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‘Malls, hotels must look into improving efforts to reduce waste’

SINGAPORE — From hotels throwing out leftover food to shopping malls discarding paper and plastic packaging, such large commercial premises alone churned out about 302,000 tonnes of waste last year, taking up 4 per cent of the total waste generated in Singapore.

TODAY file photo

TODAY file photo

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SINGAPORE — From hotels throwing out leftover food to shopping malls discarding paper and plastic packaging, such large commercial premises alone churned out about 302,000 tonnes of waste last year, taking up 4 per cent of the total waste generated in Singapore.

And even though nine in 10 of such premises have their own recycling programmes, a report card on waste for the sector — the first sector required to submit such data — showed that its weighted average recycling rates remained below 10 per cent.

Since 2014, hotels with more than 200 rooms and malls with net lettable areas of more than 50,000sqft are required to submit waste data and waste reduction plans to the National Environment Agency (NEA), and the agency told TODAY it would review the possibility of extending this to other types of premises.

For the whole of last year, 94 hotels and 167 malls had to submit their waste reports.

In 2014, submissions were made by 90 hotels and 153 malls for the period between July and December.

From the data gathered, on an average day last year, a hotel room generated 3.87kg of waste, of which 0.26kg was recycled and the rest disposed of.

Likewise, malls generated 5.5kg of waste per square foot per year last year and 0.49kg was recycled while the rest was disposed of.

Overall, 87 per cent of hotels and 85 per cent of malls had recycling rates that were below 10 per cent last year.

Hotels recorded a weighted average recycling rate of 6.7 per cent in 2015, a drop from 7.1 per cent in 2014. The rate was 9 per cent for malls in 2015, slightly better than the rate of 8.3 per cent in 2014.

Based on the waste quantities reported in the last two rounds, an NEA spokesperson told TODAY that there has been “no perceptible drop in waste generation”.

Hotels and malls have told the agency of the difficulties in managing waste, such as limited budgets and a lack of knowledge on the types of waste disposed of.

To that end, NEA said that it has been providing advice on how these premises may improve their waste audits to tap potential cost savings through waste reduction.

The spokesperson added: “NEA is monitoring the effectiveness of the scheme and will review the possibility of extending it to other types of premises as part of our 3R (reduce, reuse, recycle) efforts.”

Experts who spoke to TODAY suggested that malls should take the lead in getting consumers to reduce waste.

Mr Eugene Tay, executive director of non-profit group Zero Waste SG, said that this may be done by getting their tenants to take part in bring-your-own-bag or use-your-own-food-container initiatives, and he is keen to collaborate with malls on these measures next year.

He also said that these premises need to look into which waste streams are generating more trash in order to tackle the problem.

While such waste audits are useful, he added that NEA could set benchmarks so that these premises know where they stand when compared to the rest.

Consumers should also consider a hotel’s recycling efforts before choosing their accommodation.

Mr Victor Chang, deputy director of the Residues and Resource Reclamation Centre at the Nanyang Environment and Water Research Institute, said that this could spur the establishment to put more effort into recycling, for instance.

“Otherwise, it is not (among their) business considerations (to manage waste). To them, it’s an expense (unless) they can somehow turn this into an investment, to build an image,” he added.

One way that malls and hotels here are helping to reduce waste is by recycling their used light bulbs, a practice adopted by Ikea furniture store and City Square Mall near Little India.

Ikea goes further by extending this initiative to its customers, allowing them to discard light bulbs in its bins.

Crowne Plaza Hotel at Changi Airport recycles used soap bars and donates them to the underprivileged, while Jem mall in Jurong collects kitchen oil to be recycled into biofuel. It also uses a “digester”, a disposal system that turns food waste into water.

Marina Bay Sands (MBS) uses food digesters as well, and donates excess food to charity body Food Bank Singapore instead of throwing it away.

The casino-resort also distributes unused amenities such as shower gel and shampoo to its employees.

Despite these efforts, MBS said that there are difficulties in executing sustainability programmes on such a “big scale”, given that it has operations in food and beverage, meetings and conventions, entertainment, retail and museum.

Another challenging area is consumer indifference or ignorance. Ikea’s spokesperson observed that recycling bins around the store are sometimes treated as regular trash bins, and it is difficult to ensure that recyclables are not contaminated with non-recyclable waste. The store also has limited space for more recycling bins.

“Recycling, to a degree, takes commitment and discipline from all individuals,” the spokesperson added.

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