Six in 10 households recycle often, but not all get it right

Efforts derailed by contaminants thrown in blue recycling bins, say MEWR and NEA

About six in 10 Singaporean households say they recycle regularly, two new surveys show. But many still get it wrong about what can go into the ubiquitous blue recycling bins around the island.

Figures from the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources (MEWR) and the National Environment Agency (NEA) show 56 per cent of Singaporean households that recycle regularly said they use the blue bins at least once a week.

Their efforts, however, are derailed by contaminants such as food or organic waste thrown in the blue bins, the agencies said yesterday in a statement on the two polls.

In the MEWR survey of 2,003 households, only 33 per cent knew that soiled paper food packaging was not recyclable. And 49 per cent were mistaken in believing that tissue paper can be recycled.

Clothes, shoes and bags top the list of items that people mistakenly think can be recycled.

As much as 40 per cent of what goes into the recycling bins cannot be recycled because they either are non-recyclables or are soiled by food or liquids.

The NEA survey polled 3,445 households.

Both surveys showed that people fared well when it came to correctly depositing items such as newspapers, junk mail, plastic drink bottles, aluminium cans, and glass wine and beer bottles.

The agencies yesterday reminded residents that while drink receptacles can be recycled, they should be emptied and rinsed clean before being put into the bins.

The MEWR survey also found that convenience was one of the most common reasons people cited for recycling regularly.

The most common reason for not recycling? "Too few items to recycle."

Others said they were too busy or tired, or did not have enough space to keep recyclables at home.

Mr Louis Ng, an MP for Nee Soon GRC who speaks regularly on environmental issues, noted that most blue bins in Housing Board estates are located in carparks. As a result, many are underused.

The surveys also revealed that recycling came easily to households that made recycling part of their daily routine.

There is a long way to go to make recycling a habit at home. Singapore's domestic recycling rate was a low 22 per cent last year, up from 21 per cent in 2017.

Singapore aims to increase this to 30 per cent by 2030.

The domestic sector includes premises like public and private housing estates and schools, where recyclables are picked up by public waste collectors under the National Recycling Programme, or by the informal recycling sector, including rag-and-bone men.

Both surveys were done via face-to-face interviews between June last year and February this year.

The NEA survey, done once every two years, focuses on households' experience with recycling collection services and infrastructure.

The MEWR survey was commissioned for the Year Towards Zero Waste effort this year.

As part of this campaign, a Towards Zero Waste Grant was set up in January to support ground-up initiatives that drive waste reduction and recycling and encourage good recycling habits among households.

Both agencies said greater efforts are under way to make recycling more convenient for households.

Previous initiatives to make recycling more convenient for residents include fitting all new public housing developments launched since 2014 with dual chutes - one for refuse and one for recyclables.

This requirement has been extended since April last year to all new non-landed private residential developments taller than four storeys.

Pilot trials to help Singaporeans get into the habit of recycling are also in the pipeline.

"We are refreshing the design of the blue recycling bin labels to improve the presentation of information on recycling, to help more people recycle right," said the agencies.

The new design is expected to be ready by this year.

People can find the locations of the nearest recycling bins and recyclables collection points by checking the NEA website, its social media accounts or its myENV mobile app.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 30, 2019, with the headline Six in 10 households recycle often, but not all get it right. Subscribe