Meet Mother Nature's good friends

GREEN THUMB: Mr Kwan grows vegetables - fertilised with guinea pig poop, coffee grounds and vegetable peelings - in plastic containers.
Meet Mother Nature's good friends

PASSION FOR PLANTS: Mr Kwan, 37, runs Plantvisionz, a gardening business.
Meet Mother Nature's good friends

WASTE NOT: Mr Tan, 41, tries to live a zero-waste life, like taking along his own cutlery when eating out.
Meet Mother Nature's good friends

ALL NATURAL: Ms Maury concocts a household cleaner out of commonly found components - vinegar, water and some essential oil - rather than chemicals.
Meet Mother Nature's good friends

MINIMALIST: Ms Maury, 35, makes anything from body creams to her own version of Play-Doh. She is the founder of Little Green Dot, a website where she shares her experiences about cutting out excess.


    Apr 15, 2014

    Meet Mother Nature's good friends

    RECYCLING household waste as fertiliser, making their own cleaners, soaps and shampoos - sustainable living is more than just a catchphrase for some well-meaning individuals.

    Mr Hedrick Kwan is like the magazine article you read at the hairdresser's about green living come to life. While you go home and make dinner out of meticulously cut carrot stars and shaved asparagus, he's taking the trimmings you would normally throw out and turning them into vegetable stock.

    If you say you don't know how to do that, he'll tell you. One part vegetable peels and one part water, boil over the lowest fire for two hours, filter and freeze to use any time.

    "The stock is tasty and the vegetable bits that are technically still edible do not go to waste," says Mr Kwan, who runs Plantvisionz, a gardening business.

    Even then, the trimmings are not thrown away after cooking. Mr Kwan uses them as fertiliser for his clients' gardens.

    His pet guinea pig's poop does not get thrown out either. Mr Kwan uses it to fertilise his vegetable garden filled with rocket, kailan and mizuna.

    It doesn't end there. The coffee grounds from his morning brew also give his vegetables a varied diet, along with the shells of bean sprouts.

    "It is all natural fertiliser," he says. His vegetables are grown in plastic containers from Ikea, and hang just outside the kitchen window.

    When he is unable to use the poop as fertiliser for his vegetables, because there is just so much he can grow at a time, he throws them near bushes in public spaces. "It is free fertiliser for the plants," he says.

    Most people reuse old newspapers, but Mr Kwan goes a step further. Rather than dumping past assessment papers belonging to his sons into the recycling bin, they are used to line the family cat's litter box.

    Instead of splashing out on fancy storage containers, he reuses empty plastic bottles to store legumes and spices. "Why spend money on buying Tupperware when these are just as good," he says.

    Mr Kwan, 37, says he has been "green" since his university days, when he studied production horticulture at the University of Queensland. Plants and living greens have always been his passion.

    His lifestyle of living sustainably extends even to his apparel. "Nearly 80 per cent of my clothes are second-hand pieces," says Mr Kwan, who shops at flea markets, thrift stores and online second-hand goods sites such as Gumtree and Carousell. "The pieces are often still of good quality and (are) a steal."

    Mr Kwan says he practises green living because "I see it as part of who I am - I love recycling organic matter and stretching my dollar, most importantly".


    Whenever Mr Tan Hang Chong orders a drink at a cafe, kopitiam or fast-food restaurant, he always watches the guy behind the counter very closely.

    Not that the environmental educator is afraid that his drink may be spiked. He just wants to make sure the server doesn't put a straw in his drink.

    "I refuse to use drinking straws," he says. "It's not an easy habit to apply because most service staff never fail to put a straw into the drink."

    Should his drink still come with a straw, Mr Tan will accept it, but whenever he can, he stops the staff from doing so.

    "Some think I am queer," says Mr Tan, 41. "I explain to them why I don't need one - it is simply not environmentally friendly."

    He has no qualms about drinking from a cup, since not many people do that now. "Everyone should be able to drink directly from a cup."

    When it comes to green practices, most people reduce, reuse and recycle. But Mr Tan has an additional "R" which he practises - refuse.

    "I refuse to take things that I don't need," he explains.

    Junk-mail fliers are something that he does not need either, so he informs Singapore Post not to deposit them into his mailbox.

    Mr Tan tries to live a zero-waste life. For example, he takes along his own bags when he goes shopping.

    "I try to eat with my hands whenever possible. Otherwise, I'll take along my own cutlery," he says. "I always carry my own bottle of water with me."

    The assistant honorary secretary of the Nature Society (Singapore) says being a boy scout for 10 years influenced his passion for sustainable living.

    "I learnt how I should leave the world a better place than when I first came into it," says Mr Tan, who naturally doesn't believe in changing gadgets to keep up with technology, and is happy to use a recycled phone.


    Among her friends, Ms Militza Maury is known as the woman who makes her own, rather than buy off the shelf.

    What does she make? Anything from body creams to facial scrubs, bath teas, household cleaners and even her own version of Play-Doh.

    Ms Maury mixes flour, water, salt, cream of tartar and cooking oil in a saucepan, then cooks it over a low heat until it all clumps into a ball. To give the play dough some colour, she mixes beetroot powder, spinach powder and cocoa powder into the dough.

    Her daughters, Maria, six, and Meabh, three, know that when they want some play dough, they have to make their own.

    The 35-year-old is the founder of Little Green Dot (, a website where she shares her experiences about cutting out excess and simplifying her life. She started her website two years ago, but her switch to a more sustainable lifestyle began four years ago.

    "Often, consumers are paying a fortune for regular products. But by making your own, it is less costly and you know what goes into it," she says.

    Making her own products is also her way of cutting out excess. Ms Maury recalls that her bathroom used to be filled with half-empty bottles of products, but that is no longer the case, as she makes what she needs and she knows what works best for her skin. "There is minimal stuff now," she says.

    The family no longer uses chemical cleaners in the home. Instead, Ms Maury uses a simple mixture of vinegar and water, and some essential oil to create her own household cleaner.

    She adds that there is a lot of joy and fulfilment in making her own products to use at home. The website was started as a way for her to share her detailed, east-to-follow recipes with anyone who is interested.

    While she has mastered making her own beauty and household products, Ms Maury wants to venture into food, such as learning how to make her own breads and jams.

    "By making bread on my own, it helps me connect with the things that I need. There is more respect for food, and less excess or wastage," she says. Also in the pipeline are plans to learn composting and to start her own edible garden.

    She says that living green took a lot of effort in the early days. She cites how she would constantly forget to take along her own bag when out shopping.

    But when she began making things on her own, her perspective on sustainable living changed, and being green became natural to her.