Litter By Litter, He's Been Cleaning Up Our Beaches Every Wednesday For 2 Years
Life is full of surprises – you might be an average Joe one day, and next thing you know, you’re leading volunteers to do beach clean-ups, co-founding a company that teaches others to re-purpose single-use disposables, and really just doing your part (and more) for the environment.
We're referring to one average Joe by the name of Yasser Amin, who in 2020 chanced upon a Telegram group chat that organised beach clean-ups and signed up for one on National Day that year. Every Wednesday morning since then, he's been an everyday hero to our beaches. #ExceptionalJoe liao!
The 26-year-old tells us why one man’s trash is sometimes not another’s treasure – trash is sometimes just trash lah – and how we can do our part for nature.
Tell us, Great Eco-Warrior, how did your journey begin?
I stumbled upon Sam Thian's IG profile (@sammthian, who is now a friend) in July 2020. I saw that she had been involved in marine conservation with the social enterprise @Seastainable she founded, and had been doing clean-ups for a long time.
At that time, she had recently started a beach clean-up initiative specific to ECP called the East Coast Beach Plan. This was to rally the community to clean up the parks and beaches at ECP. There was a Telegram group chat to organise the clean-ups, so I just clicked on the link and joined the group.
Turns out, she and a bunch of others were organising a clean-up on 9 Aug 2020. Since I had nothing else happening that morning, I decided to join that clean-up. In the weeks following that day, I started organising my own clean-up sessions, and decided to set aside every Wednesday morning for them.
I was pleasantly surprised at the number of people who would join me every week and have been doing those weekly Wednesday sessions until today!
Your beach clean-up journey began on National Day 2020. That was at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Must have been challenging sia!
There was a period of time when we could not have more than five pax per group, and that was lowered to two pax at one point. It was really hard to organise bigger clean-ups and make an impact during those times, especially when the beaches became more full of trash.
The weekly Wednesday beach clean-ups that I do are open to public, so the amount of help I have each time is dependent on the number of people who sign up.
What’s the most challenging clean-up you’ve experienced?
March 2021, Yishun Dam clean-up with SG Beach Warriors. Those few clean-ups we had at Yishun Dam were probably some of the worst trash situations I've ever experienced. A lot of trash, especially plastic bottles, had accumulated there over a period of time, and it took a lot of effort to clear.
You could hear the crunch under your feet as you tried to traverse the area. There was so much plastic trash that we had to "process" it before disposal. We crushed the plastic bottles, removed their caps, then stuffed it all into bags. That way, the trash took up a lot less space.
What do your beach clean-ups tell you about Singaporeans?
There are only a small number of "bad apples" who do not care for the environment and commit acts such as littering. Most of us care a lot for the environment [and want it] to be clean and green. It’s just that we've never had the chance to turn care into action. That's why beach clean-ups can be quite impactful because they give people both visual and physical experiences.
Another thing I've realised is that Singaporeans live far from natural spaces, thus they don't feel a sense of ownership over these spaces. The more time you spend in nature, the more you will begin to appreciate it and start to care for it.
What's the outlook for our beaches judging by your efforts in the last two years?
The trash situation on our beaches won’t be changing anytime soon - 99% of whatever we see washing up on our beaches is not from Singapore but from neighbouring countries. Also, what we see wash up on our shores is only a tiny percentage of what's actually out there in our oceans.
What I have noticed is that people are more open and perceptive to learning about environment-related issues and changing their behaviour to do their part. That's what makes me feel really heartened. But we need more people to go down that path in order for bigger change to take place.
Congrats on co-founding The Re-Purpose Collective (TRPC), an initiative by you and Ken Ong to promote educational and actionable opportunities to care for the environment. Hearsay you have an upcoming container workshop space in ECP? Share-share more leh!
Ken and I will be using the container space to host programmes, talks, and workshops relating to re-purposing post-consumer plastics. But more than that, the space outside of the container will be one that's built by the community of amazing individuals and organisations we've had the pleasure of meeting throughout our journey.
Apart from beach clean-ups and co-managing TRPC, you’re the Community & Program Lead at Stridy, a non-profit litter collection mobile app that tracks users' environmental impact. Tell us more and what your role entails!
Stridy has been conducting corporate and school engagements for the past six months. Whenever we have an organisation that wishes to take part in a clean-up, I am the person on the ground that hosts them. I also help with working on and improving these programmes we offer organisations.
At the end of every clean-up, we set aside around 15 to 20min during which I sit down with the participants and speak to them about the issue at hand - be it local littering or the trash washing up at the beaches. I then make it a point to hear the participants’ thoughts and feelings regarding their clean-up experience.