Foundation. Design Odyssey aims to provide students a seamless transition to professional practice by focusing on social awareness, innovation and design.
During that project, we started building UglyFood’s business concept by doing primary research and talking to stakeholders, such as staff from supermarket chains, local farmers and wet market stall owners. We then realised that a lot of ugly food became ugly through logistical processes such as distribution and transportation.
What got me going?
“Through working with established mentors in the F&B industry, we developed a range of healthy recipes to transform “ugly” food into beautiful yet delectable products. First, we started with juices.
Now we’ve expanded to ice cream and fruit tea as well, and we don’t plan to stop until everyone
starts seeing the beauty in “ugly” food.
We’ve received strong support from many local eco-conscious folks, but in reality, there is still a large part of the population who are not aware of the issue of “ugly” food being thrown out, even though they are just as nutritious as “beautiful” ones. We want to change the perspective of how beauty is only skin-deep – there is more to it than what meets the eye!
We are where we are today owing to the various mentors who have guided us through the different phases of our UglyFood journey.”
Working on UglyFood, we’ve learnt that problems should be seen as opportunities, and our goal and vision for the company is to explore food wastage beyond just the F&B space, like pushing the boundaries further than just cosmetic filtering, and looking at how to cut down excess food too.
We want to use UglyFood as a platform to educate consumers, and shift Singaporeans’ mindsets from “I” to “We” and be more conscious of the larger community. Currently, most of us are not aware that it is not energy efficient for Singapore to incinerate unwanted food. This also contributes to the energy and resources used to grow produce, which in turn gives rise to global warming.
Understanding the importance of reducing waste can help to shape the world we live in. And we’ve found a way to do what’s good for us and the environment.