by Er. Dr. Lee Bee Wah, MP for Nee Soon GRC
Singaporean households have a dismal recycling rate of just 19%. This is down from 22% in 2010 and much less than Taiwan’s rate of 55%.
Up to half of all items put into the blue recycling bins at every HDB block go to waste. They get contaminated by organic trash like food and soiled diapers, which also attracts rats. I’ve also heard of “karang gunis” going through the bins- and leaving whatever they don’t want on the floor.
Obviously, our system for household recycling is broken. And we need to fix it soon- Singapore’s only landfill on Pulau Semakau is expected to run out of space by 2035. So how can we learn from Taiwan?
In Taiwan, the government charges manufacturers and importers for the garbage they create, then distributes those fees to recycling companies. Residents are also required by law to separate their trash into general refuse, recyclables and kitchen waste. In Taipei, they have to pay for each bag of non-recyclable trash they throw away.
NEA is exploring similar ideas like pay-as-you-throw and modifying HDB rubbish chutes to accommodate colour-coded bags. These are powerful ideas to change people’s behavior. But people’s mindsets will still pose a major obstacle. Most Singaporeans simply don’t know what is really recyclable. Did you know that plastic bottles are recyclable, but those disposable plastic cups are not? That Styrofoam and anything made of multiple materials is not recyclable? That anything that has even a little food waste, even sweet wrappers, shouldn’t go into the recycling bin at all?
In Nee Soon South, we’ve started learning from Taiwan to combat this problem. We work with Taiwan’s Tzu Chi Foundation to run active recycling points. Families bring their recyclables to a certain void deck every month, where volunteers teach them what is recyclable and how to sort their recyclables. This stops them from trying to recycle non-recyclables, and also sorts the trash on the spot so it can be immediately sent for recycling. The first two active recycling points have educated plenty of families so far and we are planning more.
Active recycling points can certainly be rolled out much more widely across Singapore if the government gets involved. That would be a big step towards my vision of a Singapore that is not just cleaner, but also greener. After all, we have only one Earth. If we don’t change our ways soon, it simply can’t keep up with the waste we create and the amount of resources we squander.