The Food Waste Recycling Dilemma
Singapore aims to be a green city, but its people have not yet learned the need to recycle food waste
WHEN KOREAN housewife Lin Kyoung Ja was living in Seoul, part of her household chores included segregating waste items for disposal.
The conscientious 46-year-old kept her household food waste in a separate bag and handed it over to the waste collectors for disposal twice a week. The food waste was sent for composting – a process of turning organic matter into fertiliser – in a bid to send less garbage to the landfill.
“The waste collectors are very strict. They can refuse to collect your food trash or fine you ?100,000 (S$123) if it’s not separated well,” says Madam Lin, who moved to Singapore with her children in 2005.
Madam Lin has since stopped separating food waste as it is not mandated by the Singapore government.
Examples of foreigners in Singapore turning from an eco-plus to an eco-minus when it comes to food waste recycling are not uncommon.
“The attitude in Singapore is that ‘everything gets burned, why bother?’” says Edwin Khew, 61, chief executive and managing director of food waste recycling company IUT Global, which converts food waste into energy and bio-compost.
In South Korea, the food waste recycling rate increased to 81.3 per cent in 2004, from 45.1 per cent in 2002, after the implementation of strict regulations on food waste recycling and expansion of waste to energy facilities.
Singapore, however – where recycling is voluntary – saw a mere four per cent increase after IUT Global came into the scene in 2006. Of the 570,000 million kilos of food waste generated in 2008, only 12 per cent was recycled.
In response to the dismal food waste recycling rate, Environment and Water Resources Minister Yaacob Ibrahim announced a new target of 40 per cent by 2030, in the 2009 Sustainable Development Blueprint.
The National Environment Agency (NEA) is looking at countries such as those in Japan and South Korea which have laws to govern food waste recycling to understand the rationale and economics of such measures.
Given the insouciant attitude towards recycling in Singapore, legislating food waste separation and collection is the only way to step up the food waste recycling rate, says Mr Khew. Education on and legislation of recycling food waste will take a long time before it is accepted as a norm.
“Many Asian economies like Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and even China and India have these laws to segregate food waste from recyclables,” he says. “Why can’t a green and sustainable city like Singapore have these laws as well?”