THE National Environment Agency (NEA) is taking action against a public waste collection company found to have mixed items meant for recycling with rubbish for incineration during refuse collection.
NEA rules require recyclables and waste to be collected separately and in separate trucks.
The agency said it takes "a serious view of such incidents and will take action against the PWC (public waste collector) for collecting waste and recyclables in the same truck".
The incident took place two weeks ago outside a condominium in Duchess Road in Bukit Timah. Garbage from the green waste bins and items from the blue recycling bins from the condo were tipped into the same rubbish collection truck from public waste collector Veolia.
Photos of the incident were snapped by Ms Yong Wenya, 36, who was in a car behind the truck. Ms Yong, a manager, lives in the area. She subsequently wrote to The Straits Times Forum to voice her dismay.
"Why make us separate our rubbish from recyclables if both are thrown into the same truck?" she wrote. "Residents need the assurance that their recyclable waste will be dealt with in the correct manner if they are to be encouraged to recycle."
When contacted, Veolia declined to comment.
Ms Yong told The Straits Times that with campaigns and efforts to educate residents to recycle, it would be a pity if the weakest link turns out to be the waste management company.
"While it might have been a one-off incident, it has made me wonder if I should continue recycling if this happens frequently," she said.
The NEA said it monitors the collections via GPS to ensure that rubbish and recyclables are collected separately. It also conducts spot checks.
Regarding the Duchess Road incident, the NEA said it has also reminded the condo management that recycling bins should be put out only on the scheduled collection day.
Public waste collectors told The Straits Times that trucks collecting rubbish and recyclables are typically differentiated by a recycling logo. Separation of the recyclables is done at a sorting facility for better efficiency and accuracy.
Environmental groups contacted said this is the first time they have heard of recyclables being mixed with rubbish by a public waste collector. Mr Eugene Tay, founder and director of consultancy firm Green Future Solutions, said it could result in an "erosion of trust in the recycling system". Residents would find recycling a wasted effort if they think their recyclables are being disposed of at the incineration plants, he said.
The household recycling rate last year was just 20 per cent, which pulled down the overall recycling rate to 61 per cent. The aim is to bring the overall rate up to 70 per cent by 2030, which means getting households to do much more.
Mr Kavickumar Muruganathan, resident environmental engineer at the Singapore Environment Council, said the incident signals the need for a relook at the current recycling model, which places the responsibility on waste collectors.
This model "only drives service providers to look at ways to reduce costs to improve their margins", he said.
He suggested reducing the waste collection fee for residents and companies and introducing a transparent recycling fee. This would incentivise more professional recycling services, a practice adopted in other developed economies such as the United Kingdom, Australia and Europe.
That said, recycling is still the last resort in reducing waste, said Mr Kavickumar. "Reducing what we buy and use is the top priority in waste minimisation."
This article was first published on February 11, 2015.
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