Tampines hub's way to cut waste and cost

Two eco-digesters convert food waste into fertiliser and non-potable water

At Our Tampines Hub (OTH), an investment in two food waste digesters half a year ago has been bearing fruit. Not only has it reduced the amount of waste produced at the community and lifestyle hub by two-thirds, it has saved the management thousands of dollars.

The resulting fertiliser converted from the waste has also been used to help grow a range of vegetables, fruit and herbs at a rooftop garden.

About 700kg of discarded food in total from half-eaten meals at the hub's hawker centre and other food outlets, and expired food items from its supermarket are carted three times a day to a room at the corner of the basement 1 carpark, since November last year.

In there sit both food waste eco-digesters, which use microbes to recycle the waste into non-potable water, liquid plant nutrients and organic fertiliser.

From needing three garbage compactor trucks daily to transport rubbish from the hub to be incinerated, it now requires only one, Mr Suhaimi Rafdi, the hub's director, told The Sunday Times.

Each truck has a maximum capacity of 8,500 litres, or about 71 typical roadside rubbish bins, like those found at bus stops.

"Based on the need for one versus three compactor trucks... OTH enjoys... approximately $40,000 in annual savings," Mr Suhaimi added.

The savings will later be channelled back to the food outlets and supermarket in the form of rebates.

When the hub - which houses government agencies, retail shops, eateries and other lifestyle facilities - is fully opened in August, the amount of food waste treated daily is expected to double to 1,400kg.

Mr Suhaimi said the hub near Tampines bus interchange is bent on diverting waste from landfills, and has put in place a closed-loop waste management system.

The non-potable water recycled from food waste is used by the eco- digesters, which cost $300,000 in total, for self-cleaning, or to clean rubbish bins or the bin centre.

Liquid plant nutrients are used to fertilise the hub's landscape and rooftop Eco-Community Garden, where fruit, vegetables and herbs - such as passionfruit, tomato and peppermint - are grown. These fruit and vegetables are used as ingredients for cooking lessons held at the hub's Wellness Centre.

The organic fertiliser, produced from about 5 per cent of the food waste, is packed and distributed to residents monthly, and at times to schools and community clubs.

"There are plenty of tangible and intangible benefits," said Mr Suhaimi of having the eco-digesters. He added that the machines also minimise potential pest and rodent problems as no food waste is left exposed overnight.

Food waste accounts for about 10 per cent of the total waste generated in Singapore, but only 14 per cent of food waste is recycled. Last year, over 790 million kg of food was wasted - equivalent to two bowls of rice per person per day.

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli, who is also an MP for Tampines GRC, told The Sunday Times: "Food waste that cannot be avoided should be treated or recycled as far as possible." But he noted that the best way to combat food waste is to avoid generating it in the first place.

Mr Masagos called the hub a "living lab", and that "innovation and technological initiatives designed to improve people's lives and support a greener planet are always welcomed" to be tested there.

He added that anyone can visit the hub to better understand how its food waste management and other eco-sustainability efforts work.

"On this note, it would be a privilege to function as a reference point or model for other organisations to tailor their eco-sustainability efforts upon," Mr Masagos said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 18, 2017, with the headline 'Tampines hub's way to cut waste and cost'. Print Edition | Subscribe