Earth Day is always a good opportunity to take status on how the sustainable development goals set by the policymakers are progressing, but also how we as individuals are looking after our environment when it comes to refusing, reducing and recycling. Mana Impact‘s Patricia Chu looks at Singapore’s progress and efforts in 2019 – the year that our country has named the Year of Zero Waste.
I have been living in Singapore for almost seven years and I am really glad to hear that 2019 has been dubbed the Year of Zero Waste.
General public awareness around sustainability, the environment and climate change has definitely increased since I first moved here, but I think that we are still only scratching the surface. The campaigns about eliminating plastic straws have definitely been a hit as I see more cafés, bars and shops providing either paper straws, metal ones or bamboo ones. Similarly, I am excited to see new start-ups such as Uglyfood, Uglygood, Revolv, Unpack and Reprovisions, which are tackling food waste, reduction of plastics and other ways of making our consumption more circular.
While these initiatives are great, in order for Singapore to really become a “Zero Waste Nation” we need to convert these initiatives from niche to mainstream.
We need to become more conscious about how we can refuse, reduce, reuse and recycle many of the items that we use on a daily basis. This ranges from the way we travel, the clothes that we wear, the food we eat and the type of energy that we use.
Sustainable practices have to move beyond marketing and PR purposes to be at the heart of all future developments in order to really change habits, make our lifestyle more sustainable for our planet and move towards a circular economy.
How do we do this? We need a multi-pronged approach that includes interventions on three levels: government policies, education and advocacy and individual action.
More than 40 countries around the world, including China, the United Kingdom, and Australia, have started to ban, restrict or tax the single use of plastics. Other policies include making people pay for plastic bags at grocery stores. This has been practised in Europe for many years, and the lessons learned are the same globally: Such rules will incentivize people to bring their own bags.
The levy would be a good option in Singapore as well. The “Red Dot” is also looking at introducing the extended producer responsibility framework to hold organizations accountable for the collection and proper treatment of electronic waste.
Education and Advocacy
Awareness about the topic of Zero Waste needs to be continually taught and reinforced. Education is imperative in order for people to learn how to recycle properly as well as to understand the repercussions and downstream damage that we are creating with the abundance of plastic in society. Social media is a great place to share such information with our peers and social groups as well as participate in grassroots movements such as the beach clean-ups organized by Seven Clean Seas or green fairs such Earthfest.
According to a video survey produced by Eco-Business, the leading media provider of sustainability issues in Asia, 40% of the content in the blue recycling bins in Singapore are contaminated. This means that such plastic items are sent on to incineration, not only missing out on a great chance to recycle but also wasting further resources in this re-routing. Furthermore, 70% of the local population indicated that they are not fully aware of what can be recycled. This is also reflected in the fact that non-recyclable items such as mattresses, plants, diapers are found in recycling bins.
In many cases, government policies are needed in order to trigger behavioural changes. However, this might not be possible in the short run, so further advocacy is required and ensuring that most people know about the effects that inaction is causing, is important to change people’s mindset. Other times we need to be financially motivated in order to make some changes. An example of this is the “pant system” in many European countries, where there’s an economic value attached to bottles, that ensure such bottles will be duly returned to their rightful places.
No matter how hard or engrained this habit and linear economy thinking is, we need to wake up and start taking action because there is only one livable planet. We owe it to our children to leave this planet livable to them.
Public consultations are open at the moment on Singapore’s Public Waste masterplan. The masterplan is looking at four main areas: food waste, electronic waste, packaging and education on recycling. These are definitely core areas and important points. I look forward to seeing some of these master plan points being implemented.
In the meantime, we cannot lean back and wait for action from the top: We need to take action at the individual level starting today. Orgayana has a number of blogs that provide more guidance on how to recycle in Singapore. Take a look at groups like ZeroWaste SG and Plastic-Lite Singapore which conduct programs that seek to educate the public on how to start a zero-waste lifestyle.
Long term success requires all of us to be environmental stewards and contribute to every single action. Let’s start today!
Patricia Chu, Co-Founder of Mana Impact Partners
Patti is a people-connector and is passionate about making a greater social impact. Her experience ranges in the fields of banking, access to finance, education and renewable energy. Her wealth of project experience includes working with banking institutions in China to offer microfinance products to MSMEs; Evaluating Lego Foundation’s grantee portfolio in Asia and creating a new strategy for the region; Analyzing and implementing improvements to increase production efficiency and lower costs for Siemens wind power division.
Patti is a native of Argentina and has working experience in Latin America, the United States, Asia and Europe. She has a B.Sc. in Business Administration from the University of Richmond, and an M.A. in International Development and Economics from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. She speaks Spanish, Chinese, Portuguese and Danish