Joe and I were not surprised when we read the following article from Straits Times today. We have always believed that recycling and composting need to start from the grassroots level – at home, in the classroom, at the office etc.
Like IUT, we have before dreamed of “separate waste chutes in housing estates” for people to properly sort their wastes, so that companies/agencies will be able to recycle them conveniently and cost-effectively. But these further add-ons will cost a lot of money to build (look at the number of high-rise buildings we have in Singapore!), require a lot of education (and money), and a lot of public governmental efforts (and money) in changing mindsets and attitudes.
Besides, we believe these will not be effective long-term solutions – they may even cost more moolah to rectify! Note: people can (will) still stash the wrong types of wastes down the segmented chutes, if we ever have them at all.
What about imposing fines or some sort of “punishment” to get proper recycling habits in line? Hmm… You know, it might work, just like the smoking ban in several places in Singapore.
But why use the scare tactic instead of encourage? Our kids might think: I must die-die throw my plastic bottle in this part of the rubbish chute, if not I will go to jail or pay millions and millions of dollars!
Nononono… That just seems terribly wrong.
What if we could show and prove (physically, visibly, utterly convincingly) to people that composting/recycling right at home could yield them an array of benefits – not just at a seemingly faraway noble, global, environmental level?
Would it work better? At Kainosis™, we truly believe so.
Food recycling plant going to waste
Victoria Vaughan, Straits Times 7 May 10;
SINGAPORE’s only food recycling plant is wasting away, operating at just half its capacity, two years after it began operations.
IUT Global in Tuas is recycling just 120tonnes to 130 tonnes of waste daily. A vacant lot, ready for further expansion, sits next to the existing factory.
Chief executive and managing director Edwin Khew made no bones about how the plant is losing money.
‘It has taken us longer than we expected to get the waste volumes we need to break even,’ he said. ‘We need to be recycling 150 to 220 tonnes a day to break even… At 300 tonnes, we will start making money.’
IUT can process up to 800 tonnes of organic waste a day, which is more than half what Singapore puts out daily as food waste. Just 13 per cent of Singapore’s 0.61 million tonnes of food waste was recycled last year. The target is 30per cent by 2012.
The main challenge is to get those that signed up – such as universities, hotels like the Pan Pacific Singapore, and Ion Orchard and 313@Somerset shopping malls – to understand that they must separate their waste at source.
It took two years and discounted rates, before IUT’s vans started picking up pure food waste, with no paper or plastics mixed in.
If straws and plastic cutlery are mixed in with the food waste, it can still be sorted at the plant but this adds to costs as it must be incinerated. It cannot be recycled as the plastics are contaminated by the food and it is too costly to clean.
The food waste goes into a digester and is broken down over about 15 days. The methane gas generated in this process is used to power the plant and the excess of a few 100kw is sold back to the national power grid.
The final product, compost, is given away for free to local farmers, as IUT Global does not generate enough to sell. When the plant is at full capacity, about 6MW of electricity can be generated – enough to power 10,000 homes. This will form part of the company’s revenue along with the waste collection contracts.
But there is light at the end of the recycling tunnel. The National Environment Agency has asked for expert advice on how to raise Singapore’s recycling rate from the current 57 per cent to 60 per cent target by 2012.
Among other things, the agency is willing to pay for a consultant to come up with ways to make sure commercial, industrial and trade premises keep food waste separate from other types of waste, such as paper and plastic.
‘If the Government wants to ensure source segregation, some form of law has to be introduced,’ said Mr Khew, 61, who, prior to setting up IUT Global, worked for 30 years for Veolia, the world’s largest waste services company.
‘If you look at the countries that do it well, they all have some form of law – Japan, China and Korea.’
Not only does wet food waste contaminate potentially recyclable products, but it also takes more energy to burn wet waste in Singapore’s incinerators.
Mr Khew said he was not giving up. He said: ‘I have put in a lot of effort and I am not going to walk away.
‘If we took all food waste out and the recyclables were not contaminated, all that would be left behind for a landfill would be sand, leather and broken glass.’
He added that it may be possible for household food waste to be recycled by his company if there were separate waste chutes in housing estates to gather it in one place.
Pan Pacific Singapore, which has recycled food waste with IUT Global since July last year, used food recycling bins in the staff cafeteria to raise awareness about the programme and get employees to put only food waste into the bins.
‘In the first month, the food collected was about 78 per cent pure and by the subsequent month, it was 90 per cent,’ said Ms Cheryl Ng, the public relations manager. The hotel recycles between 600kg and 700kg of food daily.