Lifehacking - Domestic Waste Management

rani's picture

For a developed country like singapore, public consciousness of waste management is not as progressive as developed western countries. Sure Singapore is a clean country, but that's because people are paid to keep everything clean rather than a deeply rooted clean culture. Heck, people don't even clean up their own trays in fast food restaurant. Also, not many people separate their wastes, nor do they know about recycling, despite the availability of recycling scheme in Singapore. Perhaps Singapore needs government campaign in recycling. Regardless, Singapore's cleanliness and waste management culture is better than Indonesia. But I'll talk about Indonesia's waste management culture in another blog entry.

However, it seemed that waste management culture in the Philippines is better than Singapore in some aspect. Our Pinoy friends know more about backyard composting than us. They said that there are a lot of waste management and composting TV public service announcements on Pinoy TV, so that people receive information on practical aspects of composting and are compelled to implement it in their daily lives. Moreover, Vilma, a Pinoy domestic worker at our neighbor's house, was puzzled when she wasn't obliged to separate trash at the employer's home. She said that back home in Philippines, separating trash has become part of daily life. Now, I don't know how true it is, because I have not been to the Philippines for twenty years, but from the stories I heard, it's definitely more encouraging compared to waste management situation in Indonesia.

Inspiration from Munich

We were inspired in taking practical measures in waste management when we visited Europe in 2004. When we stayed in Kathy and Stefan's house in Munich, we were surprised to see that there are four waste bins in their small apartment's kitchen. The four bins are for different types of trash (If I'm not wrong: organic, paper, glass, and plastics), that will go to recycling bins later. We were amazed at how easy and effortless it is to do waste management at home level, and hence contribute to saving the earth (probably not, but a little effort is better than none).

So, after months and months of procrastination (our trip to Europe was in 2004, mind you), we decided to do little things in domestic waste management. Actually it was triggered by the realization that our trash smells really bad due to the decomposition process, because we always throw everything to the bag in the trashcan. Somehow a combination of vegetable waste, meat waste, leftover, baby diapers, creates a chemical reaction that results in smelly gas. Sometimes drips of the smelly mixture would leak from the garbage bags, and hence we had to clean the trash bin with Dettol mixture every other day. Mind you, we empty our trash bins twice a day, but still, we had to deal with smelly dripping trash.

Three Simple Steps

So we tried to manage our waste this way: 1) Recycle the recyclables, 2) composting the compostables, and 3) throwing away the rest.

For the first step, we search google about recycling program in Singapore. It turned out that... there is such thing as recycling in Singapore! And they come right in front of your doorstep. All we needed to do is to email or call GoWaste recycling division, and they will deliver with a big brand new recycling bin to your home, and they will come and get your recyclables once every fortnight. For people who live in HDB estates or condo, they will give you recycling bag to be used to take the recyclables to the estate's common recycling bin at the ground level. And to make it easier compared to German style waste management, GoWaste do not require you to separate the recyclables into different types. You can put all the different recyclables (paper, plastic, glass, etc) into the very same recycling bin. I believe GoWaste hires foreign worker to sort the trash in their recycling facilities. We put the recycling bin at our backyard. In the mean time, we have a plastic bin inside our home to collect the recycleables, and we empty it everyday into the big recycling bin in the backyard.

For the second step, first we had to make a composting bin. There are a lot of information on how to do it in the internet. So off we went to Ikea and bought a 4 dollar transparent plastic bin with a cover. Then, Indi drilled holes around the bin to enable a good flow of air and to flow compost tea from the bottom of the bin. Then we put this bin at our backyard, together with the initial pile of waste containing vegetable waste, moistened shredded newspaper, and readymade compost soil bought from Ikea. Once a day we fill the compost bin with fruit and vegetable waste (no meat in our system, since one needs a more advanced composting system to process meat and dairy). Only once a day? Yes, because we collect the vegetable waste over the several hours the day (about two cooking periods) in a covered plastic bowl. Actually, we could've just dug a hole at our backyard to bury compost, but we just want to minimize potential conflict with neighbours with a more mobile plastic composting bin. We have been doing this for more than one month, and our bin hasn't been full yet. And interestingly, the bin do not exert any smelly gas, most likely because we do not mix meat/dairy waste into the compostables, and because it is well aerated.

For the third step, we just keep doing what we've been doing so far, only without the recyclables and the vegetable matter. Unsurprisingly, the waste amount is reduced. And surprisingly, the waste is not as smelly as it was before, perhaps because it is not a mix of all different things that react to one another. And it does not take a lot of our time, because we just do this along the way (separating the waste while cooking, putting spinach stalks and banana peel into indoor compostable collector and putting milk carton to indoor recycleable collector, and finally, putting everything into the bins at our backyard once a day.

Let's Do It!

It is really easy to do this, and we believe everyone should do it, not to save the earth but to save your energy and to avoid dealing with smelly waste. I wonder why Singapore government hasn't done any campaign on this, and instead they do the useless "Flag your bus early" campaign.


Backyard composting

Backyard composting knowledge would require in the first place a backyard, don't you think so? And we all know that more than 80% of Singaporeans live in flats.

I have lived a decade in France (plus USA, Spain...) and I didn't know about backyard composting until I moved to a house with a garden and an attached forest in Stuttgart, Germany. My MIL lives in a house in the French countryside and come to think about it, she complained that it was too complicated the waste management system here in Stuttgart.

In addition to that, not everywhere in Germany either are EU directives about recycling strictly respected. In Reutlingen and Kahlsruhe, for example, just an hour or so from Stuttgart, they only have 2 bins in general. In Stuttgart and in Munich, we have 4.

And almost everywhere else in the EU, cities prefer to pay fines to the EU Directorate rather than respect the guidelines and laws. Why is that so? resistence from the population? Cheaper to pay the fines rather than finance educational campaigns? yet it is not difficult to learn about recycling, I have become quite adept at it after a week or 2. In this vein, Germans were not born recyclers, they become recyclers when they dutifully respected EU recycling guidelines.

Having said that, I agree that Singapore could do better in its recycling efforts and it certainly calls for another campaign.

Recycling in Spain

Spain is not by any stretch of the imagination a country that is educated greatly in waste disposal or recycling, but improvement can be seen everywhere, the dumpingof rubbish by roadsides is still commonplace but disposal of this is pretty much done on a daily basis by local councils.

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