Pay as you throw among ideas to cut down waste in Singapore

SIAU MING EN Today Online 5 Jun 16;

SINGAPORE — Sorting household waste with colour-coded bags or charging users for the amount of waste they throw out could be future solutions to changing consumer behaviour to better manage and raise recycling rates here.

These ideas were identified in the Solid Waste Management Technology Roadmap led by the National Environment Agency (NEA), to guide the improvement of Singapore’s waste collection, sorting and separation, upcycling and treatment of waste.

The roadmap was launched alongside similar reports for electro-mobility and industry energy efficiency, by the National Research Foundation, National Climate Change Secretariat and other relevant government agencies at Energy Innovation forum on Friday (June 3). All three roadmaps were done by external consultants engaged by the Government, and they will guide masterplans by government agencies and funding initiatives.

The NEA is aiming to minimise the land footprint and environmental impact of waste management activities, as well as maximise productivity and the amount energy recovered from waste by 2030. A 70 per cent national recycling rate has also been set within that timeline.

Last year, 61 per cent of the total waste generated here was recycled. However, there were low recycling rates for paper, plastic and food waste — 51, 7 and 13 per cent respectively — even though they were part of the top five types of waste generated last year.

The roadmap suggested that the single-chute system found in many older high-rise buildings today could be modified with a control panel at the chute door and multiple waste containers at the refuse room. When a particular waste selection button is pressed, it will direct the waste to the correct bin.

Likewise, waste can be sorted into colour-coded bags, which can be then be directed into the right bin with optical sensors, said Mr Daniel Ponder, principal of Golder Associates, which was commissioned by the NEA to draw up the roadmap.

Similar to the way households pay for their utilities, another idea mooted was to have users pay for every unit of waste they throw out. This would encourage users to recycle instead of disposing their waste. Currently, those living in public flats pay S$7.49 a month for refuse collection, while those living on landed property pay S$24.81.

Other suggestions include driverless waste collection trucks to cut back on the manpower needed for such services, and a bin-fill sensor system that only collects waste when rubbish bins are filled to their capacity. The latter is already being piloted by the NEA.

Speaking to TODAY, Mr Ponder acknowledged that people are not always receptive to changes. But getting people to move away from throwing their waste into a single bin to sorting their waste into two bins is also “not that large of a leap”, he added. The authorities can start with smaller pilot projects and public education efforts in schools to get people to change their behaviour, he said.

Member of Parliament Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC), who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee for the Environment and Water Resources, said that the suggestion to use colour-coded bags will have to go hand-in-hand with a big education campaign.

As for charging households according to how much waste they throw away, Dr Lee said if such a policy is implemented, subsidies should be given to the low-income to ease the burden.

While technology is necessary in waste management, executive director of Zero Waste SG Eugene Tay noted that an over-reliance on technology might result in people getting used to the idea of throwing out more waste.

“If the future generation doesn’t even see waste — they just throw it down the chute and it disappears somewhere — they might not appreciate the need to reduce waste,” said Mr Tay in reference to the pneumatic waste conveyance systems.

In fact, changing people’s behaviour and mindset about waste can cost less than conducting research for new technology for waste management, he added.

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