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Recycling incentive schemes yet to gain widespread support

Even as the Government considers a pay-as-you-throw system, the use of financial incentives to get Singaporeans to cut waste and recycle more has been a mixed bag so far.

Nearly four months after the start of the Save-As-You-Reduce pilot scheme in Punggol, some Housing Board blocks there have not reduced waste significantly, with some even throwing out more than they did last year.

This was despite the scheme letting households pay cheaper waste collection fees if they throw less.

At Pasir Ris, a different points-for-recyclables initiative also has few takers.

A straw poll of 10 households near Pasir Ris Park found that eight of them had not heard of the scheme, which began in 2011. Through the programme, landed households and HDB residents’ committees get points - redeemable for vouchers - for every kilogram of waste recycled.

Retired accountant Simon Teo, 65, who lives in Pasir Ris, said he recycles on his own. “We are not taking part in the scheme as there has been no information on how to redeem points so far.”

At Jurong East, however, a weekend Cash For Trash programme by waste collector Colex has no shortage of customers, it seems.

A single station at Yuhua Market gets between 2,000kg and 4,000kg of recyclables every week. In just half an hour yesterday, 25 people were seen stopping by with bags and piles of newspapers and plastic for recycling.

While money can be an effective incentive, Singapore Environment Council executive director Jose Raymond believes it may not be sustainable in the long run.

Instead, “the rate of household recycling can increase tremendously if we made it simple for residents to recycle”, for example, by putting a recycling chute in every block.

That seemed to be the case at HDB’s Treelodge estate in Punggol. The households at what HDB calls its first “eco-precinct” have thrown less than their neighbours at other Punggol flats - 40.4kg to 49.9kg per household each month, compared with 50.7kg to 77.2kg.

According to the Ministry of National Development, three times more recyclables are collected from Treelodge than from similar estates without recycling chutes.

Singapore has set itself a target of recycling 70 per cent of waste by 2030, up from 60 per cent last year.

But it does not make full use of new space- and labour-efficient technologies, and lacks household participation in recycling, industry players at a waste management symposium said earlier this year.

Members of the public have also written in to The Straits Times Forum page pointing out a lack of recycling culture here.

National Environment Agency waste and resource management director Ong Soo San said in response that the agency is “also exploring other waste minimisation and recycling options, including deposit refund schemes”, but would have to weigh the costs and benefits.

At an industry fair in March, Second Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Grace Fu hinted at Singapore potentially charging households for waste disposal based on the amount they throw out.

“Many countries, including the United States and Japan, charge households according to the weight of waste disposed,” she had said.

“To encourage households here to reduce their waste and recycle more, we are currently exploring the feasibility of moving towards a usage-based pricing waste disposal system that will allow households to directly reap the benefits of reducing waste.”

Since 2011, public waste collectors have also had to provide households incentives to recycle under new public waste collection contracts.

But the key, said Mr Raymond, is education.

He pointed out that many households in European countries recycle despite a lack of incentives.

“Why can’t people change their habits when it comes to recycling, just because it is the right thing to do?” he said.

(Article by Grace Chua, The Straits Times)


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