Age is just a number when it comes to championing the environment, as the 19-year-old ToiletRollSG founder demonstrates.
“Young lady, are you sure about that?’ It was the familiar voice of scepticism I was no stranger to. After all, I was once a youth environmental advocate with no credentials to my name.
Age 15, fascinated by the Pixar movie Wall-E which inspired an idiosyncratic habit of collecting toilet rolls, I kickstarted a national environmental initiative – ToiletRollSG – with the aim of recycling cardboard toilet rolls to be sold.
I figured out this toilet roll, certainly inferior to its ‘paper’ and ‘plastic’ recyclable counterparts, could be transformed into something of greater economic value. I deemed it a perfect emblem to inspire more citizens to recycle the most unassuming waste we generate unknowingly.
Having sent out more than 30 emails to recycling companies across the nation, my lack of credentials as a youth left me receiving just one reply. ‘The minimum bulk is one tonne.’ I did the maths, it amounted to 140,000 rolls.
It left me questioning if my youthful zest should be tempered with realism, but it also brought me down to earth. Perhaps it was a renewed gusto to prove the collective power of youth, I endeavoured to take the plunge and make the most out of what I was able to experience.
Spearheading a team of 92 members, I started to expand my collection network. Amassing 180,000 rolls over the years, I sold the recyclables and donated the sum to the National Kidney Foundation to subsidise dialysis for patients, translating recycling into a cycle of good.
I further kickstarted a livestream series dubbed On a Roll, where I invited youth activists to share about their causes. I wanted Singaporeans to understand that youth – not unlike the everyday citizen – could make a real impact, in the most unconventional ways.
Gradually, the voice from a 155cm stature became increasingly established, but the increased media coverage reminded me of the message I always wanted to send across – age is just a number.
‘You are 16?’ is a question I get so often. Nevertheless, I’ve come to learn to embrace my identity as a youth advocate for there is merit and unexpected opportunities in every stage of life – it just depends on how we seek them out!
Similarly, when the emcee introduces me as Founder of ToiletRollSG, I have grown accustomed to the bout of laughter from the audience, but I’ve learnt to cope with self-deprecating humour, turning the eye-catching ‘toilet roll’ symbol into a unique and novel marketing point.
I now know clearly there is value in the littlest, humblest toilet rolls we look down upon, just as there is value in the voices of youth that we too often trivialise.
As I turn 19, I glance at the Ecofriend Award on my desk and the Certificates of Appreciation from organisations I have partnered with.
In the eyes of others, these are pretty accolades, but I reminisce about the times when all I had was a toilet roll in one hand and a microphone in the other. Those were the longstanding bittersweet moments I will cherish.
Let us become bolder in reimagining the potential of the most unassuming objects we look down upon – you never know how far you can take them, and you never know how far they can possibly bring you.”
Story submission by Laura Lee
Edited by Arman Shah