As more Singaporeans take part in recycling, reducing contamination in recycling bins becomes ever more important.
Any careless disposal of food or liquid waste into the recycling bins will thwart a collective effort to recycle items.
To solve this problem, Tommy Cheong, an industrial design student from the National University of Singapore (NUS), came up with a new design for recycling bins two years ago.
Cheong's design later won the Bronze Prize at the International Design Award 2020 in the Sustainable Living/Environmental Preservation-Urban Design Category category.
Most recently, Cheong's bin design has proven to be effective at reducing recycling bin contamination in three shopping malls.
What's different about this recycling bin?
If you have not seen Cheong's "Recycle Right" bins, his design has three main features:
- A display showcase to inform people what cannot be thrown into the bin
- A lid at the mouth of the bin to deter mindless disposal of potential contaminants
- A transparent front to show how others have been recycling right
The "Recycle Right" bins collect different types of recyclables separately, unlike the blue bins commonly seen in housing estates.
Successful trial within campus
The bins were first trialled at three locations at NUS's University Town (UTown) for 54 days, between October 2020 and January 2021.
They were placed near food and beverage establishments with high human traffic.
At these locations, the contamination rates of the recycling bins were almost 60 per cent for the recycling bin for plastic bottles, and about 26 per cent and 24 per cent for metal cans and paper recycling bins respectively.
The trial produced an encouraging outcome as the study analysis showed that the new bin design reduced the contamination rate of the plastic bottle recycling bins by about 36 per cent. However, there was no observable change in the contamination rate for metal cans and paper recycling bins.
The study also pointed out another plus point: Cleaners can clear the recyclables from these bins more efficiently.
This was because the recyclables were cleaner and cleaners could easily tell when the bins were filled with the transparent front.
As such, the university aims to replace all existing recycling bins on campus with the new design by end-2022.
Following the trial, Cheong also tweaked the bin design to make it even more user friendly while NUS Zero Waste Taskforce sought more partners to collaborate with and to roll out the bins in public areas.
Successful trail in shopping malls
This led to a pilot test at three large shopping malls in the west -- JEM, IMM and Westgate.
National Environment Agency (NEA) and NUS Zero Waste Taskforce conducted this pilot test from November 2021 to January 2022.
This was the first time that the bins were placed outside campus.
Once again, the bin design proved to be effective at nudging users recycle properly at these shopping malls.
During this pilot period, the contamination rate of the plastic bottle recycling bins reduced by more than half, from 79 per cent to 29 per cent, the taskforce reported.
The amount of items recycled remained similar but the amount of non-recyclables found in these recycling bins was reduced.
You certainly will be seeing more of Cheong's "Recycle Right" bins around Singapore as NUS Zero Waste Taskforce continues to work with NEA and other organisations to test these bins out islandwide.
Top image by Zheng Zhangxin
Follow and listen to our podcast here