Don't Say Cannot: Singapore eco-warrior picks up trash at sea and uses cloth menstrual pads

She eases into a standing position on her paddleboard out at sea and within seconds, proceeds to whip out a metal tong to pick up litter floating in the far southern end of Singapore.

Meet Gracie Teo, who has had her fair share of weird looks from people at the beach when she returns from sea with a trash bag. She's also taken her love for the environment up a notch, by using cloth menstrual pads.

So what made the her want to get her hands dirty and perform the thankless task of picking up trash from the sea?

Shared the 31-year-old sea sports instructor and lifeguard: "The ocean is where I love to be; it's where I explore, find thrills, and seek peace.

"I've spotted a wide range of marine life that includes different kinds of fish, stingray, even little seahorses, and I've also seen dolphins out here and reef sharks! I want to see the sea in a pristine condition."

She started by heading out to sea to pick up trash from her paddleboard, welcoming friends to join her.


Photo: AsiaOne, Sharon Lim

"These (pieces of trash) are traces of humans. We may not be the ones who threw the trash directly into the ocean, but we don't know when or how our trash may land up here (the sea). For me, it's about me taking ownership of the issue, just making an effort."

ADDRESSING THE SOURCE OF THE PROBLEM: CONSUMPTION PATTERNS

Gracie switched to using her own reusable cutlery and cups.Photo: AsiaOne, Sharon Lim

But Gracie soon realised that simply picking up rubbish wasn't enough. "I wasn't changing my habits yet," she said. She then resolved to cut down on her use of single-use plastics, such as disposable cutlery, plastic cups and plates.

"The recycling industry here is very limited because it's basically not very profitable to recycle certain items. So, the key is still to reduce our consumption," Gracie explained.

Now, she carries her own silicone cup, cutlery, food container, water bottle and glass straw everywhere. And yes, that means a heavy backpack, but she believes it's worth the effort. In fact, when she gets rejected by food vendors who refuse to pack her food into her reusable food container, she'd just buy food from another stall.

SWITCHING TO CLOTH MENSTRUAL PADS

One monthly pain point that quite literally sucks the life and money out of women is the menstrual period. The amount of money spent on disposable sanitary pads can easily add up to anything between $1,000 to $3,000 in a woman's lifetime. All that money for something you use and throw.

So Gracie decided to revert to the good old method of using cloth pads.

Cloth menstrual pads that Gracie uses.Photo: AsiaOne, Sharon Lim

The reactions she's received? "Some were curious, some hadn't heard of it before, some thought that it's what their grandma used to use… and some people were just disgusted," she shared. "But when I do sea sports, it's actually more comfortable."

EVERY SMALL EFFORT COUNTS

"Being aware, reflecting on your daily habits is one way to start. Only you know what your lifestyle is," Gracie said.

"For someone to change their whole lifestyle takes a lot of effort. So I do it myself and set an example. So I can tell people it's possible. Because I started from where they are."

asiaone@mm2entertainment.com

Don't Say Cannot is an original AsiaOne series that shines the spotlight on people like you and me - average Singaporeans - who have stepped out of their comfort zones to do something positive for themselves or others.