What the R?!

It all began with 3Rs, then 5Rs, 6Rs, now 10Rs, and more!


I am a collector by nature. Since I’ve stopped buying and accumulating stuff in general, I might as well start gathering these Rs that have shown up in my zero waste journey somewhere, like this blog. When you decide to remove an addiction in your life, you’ll need to find a healthy replacement lest you fall back into the old habit. Collecting R letter words became my new obsession. Plus, it doesn’t cost me a single cent! Here’s one more R below.

Recollection: It’s funny when I look back at my so-called ‘eco-friendly’ life. How wishful and naive I was to think: Recycling is the way to close the loop. Sure, I made note pads from single-sided printed letters and old posters, bought and sold my unwanted stuff at the flea market, reused plastic and paper bags forever, never really threw anything away (aka hoarder), but I especially made sure packagings of whatever I bought online or offline, local or overseas, went straight to the recycling bin. I would sort them diligently; papers into the paper bin, plastics into the plastic bin, glass bottles, jars into the glass bin, so on and so forth. 

Only to find out more than a decade later, just 9% of the global plastic waste got recycled! 12% was incinerated, while the remaining 79% are either dumped in landfills and seas or sloughing off in the natural environment as litter. Shocking facts from National Geographic!

6 months into my zero waste journey, thanks to a good hiking friend, I had the chance to share my story with members of The Rotary Club in Malaysia. Knowing my audience was a group of respectable senior executives who held positions like CEO, COO, CFO, CMO, CBO, CAO, or any chief you can think of, I needed to show some figures to speak their language. So I read and researched the waste statistics in Singapore then and included the data in my presentation. 

Out of all types of waste generated in Singapore in 2017, plastics and food waste are the highest.
Waste and Recycling Statistics from National Environment Agency Singapore. NEA.com.sg

Why Singapore? Firstly, it’s where I come from, and also the fact that my country is a tiny dot on the world map. If X amount of waste was generated in a tiny dot, we can then visualize what it would look like for Malaysia, which is 459 times bigger than Singapore.

According to the statistics provided by NEA as shown above, out of all types of waste generated in Singapore in 2017, plastic waste is the highest at 815,200 tonnes, with only a 6% recycling rate. Alarmingly low. My ideal world of recycling to close the loop was a big fat bubble burst immediately after reading the data!

Perhaps some of you are like me, a visual person, and wondered what 815,200 tonnes look like? Surely I can imagine it looking great in my bank account. Joke aside, I thought about the biggest animal on this planet – a blue whale, each can weigh up to 150 tonnes. 815,200 tonnes of plastic waste would look like 5,434 blue whales, stacking on top of one another in a landfill! 

Reminder: We are only talking about the plastic waste generated in Singapore in 2017 alone! NEA has data from as early as 1999, since Pulau Semakau, aka Trash Island, began its operation. Our only remaining landfill was initially estimated to be filled by 2045. Now, shorten by 10 years as the landfill is filling up rapidly for many reasons. 

What’s going to happen after 2035? Find another island nearby Singapore and spend another 610 million or more to set up another trash island? I don’t think it’s as simple as that.

I’m thankful that Singapore is working very hard to move our nation towards zero waste starting in 2019. Since I returned home at the end of February 2020, just a little before Covid-19 went all out and nations lockdown happened, I chanced upon Climate Change SG FB group, and I’m encouraged just by reading their posts and plans for Singapore. However, our government cannot do this alone. Businesses and citizens have to work on this together with the ministries involved in waste reduction to prolong the expiry date of our only Trash Island. A lot of awareness, actions, and applications are required urgently. 

At the moment, Recycling is not carried out correctly, which leads to contamination and incineration as the only resort when some materials could have stood a chance of Recovery. We should start practicing Refusing more than anything else and embrace Reusable all over again and the art of BYO. Most importantly, our nation as a whole has got to change its mindset. Rethink about our consumption habits, buy and throw away culture, and dependency on single-use plastic, packaging, and disposables altogether.

Unity is strength. Unity is power. We can make a significant impact, together. Would be really cool if Singapore is awarded as a Zero Waste Nation in the near future. Looking forward to that!

Now, how many R letter words can you spot on this post? If ‘Recycling’ is repeated 3 times, for example, it’s counted as one R letter word.

Send your answer directly to smileslikegreenspirit@gmail.com or through the Contact form – I have a little surprise for the one who got it right first. Start counting now!

Published by jsmntuan

A self-confessed shopaholic, hoarder, collector and a well organized one, Jasmine Tuan, a designer, a creative brand consultant, co-owned and ran a fashion concept store in Singapore featuring the best of Asia designers, went from having a walk-in wardrobe, downsized to a rack full, to zero shopping on new fashion items in 2018. She also began her zero waste journey the same year, by applying the 5Rs principles in this order: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot daily. She added 'Rethink' in front of the 5Rs as she believes everything begins from the head.

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