Thursday, 25 October 2007

Tip of the Day

What you need to appreciate is that Singapore has official and unofficial recycling systems. The official one is as one would expect of a socially responsible administration. There are re-cycling points with bins for paper, glass and plastic, but I've only seen them in tourist spots like Orchard Road and a couple of MRT stations. There's stuff in them so it works to some extent at least but I get a whiff of propaganda over substance given the vast majority of rubbish is thrown anonymously down HDB chutes with no recycling applied.

Singapore is average when it comes to wasteful packaging. Extra wrappings would add cost but there is still a huge, unending mass of plastic bags, Styrofoam and bamboo chopsticks used by shops and stalls. Everything gets a cheap plastic bag, often of a dull red (possibly recycled) plastic that is such a characteristic sight it's iconic.

Supermarket shopping is a mixed bag, as it were. Some people use little trolleys like my grandmother used, but then just use it to carry their plastic bags. Because most people will be walking home, bags need to last a 10-15min walk so anything heavy is doubled-bagged. Anything cold/frozen must be separated, so another bag. Newspaper? - another bag. Smelly fish? - another bag.

NTUC have bag-less Wednesdays, which means unprepared people like me have to put 5cents into the charity jar. Given I use the shopping bags as garbage bags at home (you need lots of small, daily bags as you can't keep waste food overnight (ants) and the chute opening is small), the scheme develops an equilibrium.

The council now has re-cycling dumpsters at some of the void decks. It is supposed to be for cardboard, paper, plastic, glass, clothes, toys, books, and so on. What actually happens is people leave all sorts of junk in and around the dumpster, and the old ladies who earn some pennies sorting trash go through it hoiking out the cardboard and aluminium cans (30p for ~65 cans), plus anything else valuable. The trouble is they are pretty focused, and if there is a cardboard box full of junk, they'll just tip out the contents to get the box.

Some re-cycling is done direct from your door. During the day, guys go around every floor buying stacks of old newspapers (60p for a 1m high pile) and collecting old electric items to be stripped for copper and other metals.

The best sort of re-cycling is reuse, and here the ad hoc system works well. Just leave anything you don't want (old sofa, bed, furniture, toys, books) at the void deck, usually on a Sunday, and it's finders-keepers.

Judging by effectiveness, the half-hearted official programme compares unfavourably versus the scavenging locals who do a better job of re-using, sorting and recovering materials at lower financial and energy cost although I acknowledge that without the Indian cleaning guys to tidy up every day, the place would look like the municipal tip.