Why are few Singaporeans going green?

Ministry hiring experts to find out what it takes to change behaviour
Grace Chua Straits Times 7 Apr 12;

SINGAPORE families are dismal when it comes to recycling and using energy efficiently, so much so that the Environment and Water Resources Ministry is seeking the help of experts to change their habits.

Consultants are being asked to carry out two studies to find out why people do not do what they should and set out an effective communication strategy to coax them to change their ways. One is on recycling, and the other, energy efficiency.

These studies to bring about behavioural change are a first by the ministry, and in line with its goals to manage waste sustainably and reduce carbon emissions per dollar of gross domestic product.

The tenders for both projects closed earlier this week. The ministry said the studies must be completed within four months of the contracts being signed. It declined to give further details.

Five companies are bidding for both projects, while one company is eyeing only the recycling study.

Tender documents obtained by The Straits Times stipulate that both studies have to carry out a face-to-face survey of a representative sample of 2,500 people from the five community development councils.

The surveys will help pinpoint the specific behaviour to adopt, identify the best group of residents to target for change, as well as set outand monitor a communication strategy to encourage them to pursue the desired behaviour more often.

Each study also has to probe beyond the commonplace explanations of why people do not do the right thing, 'by looking beyond notions of laziness and inconvenience', said the tender.

The recycling study has to focus on the recycling of glass, plastic and paper in households, it added.

These items account for 53 per cent of domestic waste each year, falling far short of their potential to be recycled.

For instance, up to 90 per cent of paper tossed out by households could have been recycled, but only 52 per cent is. Such recycling is crucial as Singapore has limited space for landfills. For instance, the landfill island of Semakau, which takes in ash from waste incineration, is expected to meet the country's needs only till 2045.

Also, the recycling rate for all waste has some way to go to meet the target set in the Sustainable Singapore Blueprint. The goal is for a rate of 65 per cent by 2020 and 70 per cent by 2030.

But last year, itwas 59 per cent. Worse, in categories like plastics, it was a mere 11 per cent, and for glass, 29 per cent.

As for energy efficiency, the study is targeting the use of air-conditioning at home as it accounts for 30 per cent of a household's energy use.

In all, households account for about one-fifth of Singapore's energy consumption.

The ministry's latest move further bolsters existing measures to coax Singaporeans to 'go green'.

It is a good effort, said Professor Ho Teck Hua, head of the National University of Singapore's Centre for Behavioural Economics.

'But it can't be a campaign for everybody,' he added. 'Maybe you'll need multiple campaigns.'

For instance, HDB dwellers are more likely to respond to high electricity prices by cutting their electricity use than people living in private property, he said.

Prof Ho also suggested that manufacturers of air-conditioners add a default button on the remote controls to make it easy to set the machines to run at an efficient 25 deg C.

Waste management company Veolia Environmental Services gives residents points for recycling that they can exchange for coupons to make purchases at retailers like Home-Fix.

Since the scheme was introduced last July, the amount of recyclables collected in the Pasir Ris-Tampines and Tanglin-Bukit Merah sectors has risen from 210 tonnes to 524 tonnes a month.