Why doesn’t recycling work with the blue bins all over our nation?

Photo from Towards Zero Waste

Blue bins are part of Singapore’s National Recycling Programme

The programme collects paper, plastic, glass and metal recyclables.

These recycleables are deposited into the same blue recycling bin for collection by the public waste collectors (PWCs). The recycleables are comingled and mixed up.

The blue bins are placed in open spaces; usually with one bin per block of public housing and a single, smaller bin for each landed household.

The system aims to make recycling convenient by bringing it close to where the waste streams are generated. It’s great, except it doesn’t work.

Blue bins are out in the open to prevent them from being fire hazard, as a result they are exposed to elements. Cardboard and paper waste gets wet when the bins are not properly closed. Inconsiderate people toss rubbish into the bins leading to contamination of any clean recycleables. Not everyone wash their bottles or cartons before depositing them.

This system is designed to fail because it relies on every single person following the instructions faithfully. It is an open system anyone can access which means anyone could be that single point of failure.

You may think that creating a closed recycling system only for select few would make it harder to increase recycling but you’d be surprised.

If you live in a public flat, you would have seen lots of marketing campaign publicising guidelines for depositing recycleables into the blue bins.

I’m sure many people take a lot of effort to clean out their recycleables and prepare them well. Especially if they are given the assurance their recycleables will be properly treated and recycled, they would spend the effort.

But the current system requires every single person to do that in order to succeed. That’s too high a bar for us to reach.

Better to consider an alternative that does not include everyone. Get people to sign up to a blue bin pledge and receive a special password or pin or key to open the blue bin. They will pledge a few things:

(1) they will use the blue bin only for recycleables allowed,

(2) they will ensure the items are cleaned and ready for recycling,

(3) they will only access the blue bin themselves,

(4) they will ensure the blue bin is locked after their use,

(5) they will not deposit into the blue bin when it is full or when they note it is contaminated

Of course, if the lock is digital, you can do many things such as tracking who deposited into the blue bin and when. You can notify all those deposited their recycleables were successfully recycled because they were clean. You can let them know when the items were contaminated and they need to try harder.

In 2021, Singapore households generated 1.82 million tonnes of waste. 240,000 tonnes were recycled. That’s a rate of about 13%.

In the same year, as a country, we generated 982,000 tonnes of plastic waste. Only 6% was recycled.

We do need to try harder.

This article is a loose transcript of Season 1, Episode 1 of the Mondo Gondo podcast by me. I also elaborate more on this idea here in a separate blog post.

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Alive, breathing, growing and sipping coffee in Singapore. Thinking | Writing | Career-coaching — kevlow.com

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Kevin Low

Alive, breathing, growing and sipping coffee in Singapore. Thinking | Writing | Career-coaching — kevlow.com