Forum: Be clear about what items can or cannot be recycled

A recycling bin with the new labels.
A recycling bin with the new labels.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Greater consistency of information and messaging around recycling, as well as more comprehensive instructions, is currently needed.

Its lack may have been hampering ongoing efforts to encourage Singaporeans to be more active and conscientious in their recycling habits.

Consistency of information should be enhanced across the board and across the various agencies.

Take, for instance, the National Environment Agency's list of common items that can and cannot be placed in the recycling bins.

The instruction given for old clothing is "donate if in good condition" and dispose into the general waste if they are not. Therefore, old clothes should not enter the recycling bins at all.

A similar list of instructions on, which is run by a non-profit and non-governmental organisation, implies that old clothes can indeed be recycled as it contains this statement: "Bag before depositing into the recycling bin."

One public waste collector's "frequently asked questions" page also states: "Old clothes can be disposed into the recycling bin."

It would appear that this contradictory information leads to more items ending up in the general waste bin.

In many public spaces, recycling bins with separate compartments for plastics, cans, and paper are still being used.

However, source-separation is not carried out in the recycling chutes and blue bins located in housing estates. All types of recyclables can be discarded into a single bin. This does not, therefore, give a consistent message to the public as to whether or not sorting is necessary.

Members of the public may be unable to find the specific separate bin for the type of waste they have, and out of convenience, dispose of it in the general waste bin instead.

Meanwhile, more detailed information about what can be recycled is helpful.

For example, we all know paper should be recycled. However, most paper we encounter is not loose - it usually has staples, metal bindings of some sort, or glued fabric bindings. As a result, some people may shy away from recycling such complex items.

Moreover, some instructions come with a qualifier, namely: "Donate if in good condition." What is a "good" condition? This is highly subjective.

I suggest that some common scenarios be included in such lists so that there is a general baseline of evaluation.

Renee Tay

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 12, 2019, with the headline 'Be clear about what items can or cannot be recycled'. Subscribe