Make environmental mindfulness a social norm

It was heartening to see Singapore's waste generation dip from 7.81 million tonnes in 2016 to 7.7 million tonnes last year (Giving recycling efforts a boost; April 2).

However, the overall recycling rate remains stagnant and while there are certain counter-measures in place, there is much more that can be done to augment environmental mindfulness in Singapore.

I have witnessed first-hand the conscientiousness and dedication of the Japanese when it comes to the management of their waste, such as how households are required to sieve out recyclable materials in their trash.

However, while stricter garbage disposal laws may have contributed to Japan's greater adherence to this cause, much of it still boils down to the norms of its society.

According to sociologists, social norms are tacit rules about how one is expected to behave in a certain context. Infringing these norms would attract the chastisement of the rest of society, thus urging the individual to conform to them.

For example, in Japan, households that fail to sort their trash into recyclables and non-recyclables incur not only the wrath of the government, but that of their neighbours as well, dissuading similar recurrences in the future.

Social norms are not created overnight. The key lies in nurturing the next generation. On a national level, the Singapore Government could encourage schools to weave environmental preservation into its current curriculum.

For instance, geography lessons could delve further into the nuances of recycling while art classes could revolve around the use of recyclable materials. This would enable students to be consistently and holistically engaged rather than simply participating in one-off, touch-and-go activities.

As citizens, we should also lead by example and be responsible consumers ourselves.

We may not see the fruits of our labour until the ensuing generation takes up the reins of our country, but if environmental mindfulness becomes a deep-seated social norm, it would be well worth the wait.

Titus Quek Wei Yang

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 18, 2018, with the headline 'Make environmental mindfulness a social norm'. Print Edition | Subscribe