Domestic recycling rate dips to 19 per cent despite 'go green' push

Singapore residents are recycling less despite the push to encourage people to go green, including equipping each public housing block with a recycling bin.

The domestic recycling rate fell to 19 per cent last year from 22 per cent in 2010, the National Environment Agency (NEA) told The Straits Times. The drop was largely due to a 30 per cent increase in food waste output over the period, NEA said.

Food waste in the domestic sector is not segregated for recycling. But if placed with other recyclables, it would contaminate the lot, which the public waste collector then has to toss out.

Singapore Environment Council (SEC) lead environmental engineer Kavickumar Muruganathan said: "Contamination of recyclables reduces the recyclability and quality of the materials, and this will lead to the reduction in the value of the recyclables."

The overall dip in the domestic recycling rate has caused concern among environmentalists, who say more needs to be done to engage and educate residents.

Since last September, every Housing Board block has a blue recycling bin, in which people put paper, plastics and other recyclables, placed close by. Before the initiative began in 2011, one bin was shared by five blocks. In January last year, the HDB said it will install recycling chutes in all new HDB blocks with throw points on each floor. This came on the heels of an encouraging pilot in Punggol.

Mr Eugene Heng, founder and chairman of green group Waterways Watch Society, said infrastructure will not solve the problem. "Education is a slow process - if people are not aware of the benefits of recycling, there is no incentive for them to do so," he said.

The recycling framework must also be robust enough to assure people that their efforts to recycle are not wasted.

Last month's incident, in which waste collection firm Veolia was found to have mixed items meant for recycling with rubbish for incineration, would not help, said Mr Eugene Tay, founder and director of consultancy Green Future Solutions.

All five experts The Straits Times spoke to agreed that to hit a domestic recycling rate of 30 per cent by 2030 - a target set out in the Sustainable Singapore Blueprint 2015 - more targeted public outreach needs to done.

Ms Olivia Choong, co-founder of environment group Green Drinks Singapore, said the recycling message could be better put across to the elderly through face-to-face interaction instead of just handing out brochures. For younger people, social media could be a better option.

One successful recycling programme started by the North West Community Development Council has volunteers sharing with residents the importance of reducing and reusing, and how to make use of 11 recycling points across the district.

Green groups, including SEC and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Singapore, said that beyond recycling, it is also important to remind people to consume and waste less.

WWF Singapore chief executive Elaine Tan said: "The old adage of reduce, reuse and as a last step, recycle, is key to reducing our impact on the environment."

Mr Heng said Singapore's only landfill will run out of space at an even quicker pace if people do not recycle. The Semakau Landfill is expected to be filled up by 2035 - a decade sooner than the original 2045 projection.

This article was first published on March 26, 2015.
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