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S’poreans don’t need the NDP funpack. We survived just fine before it was introduced in 1991.

Soft truths to keep Singapore from stalling.

Ashley Tan | August 10, 11:22 am

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NDP song and parade aside, the NDP funpack is one of the things Singaporeans look forward to during the National Day period.

Because who doesn’t love some free goodies?

But the funpack has gone beyond just being a glorified goodie bag. Without a doubt, Singaporeans have come to acknowledge the funpack as an icon of this annual national holiday.

So important an institution this was, in fact, that this abomination happened:

But I digress.

2019’s “green” funpack

This year, the NDP parade committee decided to put a new spin on the funpack and it has since been touted as a new and improved, “eco-friendly” one.

Put together with the help of green non-profit Zero Waste Singapore, the funpacks contain “practical and reusable items” and managed to save 1.75 million pieces of plastic from being produced and distributed.

On the advice of Zero Waste Singapore, the committee has even chosen to reduce the usual two plastic water bottles provided to one larger one instead.

Here’s a look at the funpack:

Photo from gov.sg

And a complete list of its contents:

  • Mineral water
  • Biscuits
  • Bread
  • Muffin
  • Chips
  • Face tattoo
  • Miniature flag
  • Bamboo straws
  • Souvenir magazine
  • Discount booklet
  • Wet/Dry tissue
  • Disposal bag
  • Disposable poncho
  • Hand sanitiser
  • Sun visor/fan
  • Mosquito patches
  • Luggage tag
  • A6 document holder

But is it really eco-friendly?

The funpack, which has been labelled as “green”, contains quite a bit of single-use plastic.

All the snacks, such as chips and bread, come wrapped in disposable plastic packaging.

Photo from @straits_times / IG

And quite a number of Singaporeans were quick to point out their concerns:

More eco-conscious Singaporeans might be wondering: Why not substitute plastic bottles for reusable ones?

This is a question that Nee Soon GRC MP Louis Ng raised in parliament, with Minister for Defence Ng Eng Hen revealing in a written answer on July 8 that the cost of including reusable bottles in funpacks was too high for suppliers to bear.

But this discussion on reusable bottles, in my view, is perhaps missing the point. What about all the other funpack contents (or the bag itself, really) that go unused after the parade?

In fact — and I realise this may be an unpopular opinion — we should scrap the funpack. Now, before you raise your pitchforks, hear me out.

Yes, people care a lot about the funpacks. I get it.

Every year, the funpacks come under intense scrutiny as people assess the design (my favourite designs were from 2015 and 2016, fight me) and debate the usefulness of their contents.

Sometimes, attention is also drawn to how meaningful it can be.

Take for example, the 2015 funpacks — 50 different designs were released, each showcasing the art of Singaporeans from varying walks of life.

Meanwhile, the 2018 funpack allowed artists with special needs to take centre stage, with the bags featuring art from 38 special needs students across 18 schools such as the Cerebral Palsy Alliance Singapore School and the autism-focused Rainbow Centre.

By showcasing these talents, the funpacks do help to shine a spotlight on these groups of otherwise-often overlooked fellow Singaporeans.

This is all good stuff.

But in all honesty, as meaningful as the funpacks could be and as aesthetically appealing as they could look, could we truly say they are necessary?

How many of us can say we re-use the funpack?

Firstly, the entire concept of a funpack seems to indulge in Singapore’s throwaway culture. How many of us can say we really would use the funpack beyond that single-day celebration on August 9?

It can be argued that this year’s funpack might be worthy of daily re-use — touted as an “Emergency-Ready Bag”.

It features a water-resistant lining as well as a label on the inner flap that lists items to prepare in the event of an emergency.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m not really sure why Singaporeans would need an “Emergency-Ready Bag” specifically, considering that if the country ever experiences a nationwide disaster from raging fires sparked by charging PMDs or a zombie apocalypse, digging this bag out from where it would highly likely be gathering dust at the back of my closet would be the last thing on my mind.

I wager also that Singaporeans are generally disinclined to casually use something with a huge logo emblazoned across it (unless said bag has the logo of a high-end luxury brand, which of course, Singaporeans just can’t get enough of).

I mean, the NDP logo isn’t quite Supreme.

I fondly remember the 2015 and 2016 funpacks for their aesthetic appeal (Probably because they looked nondescript, and didn’t happen to look like an NDP funpack. Pretty ironic.)

Photo from Bukit Batok, Our Home (武吉巴督,我们的家园) / FB and NDPeeps / YouTube

And it seems I wasn’t the only one who appreciated it, either — I recall many reusing and carrying the 2016 bags even after National Day was over, with some students also using it as their schoolbags.

And even then, as these Carousell listings for the 2016 funpack show, people were still looking to get rid of it.

Sad.

Actually, who re-uses the things inside?

Apart from the snacks and water (which can at least be argued to be essential in the four hours parade-goers sit in the hot weather) the other NDP items are simply miscellaneous paraphernalia, never to be used again.

Like the clappers, light-sticks and visor (seriously, who would wear this out?).

One of the things the 2019 funpack included was a discount booklet, which led me to wonder why e-vouchers weren’t used instead. Because what happened to Smart Nation, where digitalisation and mobile apps were prized as the way forward to the future?

You would think though, that e-vouchers would be much more convenient and less cumbersome to carry around too.

When I broached this rather pertinent topic of paper vouchers versus digital ones with a friend of mine, she candidly said that nothing would beat the feeling of satisfaction from seeing and touching the glossy sheen of vouchers knowing that she was practically holding, gasp, free or discounted food between her fingertips.

Ehhhh. Call me a cynic, but I’m really not at all convinced.

Bamboo straws were also included in the funpack — arguably the “greenest” item in a bag filled with consumables and single-use plastic.

Photo from An Album / FB

Not just one, but four straws were included, and these straws supposedly double up as clappers.

Why anybody would need four reusable bamboo straws is mind-boggling.

And here’s another argument against funpacks: every year, a huge amount of man-hours is put in by our army boys, (and inmates from Changi Prison this year) to neatly pack all of this in.

Considering how redundant some of the funpack contents can be, one might question if it is truly worth spending precious resources and manpower to manufacture, distribute and pack the items for the funpack.

Once upon a time, we didn’t have NDP funpacks anyway

Some of you, especially those in the younger generations (me included), might be flummoxed to learn that the NDP funpack didn’t always exist.

Celebrations for National Day first started in 1966 to celebrate our tiny red dot’s independence. This involved a string of festivities like fireworks displays, the iconic parade and other cultural shows. And back then, there were no funpacks yet.

NDP funpacks were only introduced in 1991 — the packs were originally intended as a purely functional “survival kit”, consisting of just basic necessities like drinks and snacks.

At the time, the term “NDP funpacks” had not even been coined yet, and the packs were simply called “goodie bags”.

But in the past 28 years, the funpack has gone far beyond offering the basic necessities. It has expanded to include more items — with that number peaking at 28 items in 2007 — to become a bloated amalgamation of things we don’t really need.

And if previous generations could not only survive, but thoroughly enjoy the parade without these non-essential goodie bags, why are funpacks so important to us now?

We can waste less

Maybe we have become more entitled — coming to expect funpacks as a given, despite the fact that we wouldn’t use and don’t even need three-quarters of the items inside.

Perhaps the need for a funpack was borne out of our intrinsic Singaporean kiasu culture, which dictates that we should not hesitate to get our hands on anything that happens to be “free”.

(A friend even once told me that he knew of people who would travel all the way to the stadium on August 9, just to grab the funpack, and then leave without staying for the parade itself. Shocking.)

And so, while I get that the NDP funpack has become somewhat entrenched in the NDP identity, I think there is room to be less wasteful.

For those wondering “what about my water and snacks?”, come on. You can bring your own food and drinks. More water dispensers can also be set up at the stadium (or in this year’s case, the Padang) for people to fill up their own bottles.

A nice touch that I do appreciate, though, is that this year, recycling bins were provided at the parade to allow parade-goers to return unused ponchos and LED wristbands.

I’m going to sound greedy here, but why stop at unused ponchos and LED wristbands? Let’s include other things like NDP flags and light-sticks in this practice as well.

NDP should not be about the funpack

Maybe scrapping the funpacks and eliminating the accompanying white noise of criticism (essentially what this article is) and scrutiny over its design and contents could finally allow us Singaporeans to unabashedly enjoy the day, and what it means to all of us.

After all, this precious public holiday (and especially this long holiday weekend) should be a time for us to be with our family and friends, marvel at flashy performances and soak in the festive cheer.

We don’t need the funpack to have a fun time.

And also let’s be real here, no one actually needs bamboo straws as clappers. Just use your hands.

Top photo: screenshot via CNA YouTube video and National Library Board eResources

About Ashley Tan

Ashley can't go a week without McDonalds.

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