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What do we need to do to make Singapore a zero waste nation by 2025?

When it comes to waste reduction, recycling plays an important role. But it shouldn't stop there. What’s needed is for us to tackle the root of the problem: waste itself. Besides recycling, what can youths do to ensure that Singapore is waste-free by 2025?
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  • Eric
    I think "zero-waste" is a bit vague as a goal. What does it mean to be zero-waste? Does it mean using incinerator ash to make concrete and asphalt? Or does it mean reusing waste from households and businesses? Or no waste created upstream?

    There are many ways to approach this issue. But however you define zero-waste, the overarching principle is to reform the economy into a circular economy, where we continually breathe new life into used material resources. 

    Singapore has a stellar reputation for closing the water loop through recycled water (NEWater). So now, we need to close other resource cycles too. We need to start looking at everything that we bring into our economy, and everything we produce. What is the pathway that each material resource takes when it comes in, and how can we keep that material resource in the Singapore economy as long as possible, to reduce our exposure/reliance on imports? In a world of nationalism and looming trade wars, we need to make our economy more resilient through the circular economy concept. That should be the question.

    On to the possible solutions:

    (1) As a start, we need to rethink our entire waste collection system. Singaporeans are famously price-sensitive. Waste collection should be based on a weighted/volumetric system, where the more non-recyclable waste you generate, the more you pay. (This price, however, needs to initially be set at a rate where the majority of households in HDBs wind up paying less, or about the same, as they did before.)

    (2) The blue bins and recycling chutes are abused. Contamination rates are high. Recycling needs to be diverted away from the waste collection system altogether at an earlier stage (before the user even reaches the bin/chute). Karang guni men should be employed by NEA to capture the resource streams they have been used to collecting: paper waste and e-waste. Since they have to go from door to door to collect these resources, they can act as a "first cut" to accept/reject the materials. Rejected material will be treated as waste and billed accordingly. 

    As for plastic, glass, and metal waste - one option could be reverse vending machines (RVM), which should be placed wherever there is a vending machine, or the sale of packaged drinks. This, of course, needs to be paired with a deposit scheme so that there is a locked-in cost which can only be released through the use of the RVMs. 

    In both cases, the collected material has to be processed in Singapore and made into new products here, so that they can be transformed here to resupply our economy. Otherwise we are simply exporting material to be poorly processed (if at all) overseas where there are no environmental protections.

    Food waste will probably have to be dealt with by the new Integrated Waste Management Facilities. It is probably not practical for most households to do composting with the relatively compact living arrangements of most Singaporeans. 

    (3) Single-use products: Start with a charge. Legislate a minimum charge that goes to NEA to defray the cost of processing these products thru waste or recycling. But businesses can go above and beyond if they see it as fitting their ethos/image, or if they use higher-grade products. I'm not particularly concerned with banning all of them since some of them have their legitimate uses. Plastic bags, for example, have a legitimate use for hygiene purposes.

    (4) Lifecycle assessment: Beginning with electronics/electricals, and furniture, products should be rated on their lifespan, repairability, and carbon footprint (for both manufacture and operation in the case of electronics/electricals). Similar to NEA's green ticks, but more holistic. Eventually, this should be extended to more categories of products.

  • Rason Lee
    Agree with the propositions on circular economy, however the devil is in the detail.

    Re: "...Waste collection should be based on a weighted/volumetric system, where the more non-recyclable waste you generate, the more you pay. (This price, however, needs to initially be set at a rate where the majority of households in HDBs wind up paying less, or about the same, as they did before.)"

    > With regards to "paying less, or about the same", electronic rubbish chutes as typically proposed for tracking, would be too costly to install and maintain. And unless the system is rolled out island-wide all at once, extending to even roadside bins, people will still have unmonitored waste disposal outlets to exploit. That said, a system for actively incentivising recycling volumes, returning the benefits of circular economy, as opposed to passively penalising non-recycling volumes, is the more sensible approach. And for the fact that it is unimaginable for electronic rubbish chutes to guarantee qualitative sorting, the entire premise for electromechanical rubbish chutes should be rejected altogether, i.e. sorting of disposed items - recyclable and non-recyclable alike - should be centralised at the recycling facility rather than distributed at point-of-disposal. Notwithstanding, a valid motive for items sorting on consumers' end using QR and colour-coded bags exists, which is further explained below.

    Re: "The blue bins and recycling chutes are abused. Contamination rates are high. Recycling needs to be diverted away from the waste collection system altogether at an earlier stage (before the user even reaches the bin/chute)."

    > As I earlier implied, the introduction of QR colour-coded bags is part of a systematic behavioural approach to recycling. This not only serves to reduce contamination of non-bulky recyclables but also facilitates the replacement of our plastic bag economy from a barely biodegradable to a specifically compostable one. In particular, the QR code serves to attribute household recyclable contributions, food waste gets included and printed instructions on the bags serves a rote reminder.

    Re: "Karang guni men should be employed by NEA to capture the resource streams they have been used to collecting: paper waste and e-waste. Since they have to go from door to door to collect these resources, they can act as a "first cut" to accept/reject the materials. Rejected material will be treated as waste and billed accordingly."

    > With the non-bulky recyclables away, we then turn to repurpose rag-and-bone sellers for bulk items that may need dismantling and set up a social enterprise platform to continuously identify new trade avenues in the circular economy.

    Re: "As for plastic, glass, and metal waste - one option could be reverse vending machines (RVM), which should be placed wherever there is a vending machine, or the sale of packaged drinks. This, of course, needs to be paired with a deposit scheme so that there is a locked-in cost which can only be released through the use of the RVMs."

    > With regards to so-called RVM, personally foresee the point-of-disposal for vending machine "take-aways" would naturally be in farther workplaces rather than around the vending machines themselves. This means that it would be advisable for offices to also adopt the QR colour--coded bag disposal system. As an alternative, unique identifier QR can be printed on product packages to close the loop on identity-linked purchases, through card or mobile RFID point-of-sales-internet-of-things, and then replace generic trash bins with sorted ones (as many compartments as it takes to cover what conventional recycling bins don't cover), scaling from household kitchens to public spaces, facilitating recycling and incentives attribution downstream.

    p/s Rest of the recommendations by original poster are more or less agreeable to me.
  • Wong Wei Sheng
    Apart from these ideas that were brought up, it is just as important for us to educate our future citizens on conserving the environment and adopting zero waste habits from young. For me, adopting a minimalist lifestyle is a good start towards leading a zero waste lifestyle. Through minimalism, I am cutting down on my consumption of natural resources and reducing the amount of waste that I create. Although everyone may have a different definition of minimalism, by reducing our current rate of consumption, we take a stand on our current waste situation and work towards shaping a Singapore that we can all live, work and play in.
  • Rason Lee
    Re official reply 07/16/19: "Who is responsible for cultivating a zero-waste nation?"

    > Success hinges on our facility planners, to say the least.