A plastic cup with fruit. Photo: AFP
A plastic cup with fruit. Photo: AFP

They meet before the sun comes up in an inconspicuous little room, and there are no public announcements to say they’ll be there. Mostly, it’s a group of 20 or so students, but the group chat shows there are more than 80 in the movement.

There are girls and guys, all of whom look exhausted from the week they’ve had. However, there is a palpable sense of excitement to share what they’ve done so far. A rogue group, the school management doesn’t know they exist. They reminded me of students plotting a revolution – and that is exactly what they’re doing.

Their cause is the environment, and they’re part of a rising wave of youth environmentalists in Singapore.

The teens are from a junior college in Singapore, and they juggle their passion as environmentalists with their obligations as students. Many have committed to multiple extracurricular activities, but they make time to brainstorm and plan projects they believe will help make the world a better place.

A popular objective for many of these students is to get their school to become more zero-waste. The students want to rid the school cafe of plastic takeaway boxes, push the canteen vendors to stop packaging fruit in plastic bags, and create a system where students have the option to print on used paper – these are just of few of their goals.

These teens have big dreams, but they’re choosing to start small. They believe that influencing the school management is the first step to effective change in the community.

Today’s meeting started with an update on existing projects. I was amazed by how well they knew their stuff. They’re well versed in the waste-management system of Singapore, the plastic-production process, the ineffectiveness of switching to biodegradables in Singapore, and the latest technologies in the environmental sector.

A gentle discussion ensued about the waste-management system in their school – their serious passion for the environment rang clear as they voiced dissent about the present measures taken by their school.

Some of their proposals have achieved some success. A girl spoke of how she had met with the school management to discuss the feasibility of her plan – she wanted to remove one-use plastic from the school cafe. A boy shared the story of the green light he obtained from the school to start a composting system for food waste.

These successes were small ones, but the team was overwhelmingly positive and encouraging. Little slips of paper were passed among them to encourage them to press on and not give up, there were slaps on the back and sweet text messages.

Watching the scenes unfold, I realized that the star of this show was their community spirit.

I went to my first meeting as a student with huge dreams and ideas of shaping the way Singapore dealt with one-use plastic. However, at first I was afraid to speak up, as it seemed like I was David against a mammoth-sized Goliath – the establishment. But after one meeting with this group of young, fervent, furious and fearless environmentalists, I felt motivated and inspired to push my idea. They made me feel less alone, and I had found a group of like-minded souls. We spent countless hours brainstorming projects, knowing many would never see the light of day.

Watching these teenagers filled me with hope for the future of Singapore. They are just one of many youth-led environmentalist groups in the country. Plastic-Lite Singapore, Tingkat Heroes and the Singapore Youth for Climate Action groups are other, larger organizations led by young people who aim to make Singapore a greener place to live in.

Although the government has been slow to implement radical changes to make Singapore a more sustainable state, I am not disheartened. I know the next generation of leaders are those who care for the Earth. The teenagers I met are courageous and future leaders in a league of their own. They do not have support from their school and they’re largely on their own as they work on solutions to help society.

Their youth makes them easily ignored by large organizations, yet they keep going. They are passionate about the environment and their distaste for the way the world is burning, smoking, chopping and mining away our planet.

They show us that small can be mighty, and they’re more than capable leaders of Singapore’s environmentalist movement.

Zyn Ang

Zyn Ang is a student in Singapore, currently studying at junior college (year 11). Inspired by teens around the world who are driving change in their communities, she is on a mission to get Singapore's only commercial airport to go plastic-straw-free, and will soon start running a zero-waste campaign targeted at primary schools. Besides being a passionate environmentalist, she enjoys distance running and plays touch rugby for her school.