Living, Breathing Plastic by 2050

Say Hello to the World's First Plastic Bag. Visual Credit: Carina Lim

Say Hello to the World's First Plastic Bag. Visual Credit: Carina Lim

Most people are used to leaving a store with full bags, but there is a place in the world where people come to the grocery store with bags fuller than when they leave.

Where individuals leave the shop with more money than they came with. And where people feel guilty when randomly throwing a plastic bottle - in the bin.

Are you thinking - hey, does this place really exist?

Yes it does and it’s my home. Germany’s progressive government launched a regulation called “Pfand”, which closest translation would be “deposit”.

It’s so popular that people in Germany now say at the end of any given barbecue in a park or a dinner at home: “Nooo, don’t throw it, we can get Pfand on it.”

To give you a bit of a context - when you buy a single-use plastic water bottle in Germany, it costs you just over 30 cents. But on top of that, you pay a deposit of 39 cents which doubles the price of anything you buy.

It feels unnatural to throw things away once you realize that you would be literally throwing away dozens of euros a month.

This is not because Germans are generally more self-disciplined - policies such as Pfand have changed the way society behaves, taking more responsibility for the environment in exchange for an incentive.

In fact, in 2015 - Germany achieved a recycling rate of 93.5% for single-use plastic bottles - and we are now aiming for 100% recycling rate of course.

Is this only being done in Germany?

This trend is not unique to Germany. For example in the UK, the usage of single-use-plastic bags has dropped by 80% between 2015 and 2018 after the introduction of a plastic bag fee. In Hong Kong, after the plastic ban levy in 2014, the number of plastic bags sent to landfills has decreased by 25% in 2015.

These are actions taken by the government to support us in developing new habits. But we, as residents of Singapore, should not wait for someone to regulate plastic consumption for us - we can and have to take action and responsibility ourselves.

What can be done for Singapore?

When I first got to Singapore, I was surprised at how plastic is being consumed in Singapore. When friends visit me they always make comments like “Why is there a weird plastic and foam cover for each fruit?” or “Why do they give out so much plastic at the shops here?”

These comments are typically made because the abundant usage does not fit Singapore’s image of being a clean, tidy, modern and innovative city with strict regulations, especially with the SmartNation 2020 initiative.

Why should I care about this?

First off, I have personally been blown away from what Singapore has done over the past 50 years and where it is going. It’s a stellar example of ambition and intelligence to create a very liveable city-state.

But while I head for lunch at the Hawker Centre, I can’t help but notice that we need to unwrap the wooden chopsticks from the plastic packaging, enjoy the yummy bee hoon fish soup with a plastic spoon and drink from a plastic cup with our plastic straws wrapped in a plastic carrier.

While enjoying that soup, 15 marine seabirds, 3 turtles, fishes and marine mammals will die, as a consequence of the 150 Million tonnes of plastic waste that has already accumulated in the ocean.

While all of that is a tragedy for our environment, it also affects us. Scientists estimate that by 2050, we’ll have more plastic in the ocean than fish.

What Goes Around Comes Around.   Visual Credit: Carina Lim

What Goes Around Comes Around. Visual Credit: Carina Lim

And even now, as we consume our fish in our meals, we actually digest micro plastic particles ourselves - throughout the year that accumulates to over 6,400 plastic fragments. Effects on health unknown.

If you love eating fish as much as I do, you might want to modify your food preferences.

Looking at all these factors, we need to take some responsibility to use less plastic in the first place.

Here are 3 ways on how you can start:

  1. Reducing single-use plastics - such as plastic bags that are thrown within minutes (12 minutes on average). This helps us establish a less-waste routine.

  2. Build habits around refusing plastic and bringing our own cloth bags and utensils.

  3. Buy a bamboo or metal straw rather than using a plastic straw and say no to the bag carrier around your plastic cup.

We decided to do some research on the plastic habits in Singapore, conducting intercept interviews with both customers and shop owners in hawker centres as well as students at the NUS campus.

Our challenge: How might we engage both customers and hawkers to use less plastic? And - how can we support building habits around that?

Read more in the next article of our Living Breathing Plastic series.


Naima Volz, Design Researcher

What Goes Around Comes Around
Say Hello to the World's First Plastic Bag

Carina Lim

Icons in Visuals:
What Goes Around Comes Around

Starfish, Coffee, Seahorse, Fish, Shopping Bag, Plastic Cup and Fishing Net icons by Freepik from

Coffee icon by Smashicons from

Water Bottle icon by Nikita Golubev from

Ocean and Woman icon by Icon Pound from

Heist X Singapore Design Week 2018

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We're thrilled to partner with Singapore Design Council - Bringing the second edition of our ethnography workshop to Design Week 2018 

Ethnography is the study of culture and people, and it’s more than just an academic practice. It’s the superpower that can determine the success of new products and services, and boost the chance that a new concept will make it to market.

In this session, Heist Principal and Founder Kajal Vatsa will lead participants in gaining the tools needed to stay close to customers’ views while improving usability and retention.

Participants will come away with an understanding of: 
- The basics of ethnography and how it relates to the design of new concepts
- Simple, cost-effective ways to integrate ethnography into the development of new products, services, and experiences

Come join us here

Poster designed by Pollen, our fave new collaborators for Middle East based projects 

UPDATE: This event is sold out, and our waitlist is also full. The venue cannot accommodate any more seating. As much as we would love to - we simply can't have everyone at the same workshop. We will host a second edition of this workshop in April. If you'd like to sign up, please ping us at 

Dhaka Diaries


We had the opportunity to spend a week in Dhaka late last year. We were invited by Start Up Week Dhaka and GrameenPhone to lead a week long design sprint. The focus was social innovation and we had the opportunity to work closely with some fantastic start-ups - education, travel, logistics and food. 

More, we were left inspired by the chaos and colour on the streets of Dhaka. From Louis Kahn architecture to bright rickshaws, and dhakai sarees to steamed balls of pink aubergine - Dhaka left us excited and filled with ideas on urban design issues. More to come....  

Now Reading/ June

We're often asked for book recommendations. So here's one that I'm currently reading and loving. Founders at Work is a collection of interviews with founders - from PayPal to Apple, and Flickr to gmail, Jessica Livingston gets some super insightful stories about the journeys and struggles. I'm especially enjoying this because at Heist, we're constantly re-iterating our own offerings and learning how to scale. Running a start up can be scary, lonely and frustrating sometimes. These essays help you understand that almost every founder asks themselves the same questions, figures out a way to take risks and at some level, operates based on instinct. So if you're thinking of setting up your own company, or figuring how to build on from your own MVP, get this book.

Read a chapter over coffee every other day, walk away inspired each time!

Design Sprints/ Geek Girls Singapore

Heist is thrilled to partner with the global Geek Girls movement here in Singapore. 

We will be running a workshop on ethnography hacks and design sprints 6th June at Lattice 80 in Singapore. 

Design sprints 101 will show you how to address critical business questions through design, prototyping, and testing ideas with customers in record time.

While all of our events are open to both men and women, spaces for this workshop are limited and will be allocated on a first come first serve basis to the fastest ladies.

Tickets are available here - come join us! 



Singapore Design Week/ Workshop

As part of Singapore Design Week, Heist ran a workshop on design sprints. We shared tips and tricks on using principles of ethnography when you're short on time and budget. And what it takes to set up and run a successful sprint. Our teams worked on social innovation challenges, going from key insights to design principles.. And then creative concepts to business and tech validation in the space of a few hours. 

Big thanks to everyone who joined us early on a Monday morning. We will continue to run design thinking, design sprints and ethnography training sessions - partnering with the likes of SUTD, NUS as well as our clients and design partners. Drop us a line if you'd like to join us!

We're big believers in collaboration and open source learning. As promised, slides shared below. 

Oh also, several of the photographs in our deck were shot by one of our favourite photographers (and fellow coffee addict) Kismet. You can see more of her beautiful work here

Singapore Design Week

Come join us at the National Design Centre on March 6th. Heist will be running a workshop on design sprints. We will talk about looking for sharp insights, using them to develop creative concepts and then quickly test them using rapid prototyping. We will use a series of ideation exercises and design thinking tools to quickly take us from insights to concepts we can test.

When: 6th March 2017 / 9:30 AM - 12 PM 

Where: National Design Centre, Auditorium

Sign up to join us!

Advice we like

"The advice I like to give young artists, or really anybody who’ll listen to me, is not to wait around for inspiration. Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself… Inspiration is absolutely unnecessary and somehow deceptive. You feel like you need this great idea before you can get down to work, and I find that’s almost never the case."

Chuck Close