Learning about sustainability was never on the syllabus for most of us growing up. Sure, we learnt about the 3 R’s and the harmful effects of global warming in science class. But there wasn’t enough, if at all any, emphasis on individual action. Aside from the basics, most of us either don’t know how to take action, or that we’re responsible for any solutions at all! However, social media is changing the course of direction on how we can be more sustainable citizens. It’s given a platform to keen sustainability enthusiasts to bring about awareness on the subject, and onboard more to further the green cause; from anywhere in the world, and at any age.
Kate Yeo is one of these advocates, and she’s certainly not your average teenager! Don’t let her fool you with her soft demeanour and youth, Kate has proven that age does not define a person’s perseverance and ability to make significant change. Looking at her sustainability repertoire that came into fruition 3 years ago, she has accomplished far more than her years. Her work with BYO Bottle Singapore and the Re-Earth Initiative has helped raised awareness for the need to curb single-use plastics while offering solutions anyone can practice. We spoke to her about her sustainability journey, and how we can all do our part to be more #Down4Earth.
We really admire your work with BYO Bottle SG. How did you get started?
Thank you! Interestingly I never cared about the environment growing up and only started diving deep into sustainability in 2018. This was due to a whole range of experiences: attending Earthfest, studying geography in JC and peer influence from close friends. First off, I started making changes in my own lifestyle, but it wasn’t enough because all around me I still saw people using plastic straws, cups, bottles, cutlery and bags. Within a few months, I decided to launch BYO Bottle SG to drive change on a larger scale.
It definitely hasn’t been easy. When I first started asking F&B businesses if I could paste my “BYOB” stickers at their store, I would receive fewer than three positive responses for every 100 emails sent. But through three years of persistence, BYOB now has close to 250 drink stalls on board!
Systemic change needs to happen to reduce single-use plastic waste. What’s your take on this, and how consumers can play a part?
I definitely agree about the need for more systemic change. At the end of the day, as consumers we can only do so much; it’s businesses and government that hold the most power to drive change. The recently announced plans to charge disposable bags, for example, is a huge step forward. That said, there are still ways we can let our voices be heard — be it posting something on social media, writing to businesses to incentivise BYO, or writing to your MPs to suggest policies. My team has put together email templates for writing to eateries here!
You’ve also co-founded the Re-Earth Initiative! Tell us more about its collective mission.
Re-Earth Initiative began as a global Earth Day campaign in the midst of COVID-19, back in 2020. At its core, our organisation seeks to drive inclusivity and accessibility within the climate movement. We want to let people know that there are many ways to contribute to climate action. You don’t have to protest on the streets to drive change. You could volunteer with a local NGO or start an initiative in your own community, for instance. A large part of our work is also focused on improving diversity and representation within the movement, through spotlighting different grassroots organisations and activists, fundraising for them, and giving them space to speak.
Who is your role model, and what lesson do you hold onto dearly?
Honestly, I don’t have a specific role model. I’ve gotten to know so many incredible people in this space. It’s always just so heartening to see the different gifts each person brings.
One of the most important lessons I’ve learnt is that individually, it’s not our job to carry the burden of “saving the world”— no one has the power to do that alone. But we have a responsibility to do what we can, within healthy boundaries for ourselves, and that is enough.
Finally, how do you feel individuals or brands can be more #Down4Earth?
The solutions are already out there — now it’s just about really getting down to it and making sustainability a priority in each of our lives!
#Down4Earth is a social awareness campaign launched by ZERRIN on World Environment Day 2021. The campaign features Singapore-based sustainability advocates with a passion for urban farming, circular fashion, composting and more. They prove that there’s more to sustainability than the quintessential 3 R’s and there’s something everyone can do. Discover more about the campaign. Photography, styling and production by ZERRIN STUDIO.
With a background in fashion and textiles, Durva is an ardent photographer and advocate of social justice. She enjoys writing about fashion, socio-political issues within sustainability and partakes in the occasional 'who wore it better' banter on Diet Prada.