When thinking about saving the Earth, it sounds like something important to do but something that we don’t do because it’s not convenient for us.
However, recent fads about metal straws are bringing more attention to single-use plastics and the 3Rs (Reduce, Reuse and Recycle), but a question that we had is: Do the 3Rs really help the environment?
While on the tour we were taken to various locations that had recycling bins and learnt about how the placement of bins affects what is being thrown into it.
For instance, we came across a bin for electronic recyclables (E-waste) that was placed next to a letterbox. Due to its close proximity and the absence of a paper recycling bin, brochures were actually seen inside the E-waste bin instead.
When we peeked into the bin, we also saw other rubbish such as a half-filled cup of soft drinks, which can in turn damage the electronic recyclables.
What a waste!
These perfectly recyclable materials are now reduced to rubbish because of one half-filled cup of soft drink.
This was very eye-opening for me as it got me thinking about how I might have also disposed of my soft drinks into recycling bins in the past.
For the next part of the tour, we boarded a bus to Sungei Kadut to visit a materials recovery facility.
The facility recovers paper materials from commercial recycling bins and sorts them before sending them to be recycled.
We got to see some of the workers in action and learnt about the process of recycling in Singapore and about the kinds of items that cannot be recycled.
Myths of Recycling
After the tour, we interviewed Clare from Green Nudge to give us more insight into recycling.
She told us that a misconception that people might have is that “going green” is purely associated with just recycling alone. Typically, once someone has recycled their waste, they would think that they’ve already done their part in helping the environment. However, Singapore’s recycling landscape is not well in place yet.
As most of the domestic recyclables get contaminated easily, most of the recycled waste does not get recycled since some people are still not aware of how to recycle properly.
“Did you know that the recycling of plastics does not contribute to a full-circular economy?”
When plastics are recycled, they are usually ‘downcycled’ meaning that a plastic material of lower quality is produced. So, there would come a point where the plastic material can’t be recycled anymore and will be sent for incineration.
So, to make a more meaningful impact, it would be better to limit your plastic usage overall.
On the point of making recycling a habit, since many Singaporeans find recycling a hassle, she gave us tips, such as to make it convenient for yourself.
Since many Singaporeans today are very subscribed to the culture of convenience, It is hard to let go of our disposable takeaway containers and plastic bags when they are readily available, cheap and convenient to use in the first place.
“Using this same logic, why not make recycling convenient for yourself too?”
Place recycling bins in your home, leave your reusables such as your foldable bags (which are actually pretty light!) and collapsible containers in your bags so you don’t have an excuse not to have them when you’re out of the house.
You can also hold onto your disposable wastes such as receipts and empty plastic bottles until you get home so you can toss them into your recycling bins.
As time passes, these little efforts will then become a way of life too!
So, what can we do?
Even though the main message out there at the moment is to encourage people to recycle, the most effective and more impactful way of helping the environment is to simply Refuse and Reduce.
When you refuse items that you don’t need, you tackle the problem at its root cause by limiting your production of waste in the first place. Subsequently, this also reduces the demand in producing excessively, making them less readily available, and therefore taking up fewer resources.
If you want to go further, another R which in my opinion trumps the 3Rs approach is to ultimately Remember.
Remember to bring your reusables out, ask yourself if you really need the item before purchasing it, and remember to clean up your trash at the beach or park to prevent them from being picked up by winds and landing them into our oceans.
Lastly, we asked Clare the big question: Do you think the Earth can be saved?
To which she answered, “To be frank, I don’t think this is a simple question! It really depends on what you mean by ‘can be saved’.”
Since we (humankind) are very aware that rising sea levels are inevitable, we will definitely have to adapt to our surroundings and accept the consequences of what has been done.
However, that doesn’t mean we should stop there and let the problem continue. If everyone starts to seriously consider how our current lifestyle choices are affecting the Earth, more people will start to speak out and do something about it.
Hopefully, when more people start to see the value of their individual actions, we will see a ripple effect occur and hopefully, this can slowly bring about a shift in our cultural norms in how we deal with waste.
“The earth does not need one person to be perfect in going zero-waste, it needs everyone trying to go zero-waste and being mindful of their lifestyle choices and consumption behaviours in tackling this problem.”