Commentary: Why does Singapore still lack a recycling ethos?

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SINGAPORE: Having a practice of being respectful to regulation and authorities expectations, Singapore has succeeded in reining within the COVID-19 scenario.

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Nonetheless, the nation is at the moment experiencing a waste “epidemic”. Singapore’s recycling charge has sat at a relentless low. Based on the Nationwide Atmosphere Company (NEA), the home recycling charge fell from 22 per cent in 2018 to 17 per cent in 2019.

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That is regardless of proactive makes an attempt by regulatory authorities to extend the numbers. These makes an attempt have included a “Zero Waste” scheme which improves assortment providers of recyclable waste in addition to incentive constructions to encourage recycling.

READ: IN FOCUS: ‘It’s not simple, however it may be executed’ – The challenges of elevating Singapore’s recycling charge

Recycling corporations and environmental activists have additionally been pretty energetic in selling initiatives and offering public schooling about the advantages of recycling. Regardless of these efforts, why has the nation not but fashioned a robust recycling ethos?  

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Are residents merely unaware of the advantages of recycling? A survey we carried out in 2016 revealed {that a} majority of Singaporeans expressed sturdy assist for environmental causes. 

Maybe the problem might lie extra with the extremely handy means by way of which residents dispose their waste.

READ: Commentary: We’re on the cusp of a plastic recycling revolution


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The centralised refuse chute (CRC), a typical mainstay of most HDB flats and high-rise condominiums, permits residents to dispose waste within the consolation of their very own properties.

The benefit of doing so doubtless discourages residents from expending further effort bringing down their recyclables and depositing them within the shiny blue recycling bins.

A standard chorus comes from a typical remark like this one from an area resident: “If (there are) bulky items like carboards or big containers, I will bring down to put in the blue bins, but small items like small bottles/glass, I will just throw them from the chute … too troublesome to go downstairs to recycle them.”

The CRC is a uniquely Singaporean system designed to allow ease of waste disposal somewhat than ease of recycling.

READ: Commentary: Recycling bins are for recyclables, not junk

Waste Singapore

Trash in recycling bin. (Picture: TODAY)

Such a disposal system, accessed from the comforts of your individual house, is never present in different cities around the globe.

In Japan, Taiwan and South Korea as an illustration, residents in high-rises must carry their waste to central disposal bins on floor stage the place it may be collected by waste collectors.

Compounding the problem are widespread misconceptions about what can and can’t be recycled. That is problematic given how mixing in non-recyclable waste can counter-productively cut back the effectivity of the waste recycling course of.

READ: Contamination of recyclables, incorrect recycling amongst doable elements for Singapore’s low home recycling charge: Consultants

It’s not that we don’t recycle – NEA figures present that over half of Singaporeans have interaction in recycling practices commonly however they don’t have an exhaustive data of what will be recycled or how one can get rid of the recyclables correctly.

Some misconceptions stay as a result of there isn’t a speedy suggestions or corrective motion to rectify flawed practices. As an illustration, when recycling bottles, they must be washed first after which positioned in a bin, however this isn’t often executed.

The blending of meals waste right into a recyclables bin would render the whole bin unrecyclable.

A easy instance is a greasy pizza field thrown in with clear cardboard containers, or half-empty mushy drink bottles combined with empty plastic bottles.

FILE PHOTO: A health pamphlet about novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is seen in a recycling bin

A well being pamphlet about COVID-19 is seen in a recycling bin at Billy Bishop Airport in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, Mar 17, 2020. (Picture: Reuters/Chris Helgren)

The ultimate hole is how regardless of taking the care to kind waste, throughout assortment, plainly all sorts of waste are transported and processed for disposal in the identical method.

Singaporeans, in letters to newspapers or in on-line boards, have observed that recycling vehicles solely have one compartment for all recyclables though many recycling bins have separate openings and bins for glass, paper and metallic cans.

On this scenario, it might seem that the laborious work in separating these recyclables into the right receptacle are wasted when the collectors then put all of them collectively in the identical assortment truck.

It’s not broadly identified that this sort of “single-stream recycling”, as it’s generally executed these days, takes combined recyclables to Supplies Restoration Services the place they’re then sorted into the completely different classes of glass, plastic, paper, metals and extra.

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Is Singapore hitting a glass ceiling within the environmental targets we will accomplish from voluntary recycling?

Wanting outwards, most of our Asian neighbours have resorted to a strict enforcement of coverage measures to spice up recycling charges. Japan could also be a really perfect case examine for how one can domesticate a strong recycling tradition; it too, began off by regulating and implementing waste administration and recycling polices.

READ: Commentary: Recycling makes you are feeling much less responsible however doesn’t change how large our plastic downside is

Within the case of South Korea, they launched a unit pricing technique for family waste, often known as the Quantity-based Waste Payment System. Residents have been required to buy normal plastic luggage for residual disposal the place recyclables are collected at no further cost.

On July 1, Shanghai launched China's most ambitious garbage separation and recycling programme

On July 1, Shanghai launched China’s most bold rubbish separation and recycling programme ever AFP/HECTOR RETAMAL

The recycling charge elevated drastically, pushed by market-based incentives. Along with these efforts, South Korea additionally launched a obligatory meals waste recycling programme in 2013. 

As we speak, the nation’s meals waste recycling charge has peaked at 95 per cent, a pointy improve in comparison with its 2 per cent in 1995.

In China, Shanghai has additionally began to mandate recycling practices in the course of 2019. Acts of noncompliance could be met with a superb of as much as 200 yuan (S$40).

READ: Commentary: Why recycling, much less single-use plastics are usually not the solutions to our plastic scourge

Enforcement got here within the type of surveillance cameras, alongside a military of volunteers who assisted with the coverage’s implementation throughout many residential estates. 

Taking a web page out from Japan’s playbook, the town’s recyclable assortment was additionally carried out at mounted timings of the day and at mounted places inside the residential property.

Shanghai’s coverage implementation was not with out hiccups. The coverage, requiring residents to carry their recyclables to assigned assortment factors, was largely considered as an pointless trouble.

Residents got here up with an easy-to-follow Peppa Pig model for waste sorting. Family meals waste refers to what’s edible for the pig, whereas residual wastes are the non-edible ones.

Hazardous waste would poison the pig to dying. Recyclables are issues you possibly can promote for cash to buy extra pigs.

READ: Commentary: Wasteful practices of affluence should cease

Despite the fact that Shanghai has methods to go earlier than they meet up with Japan and South Korea’s recycling charge, the enhancements achieved in such a brief interval are nothing in need of exceptional.

As Singapore continues to develop and urbanise, waste accumulation will proceed to be a rising downside. The provision of options in neighbouring international locations ought to galvanise Singapore to start out taking larger steps in pursuit of more practical waste administration methods.

In our present analysis, we discover the usage of interventions to nudge residents into adopting constructive waste recycling behaviours. Very like how our collective efforts of masks sporting and social distancing have enabled us to stem the unfold of COVID-19, may we additionally be capable to dedicate ourselves to the noble explanation for defending our surroundings?

We expect we will, by taking a primary step to kind and recycle our waste.

Hearken to a dialog about recycling, repairing e-waste and the challenges of a consumerist tradition on CNA’s Coronary heart of the Matter podcast:

Tong Yen Wah is an Affiliate Professor on the Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Nationwide College of Singapore.

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