Commentary: When that funpack becomes too much fun for our
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SINGAPORE: In the beginning, that funpack was a thrill for the thousands fortunate enough to get seats at the parade.  

It probably still provides a great deal of fun for many of the spectators at the event, especially the children.

And then what?

That’s a question that has bothered me increasingly since I was lucky enough to score tickets to the 2017 National Day Parade.

Disposing of my own funpack after the event was easy enough. A friend’s grandchildren were thrilled to share the spoils from that bag of delights.

But the thought of all that eventually making its way to an incinerator and then landfill was the pits. 

Literally. The pits of the Semakau Landfill which lies to the east of Pulau Semakau. That was created by 7km-long embankment that hemmed in a patch of sea off that island and Pulau Sakeng.  

The answer surely isn’t to chuck out the fun of the funpack.

This year’s packs represented a reduction of 1.7 million single-use items, according to Zero Waste Singapore, an NGO which had a hand in creating them. The focus was reusability.

So the very container is meant to be repurposed to hold emergency supplies. But even a cursory glance at its contents will find ready potential for further reductions.

WHAT TO THROW OUT FROM THIS YEAR’S FUNPACK

What was in this year’s funpack?

ndp funpack 2

The reusable funpack for NDP 2019. (Photo: Corine Tiah)

A 750ml sports water bottle with a drinking spout, bamboo drinking straws that can be used as clappers, sun visor, tissue pack, face tattoos, luggage tag, discount booklet, mozzie-repellent, a small bottle of hand sanitiser, souvenir magazine, an assortment of snack packs, and a small Singapore flag.

Let’s start at the packaging end of the 3Rs – Reduce, reuse recycle. Single-use packaging for snacks and other funpack contents has to be the first to go. Alternative compostable packaging has long been available. A thoughtful rethink and rework of the packaging in the funpack would make a super green start to National Day 2020.

Now, about that 750ml sports water bottle. With or without a drinking spout, is it safely reusable? For how long? And will people really re-use them? Ditch that and go for BYOB (Bring Your Own Bottle).

If Singapore is serious about eliminating throwaway plastics, it’s time that we set up public water refill stations to encourage people to use their own bottles.

READ: The single-use coffee cup is generating a mountain of waste, a commentary

NDP 2020 organisers could station mobile refill stations at the parade venue so that we can BYOB and fill up while we wait. Even better, use the occasion to launch a national rollout of water refill stations.

I’d also chuck out visors and fans made of microfibre or other synthetics. It’s not only hard plastics that disintegrate into minuscule bits that end up in our food, our water, and ultimately, in us.

READ: What will it take for Singapore to give up plastic? A commentary

READ: Dear Singapore, a plastic future is not fantastic, a commentary

HOW ABOUT A BIODEGRADABLE SHOW PIECE?

In place of those, source palm leaf fans once ubiquitous in Singapore, which are still made and used in the region.  

It is undoubtedly quicker and hugely cheaper to order thousands of plastic visors and fans, but it is even easier to dump them. Yet more to feed the landfill.

NDP 2019 National Day Parade marching contingents

The state flag is flown past the National Day Parade 2019 parade ground as troops stand ready for inspection. (Photo: Jeremy Long)

But why palm leaf fans? Not only are they not plastic, and useful in the heat, they can also provide a performance element.

Say, if the fans are coloured red on one side, and white on the reverse, they can become part of a spectator warm-up event, choreographed to welcome arriving VIP guests during the daylight portion of the show.

INSTEAD OF A GLOSSY MAGAZINE, HOW ABOUT A BOOK OF SONGS?

As for the souvenir magazine, it will eventually end up trashed or worse, as litter, within hours or minutes of the party’s end. That wad of paper might be the most expendable part of the pack. It doesn’t have to be.

One does need to acknowledge sponsors and partners who put the parade together. But our overuse of paper is equal to or even greater than our profligate waste of plastic.

Instead, let’s turn this throwaway into a true souvenir that many will cherish as a keepsake. Transform it into a national song book, incorporating the requisite souvenir content. Back in 1986, I had suggested such a songbook, in a published commentary.

I was thrilled when Richard Tan, then head of psyschological defence spearheaded the production of an excellent one when he was with the then Ministry of Communications, Information and the Arts. 

NDP 2019 sea of red National Day Parade spectators

National Day Parade 2019 spectators doing the Kallang Wave. (Photo: Jeremy Long)

Since then, our repertoire of national sentimentalia has vastly expanded, and been enhanced by a zillion wonderful video clips, mash-ups and audio clips online.

But no songbook.

And mine is hardly the only fading memory that could well use the support of a songbook.

This I realised on Aug 9 this year when my family enjoyed the parade on TV and some of us (names withheld to protect the guilty) sang along, fumbling and stumbling over the blanks in our memory of the lyrics.   

“You know,” mused my second sister, “sometimes people cannot even remember the words to Majulah Singapura”.

THROW OUT THE THROWAWAYS

So, let’s eliminate the throwaways from the funpacks, and add value to what we want for keeps. Like a national songbook, an enduring record of how Singapore has evolved.

And then there’s our flag.

For me, this brings to mind the 1988 parade and a five-year-old called Mark Poh, who rescued dozens of flags discarded after the parade. He was going to take them home, mend the damaged ones with tape and keep them. 

NDP 2019 Mahathir Mohamad Brunei Sultan Joko Widodo

A Republic of Singapore Air Force Chinook flies the state flag past the Esplanade, flanked by two Apache helicopters on Aug 9, 2019 for the National Day Parade. (Photo: Jeremy Long)

By all means keep the funpack, but cut back on other stuff if we must. But let’s not have single-use easy-rip flags of synthetic materials. Let’s go back to cotton – sustainably produced, if we can afford it – and with just the year printed on it.

It’s our flag. Our Singapore.

Irene Hoe is a writer, editor and coach and has been a journalist for many decades.