REALITY show fans may already be familiar with Melissa Tan who has appeared in Asia’s Next Top Model Cycle 3 and, more recently, in The Apartment.
A model, TV host (Tech360.tv), actress (Anak Merdeka, The Bridge) and former financial analyst, Tan has always been passionate about the zero waste movement.
“I’ve always been an environmentalist. Even as a child, I would be recycling things. It came naturally to me. What felt unnatural was to just throw something away when you know there was stuff you could recover from it,” she said during an interview with theSun.
Tan used to work in cafes during the school break and she noticed the cups customers discarded.
“You know how people would use a disposable cup and then just throw it away? Working behind the scenes in the cafes, I saw the amount of waste generated. Even at 16 years old, I would take all that out, wash them and carry them home every day, much to the chagrin of my manager,” she said.
Tan couldn’t recall what it was that made her so environmentally conscious at that age. All she knew was that she cared about nature and wanted no part in destroying it.
She was always reading up news on the environment and followed the progress of things such as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
“After that, I heard about zero waste and zero waste living. It kind of blew my mind away. I was a bit dumbfounded. I wondered how I, an environmentally conscious person who had done so much recycling, could have missed that. Why hadn’t I thought that I should stop creating waste in the first place? It was such a light bulb moment for me,” she said.
She attended a talk by Claire Sancelot, who gained fame for her Zero Waste Hong Kong blog on sustainable living and who continued with her efforts when she moved to Malaysia in 2015.
The talk and her friendship with Sancelot, who is now her business partner, opened Tan’s eyes to many new things and the fact that it was important to make more people aware of zero waste living.
There are many messages out there on how best we can contribute towards saving the environment. How does zero waste apply to our everyday lives?
“It is about how to make all areas of our life connected to sustainable living. It doesn’t just apply to businesses. It extends to businesses, it extends to government... we all have a part to play,” said Tan, who is a strong believer in individual action as this can lead to a domino effect.
“Someone shared with me about zero waste living, so I am now an advocate of zero waste living who has shared my message forward. It goes on and on.”
She said everything is related to sustainability. “You can clean up every process and you can come up with better ways to do things,” she added.
Tan, a strong advocate of sustainable fashion, felt the fashion industry is one of the biggest polluters in the world. “What I wanted to do was to use myself; I am a model and therefore I sell things. People have this impression that green is for other people. They think green means a person who lives in the jungle, has his/her own tree-house and lives off the land,” she said.
“But green is relevant to all of us. I wanted to use my commercial appeal to bring that to all of us. Instead of modelling new clothes, I am modelling my own wardrobe to show how we can practise zero waste and still look fantastic.”
Considering her celebrity status, this is no small feat but Tan’s message is loud and clear. She has also made it relevant to Malaysians.
“We don’t have to wait for stuff to come here; we can do it ourselves,” she said.
So she has set up groups for people who want to trade in their used clothes (which are still in excellent condition but which they don’t wear anymore) for “new” used items which will freshen up their wardrobe.
She also suggests shopping at markets which don’t use plastic bags or at places where you can use your own containers.
Follow Tan’s views on sustainable living and zero waste habits on her website, heymelissatan.com.