2020 introduced a never-before-seen threat to humanity and our world: Covid.

Much has been said, and more will be discussed in the years to come.

While the magnitude of the pandemic is indeed massive, and it is definitely an urgent crisis, it has pushed an equally important issue – climate change – into the background.

Now we have all heard the same old story. How climate change is a real problem, we are killing our planet and recycling is one way to help save it. Much has also already been said about Singapore’s immense amount of plastic waste generated, exacerbated by the circuit breaker.

I’m glad that many are still taking up the mantle of campaigning against climate change even during Covid. And there are many innovative projects ongoing, right here in our own backyard.

One is Magorium, a startup that uses plastic waste to pave roads, most recently at a Tuas factory site and a condo at Marymount.

Another is Zero Waste SG’s Bring Your Own Container (BYOC) campaign, started to counter the increase in plastic usage during Covid.

BYOC banner
Image source: byosingapore

On a smaller scale, individuals around the country are striving to reduce the waste they generate in their day-to-day lives. This includes consciously avoiding using disposable items and recycling.

The latter of which, faces an easily-avoidable obstacle.

That brings me to the point of this article.

Bins giving the blues

Singapore - 11/8/2019: 2 recycle bins was found at the downstairs of HDB block.
Image source: Shutterstock / Dream Days Foto

We have all seen the blue recycling bins across Singapore. These provide an easy and convenient avenue to recycle. Yet, not everyone uses them appropriately.

Some place non-recyclable materials like styrofoam boxes and food waste into the blue bins. This takes up space that could otherwise be used to store proper recyclable materials. It also adds extra work for staff at the sorting stations as they have to discard items that shouldn’t be there in the first place.

What I find difficult to understand is that every bin clearly states what can and cannot be recycled at the front.

Worse, others have treated recycling bins like rubbish bins – tossing their trash in the blue bins with no regard for the recyclables within.

This contaminates the recyclables in the bin and they would have to be discarded. On top of that, messy blue bins deter others from putting their recyclables in.

And I’m not alone in observing this. In a reddit post by user u/FahadiHussein, he posted two pictures of the blue bins at his void deck that clearly show how they are being abused by residents. It is a mess – from the non-recyclables piled up inside and outside of the bin, to the items of trash visibly strewn around them.

cardboard stuffed under recycling bin
Image source: reddit / FahadiHussein

He was so irate that he suggested the authorities treat throwing rubbish at recycling bins as littering. He added that this has been happening for a few years in his neighbourhood and that he would be bringing the issue up to his MP.

Other users spoke up with their own experiences.

Redditor u/Intentionallyabadger said: “The recycling bin near my place is no different from a dumpster. It’s full of stuff that’s not supposed to be there like food scraps. I once went down to toss away old newspapers and magazines and saw a ton of maggots wriggling inside… Not too sure why it’s so hard to get the recycling message across to people in SG.”

Another redditor u/ted81free added: “My mum is a cab driver and this isn’t actually as bad as what she has seen. She has had drunk customers get out of her car and puke right into those things. Ever since then she washes all our recyclables and ties them in a plastic bag before we toss it in.”

These anecdotes are just a small illustration of how the public has not been using the blue bins properly.

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Turned off by unthinking Singaporeans

I’ve witnessed this myself, albeit not in as extreme a manner as the redditors mentioned above.

I started recycling early this year as I was upset at how the world was being affected by Covid. It was causing so much chaos and hurt to people in multiple countries, including Singapore. As I didn’t want to do nothing and let that negativity fester, I decided to do something that would benefit the world.

It didn’t matter how big or small the effect would be. After all, there was only so much I could do as one ordinary person. I just wanted to do something positive. After some soul searching, I decided to commit to recycling. It was something that I’ve wanted to do for a long time – I just lacked the drive to put in that extra effort. So I thought to myself: Now’s no better time than any!

plastic bottle garbage for recycling concept reuse
Image source: Shutterstock / ITTIGallery

Ever since, I’ve been sorting the plastic bottles and cans in my household. I rinse them and put them in plastic bags to reduce clutter.

But I sometimes dread going downstairs to the blue bins as I’m afraid of what I’ll find inside. This is because of what I saw the very first time I deposited my recyclables.

I still recall the swarm of flies that greeted me as I arrived at the bin. A strong odour hit my nose. I glanced inside and found rubbish like opened snack wrappers, styrofoam boxes containing uneaten scraps of food and broken unrecyclable items thrown inside.

Appalled, I went back upstairs with my bags of recyclables. What was the point, I thought to myself, when my contributions would end up getting rejected, contaminated by unthinking, uncaring people?

I have also heard people arguing against recycling as pointless and inadequate.

The environmental damage we have already done is too severe for recycling to repair, they argue. What’s the point of individual effort when it’s only action by big businesses and governments that can make a tangible difference?

packed recyclables
Image source: Ryan Teo

To that, I say, if we can influence big corporations and governments, great, let’s do it. If Greta can do it, why can’t we? But even if we can’t convince other people to do it, we can still control our own actions. Blaming other people for our lack of conviction is just a cop-out.

Despite that bad first experience, it didn’t stop me from my recycling commitment. Nowadays, I check my blue bins and if they are clean my recyclables go in. But as a precaution, I make sure to tie the bags very tightly to not allow any subsequent trash (in case other people dump rubbish in!) to dirty them.

This took extra effort, no doubt, and it can be a bit of a hassle to set aside some space to store our recyclables, but in my opinion it’s a tiny price to pay for even a small positive effect on the world.

Recycle or not, let’s be considerate

But it shouldn’t be this difficult to recycle.

We shouldn’t need to worry about the blue bins being too dirty for our recyclables. We shouldn’t need to put so much thought into keeping our recyclables protected from the rubbish thrown inside by others. We shouldn’t have to endure disheartening remarks ridiculing us for making an effort to preserve our planet for this generation and the next.

Look, I get it. We are all encouraged to recycle, but ultimately it’s still a person’s individual decision whether or not we buy into an eco-friendly way of life. But just as I respect your freedom to choose your actions, please be considerate and ensure that your actions (or lack thereof) doesn’t restrict mine.

Let’s not shame each other for our choices, nor make the lives of others harder.

Instead, we should respect the choices of others and the reasons behind them. That way, we can create a more inclusive society that is based on mutual encouragement rather than individual shaming and corporate social responsibility instead of selfish living.

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