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S’pore can do far more to encourage recycling

The level of recycling has declined in Singapore, bucking the trend seen in other countries.

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The level of recycling has declined in Singapore, bucking the trend seen in other countries.

In Taiwan, for example, the household recycling rate has risen to 56 per cent. So much food waste is recycled that Taipei’s Department of Environmental Protection is building a biogas plant to turn it into electricity. Along with producing enough electricity for about 6,000 homes every year, the plant will eliminate more than 5,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases.

In the United Kingdom, the household recycling rate is also on an upward trajectory and now exceeds 44 per cent.

Here, in Singapore, domestic recycling dropped from 22 per cent to 19 per cent last year. With such a low rate of recycling, the National Environment Agency is expanding waste storage facilities at Semakau Island to handle all the trash.

Apart from causing a dilemma in finding a place to put everything, less recycling results in more methane and other gases that cause climate change.

Tactics to increase RECYCLING

Singapore needs to do far more to boost its recycling rate, both to improve the environment and to create new business opportunities, and this is an area where leading-edge practices from other countries can show the way.

In the United Kingdom, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs’ Waste Prevention Programme helps people save money and reduce waste.

For example, its Innovation in Waste Prevention Fund gives grants to people with creative ideas for preventing waste, and its Household Reward and Recognition Scheme encourages town councils to reward people who reduce or recycle their waste.

Public-private partnerships between global retailers, such as Coca-Cola or Unilever, and municipalities around the world have also resulted in successful campaigns to increase recycling.

Another tactic is to enhance the capabilities of recycling companies. In Hong Kong, the government announced earlier this year that it would introduce a Recycling Fund to upgrade the recycling industry and make sure companies have a reliable outlet for recycled materials.

A similar approach worked in Taiwan, where the government established a Recycling Fund in the late 1990s. The Fund uses recycling and disposal fees from manufacturers and importers to subsidise recycling and encourage the expansion of the recycling industry.

Taiwanese recycling firms now have revenues of more than US$2 billion (S$2.8 billion), said the Formosa Association of Resource Recycling. Daily household waste also dropped from 1.1kg to 0.43kg.

A third tactic to increase recycling is through legislation. One city at the forefront of recycling laws is Seattle, which requires all residents to sort their garbage and recycle food waste, whether they live in the smallest flat or the largest mansion. Home owners will be fined for not sorting their food waste, a step the city believes will increase recycling from 56 per cent to more than 60 per cent.

South Korea has a similar pay-as-you-throw programme, launched on a trial basis in 2005. The programme has spread to 95 per cent of municipalities so far and will be implemented nationally next year. Households are charged for the food they dispose of rather than recycle. As a result, food waste in Seoul alone has dropped by more than 22 per cent.

Japan has also used legislation to boost recycling. A Food Recycling Law increased food recycling to more than 80 per cent, for instance, and its Containers and Packaging Recycling Law increased plastic recycling above 77 per cent. One city, Kamikatsu, already recycles 80 per cent of its waste and is targeting 100 per cent by 2020.

Few concrete plans here

In contrast to the slew of recycling initiatives in other countries, there seem to be few concrete plans to increase recycling here.

The Sustainable Singapore Blueprint, which has a somewhat low target of 30 per cent household recycling, vaguely says “We will work towards becoming a Zero-Waste Nation by reducing our consumption as well as reusing and recycling”.

Launched last year by the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources, the blueprint has few specifics other than dual chutes in Housing and Development Board estates and unspecified “new initiatives” for food waste.

Along with improving the environment, increasing recycling could enable Singapore to take a leading position in a growth industry and offer new business opportunities, similar to what is happening in Taiwan.

To achieve these objectives, it is essential to develop clear-cut policies and practices to increase recycling and reduce waste rather than simply repeating slogans.

Leveraging on education and rewards, similar to what companies and other countries have done, could be a start. Introducing regulations similar to those in Taiwan or Seattle could help achieve the objective. And funding to increase business capabilities in the industry could jump-start the growth of recycling businesses here.

It is easy to come up with slogans and sound bites about recycling. Yet that is not enough.

Since the trend of recycling is heading in the wrong direction, decisive action is needed for Singapore to regain the momentum that cleaned up the island decades ago, make the city-state a better place to live in, and enable the nation to take its place at the forefront of good environmental management.


Richard Hartung is a financial consultant who has lived in Singapore since 1992.

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