Consider these 3Rs before Recycling!

Repair, Re-gift, Repurpose before you jump into the Recycle bandwagon.

I was introduced to the term ‘Recycling’ during Temasek Polytechnic days by a good friend when I was about to throw away a snack packaging. Ever since that introduction, I became somewhat a hoarder, a trash collector, a recycler, and an up-cycler, trying to save everything and anything. Bits and pieces of paper scraps, bread expiry date tags, and threads included.

It helped that I studied in the School of Design. These materials, resources, ‘rubbish’ collected eventually came in handy for my projects, creating collages with mixed mediums. However, that’s not the case as soon as I entered the workforce. I still have some of the ‘trash’ collected from school days, 20 years ago. Told you I’m a hoarder! Perhaps now is the time to put them to good use. I am itching to make some collage arts again.

Other than being a trash collector and hoarder, I was a staunch recycler who used to separate her waste diligently. Thankfully, the neighborhood I reside in Singapore, Tanjong Pagar GRC, made it so very easy. Yellow bags were distributed for all things recyclables to be collected monthly right at our doorstep aka National Recycling Programme (NRP). That convenience soon came to an end as we adopted the blue recycling bins system aka Centralised Recycling Depositories (CRDs). Recycling goes on except we now have to take them down to the bins ourselves. I’ve no qualms about it, just that sometimes it can be overwhelming to see how much we really want to recycle.

Blue Recycling Bins around my neighborhood with overwhelming response.

Most of the time, due to contamination, the likelihood of recycling is reduced to almost zero. Wishful recyclers thrown in unclean plastic packagings for food and drinks for example. Thus, contaminated the whole batch which will then be incinerated instead. Confession: I was one of them who didn’t know I have to clean (wash and dry if necessary) recyclables before recycling! I doubt any of us were given any proper guidance and education to recycling and how to recycle responsibly. And why haven’t we? Knowing the fact that our only trash island, Semakau Landfill, has an expiry date, which was initially estimated at 2045, now shorten by 10 years to 2035, possibly due to our high consumption rate (WWF says if everyone consumed like Singaporeans, we will need 4 planet Earths), high dependency on single use plastics, packaging and disposables, increasing population growth and China banned on recycling imports from foreign countries, Singapore included.

The world panicked when China shut its doors on the imports of these so call ‘recyclable’ waste in 2018. China used to see them as ‘gold’ but not anymore apparently. Malaysia soon became one of the countries where these containers of waste were diverted to. Imported by illegal recyclers and illegally dumped initially at Jenjarom in Selangor, to locations in other states, including Kuantan in Pahang, Pasir Gudang in Johor, Chemor in Perak, and Lukut in Negri Sembilan… These waste were left to rot and burn in open space, sending toxic into the atmosphere, affecting communities living around the area with respiratory problems, skin allergies, and the like.

When investigated by various health and environment organizations, GreenPeace Malaysia is one of them, the waste came from developed nations like UK, Europe and US. If recycling is what it claimed to be for so many years, why aren’t these developed countries do it themselves? Recycle and recover resources to make new products. Is recycling a myth? Read Greenpeace Malaysia report here. I used to think recycling is how consumers closed the loop. I was utterly shocked when I later found out just 9% of the global plastic waste is recycled. Plastic recycling in Singapore was only 6% in 2017, dropped to 4% in 2018 and 2019. Detailed statistics here. The first plastic bottle we’ve purchased is probably still on this planet. Vast majority of plastic waste (79%) are dumped in the landfill, in the sea, or sloughing off in the natural environment as litters, if not incinerated (12%). The next time you buy a plastic bottled beverage with or without a recycling label, think again. They will most likely be ‘dumped’ somewhere in one of the developing countries.

A man carries plastic bottles for recycling in Nairobi, Kenya. Photograph: Ben Curtis/AP for this article.

Until we learn how to recycle responsibly and have a transparent, effective recycling system, don’t count on it entirely. Instead, I practice:

  • Rethink – My consumption habits. Pushing my creativities to find earth and pocket-friendly alternatives. I think before I buy. I think before I throw.
  • Refuse – What I don’t need, especially trash, coming into my life.
  • Refill – Instead of sending more trash to the landfill.
  • Reduce – What I do need. Packing for hiking trips helped me to be more mindful of the things and weights I had to carry. I reassess and identify what’s my true essentials.
  • Reuse – Replace all disposables to reusables. Reuse any resources over and over again if possible. If not,…
  • Repair, Re-gift, Repurpose before Recycling – And recycle responsibly if you must. I used to be one of those wishful recyclers! Be sure to read all about it or better still, volunteer at Tzu Chi Recycling Collection Centre to learn how to recycle right.

When you throw something away, it doesn’t go away. It goes somewhere. Our trash will either end up in the landfill, the ocean, in the environment as litters or incinerated. In Singapore, our trash is turned into ash by incineration plants and then shipped to our first and only landfill. Watch it here. The world’s first ecological offshore landfill, Pulau Semakau, is known to be the cleanest trash island and cost S$610 million to create. Pretty hefty to manage waste from a tiny dot on the world map! In operation since 1999, Semakau landfill is estimated to be filled by 2035. What’s going to happen next? At our current disposal rate, Singapore will need a trash island every 7-10 years to serve 6 million of us. Can someone do the math?

Recycling is not the answer to close a blind eye to our buy and throw away culture, mindless, excessive consumption, overly unnecessary packagings, heavy dependency on single-use plastics and disposables,… Our consumption habits must change. Thankfully, habits can change! It takes more than just Responsible Recycling, it’s also about Responsible Consumption and Production which is the No. 12 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

United Nations Sustainable Development Goals No.12

Therefore, consider these 3Rs before Recycling:

  • Repair – Fashion pieces with local seamstresses, Shoes with cobblers, Electronics with authorized brand repair team, all others with Repair Kopitiam (Coffee Shop).
  • Re-gift – To family, friends, or free-cycle groups on FB and charity organizations who might need specifics items such as old pillows and towels for an animal shelter.
  • Repurpose – Turned waste into arts and crafts, art installations. Waste chucked tightly in used plastic bottles to make ecobricks. Glass bottles and used tires can be turned into construction materials,… and more!

I will expand Repair, Re-gift, Repurpose in a separate blog entry. Read on!

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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