Manual sorting of waste? Trash that - go high-tech

Manual sorting of waste? Trash that - go high-tech

Singapore produces mountains of trash a day but, with this dealt with mostly effectively by the authorities, it has been a case of "out of sight, out of mind".

But with the waste piles set to grow even larger in the next few decades, it is time to sift through the issue and realise that new systems and attitudes are necessary.

At the government level, the National Environment Agency (NEA) has flagged worries that may grow to become problems in future, while on the domestic front, Singaporeans' recycling habits at home are far from ideal.

This is even as the Republic accomplished an environmental goal long in the making last month - more recycling bins in the heartland.

Up until 2011, there used to be just one big blue recycling bin, in which people put paper, plastics and other recyclable items, for every five Housing Board blocks of flats.

But that year, the NEA mandated that every block should have such a bin, under new public waste collection contracts.

Slowly, more and more blue bins began to dot the HDB landscape, culminating last month when the Tanglin-Bukit Merah area was the last off the block to boost its bins.

Even as it ticks that box, the agency also has two more big waste management moves in the offing. In June, it said that it was studying the feasibility of a first-of-its-kind, multi-storey recycling plant.

The facility, expected to be in Lim Chu Kang, is meant to help recycling firms share services and machines such as weighbridges.

The NEA said the final design should also help the firms recycle more trash using less land, and be generic and flexible enough to be replicated across the island.

In July, it announced that a new, mega waste treatment plant will open in Tuas in 2024, which will be able to handle up to half of the country's rubbish, including - in a first - sewage sludge from water treatment plants.

Taken together, the ambitious projects may seem more than enough to tackle whatever additional waste is thrown into the bins and chutes here.

But, in reality, while they are crucial for the country's future, even they may not be sufficient for the country's burgeoning waste treatment needs.

Urgent reasons to recycle

In June, the NEA put a set of documents on government procurement website Gebiz to ask for help on a new waste management plan for Singapore.

It said the blueprint should include a "clear and realistic" vision for the country up to 2030, and a more "ambitious" plan for the years up to 2050.

By 2030, Singapore's trash is expected to grow to 12.3 million tonnes, up 57 per cent from last year.

But with Singapore's scarce land and "only one offshore landfill available", the NEA is worried about having enough space and capacity to process all that waste.

The Pulau Semakau landfill is expected to meet the country's waste disposal needs up to 2035 or beyond.

Last year, 61 per cent of Singapore's trash was recycled. Of the rest, almost all is incinerated. Ash and non-incinerable waste are deposited in the landfill.

Singapore wants to raise its recycling rate to 70 per cent by 2030. That is environmentally laudable, but there is a more urgent reason to recycle more: to delay the day when the country's landfill is full.

When that day comes, the Republic may have to turn to much more costly options to deal with the ash, such as transporting it to neighbouring countries or using it in construction at a premium.

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