Zerowaste is possible!

A chronicle of waste minimisation and recycling in NUS

Category: Survey (page 1 of 2)

UTown Site office paper recycling bin doing well!!

Paper/Carton recycling bin at U town Site office

Paper/Carton recycling bin at U town Site office

It is so full and cartons so well flattened!

Finally a successful recycling stakeout!!!

For weeks, I have been hiding near recycling bins on Tuesday or Thursday morning to observe housekeepers at work clearing the recycling bins.

This is because the data from March to December 2010 provided by Veolia, shows that for several months, we do not find any collection in the plastic/cans bulk bins. We want to know:
– Are the housekeepers collecting the cans and plastics and not putting them in the correct recycling bulk bins
– Or is it that they are throwing away the cans and plastics as trash. (which is a big no no!)

24th May 11.57am, I secretly followed housekeeper Alice and her male staff who was clearing the recycling bins at the central forum. After they have deposited the collected recyclables at the Central Library Bin Center, I went to check out the recycling bulk bins.

One big bag of recyclables in blue recycling bulk bin

One big bag of recyclables in blue recycling bulk bin

Taking it out of the bulk bin, you will find that it is a big bag:

Compare size of recyclables bag with size of bulk bin

Compare size of recyclables bag with size of bulk bin

What happened was the recyclables are not segregated into the 2 different coloured bulk bins but all combined into one big trash bag and then just deposited into one of the recycling bulk bin.

one bag of paper and one bag of plastic found in the larger trashbags

one bag of paper and one bag of plastic found in the larger trashbags

Collected cans

Collected cans

Very little cans were collected such that they can fit into one basin

Very little cans were collected such that they can fit into one basin

We were often worried that cans are pilfered but as the above photos show: our housekeepers ( at least of Zone 2) have been diligent in collecting the cans.

All in one, the one big bag of recyclables yielded:
– 4 smaller bags of paper
– 2 smaller bags of cans
– 2 smaller bags of plastic

– This is just one stakeout, it may not be representative of the other zones.
– Theoretically, there is no issue with the above mentioned method as Veolia still sorts out the recyclables. The paper and plastic/cans are in seperate bags and hence there is no issue of contamination of paper meant for recycling. Also being in seperate bags, it will still facilitate Veolia later in their sorting.
– It is still good for users to sort so that paper don’t get contaminated by plastic/cans and seperate bags makes the final sorting easier for Veolia.

Other thoughts:
– However, there is then no need for seperate coloured bulk bins?
– If we feel that it is worth our time and effort to solve this issue, one consideration will be to provide special bags/ containers for the housekeepers to collect the paper and the plastic/cans. When it is seperated in the process of collection. It will faciliate the final disposal as well.

Zone 3 walkabout on 23rd March 2010

After much delay, we have finally embarked on our zone walkabout once again:
– review the locations of current recycling bins, removing those that are not near any vending machines or eateries.
– Reviewing the locations suggested by users, adding those neccessary.
– and most interestingly, removing trash bins.

Yes, as we keep increasing the number of recycling bins at locations where one can find vending machines, we do not want to blindly increase the workload of the housekeeping staff.

Therefore, we aim to remove excess trash bins that are located within sight of each other, especially at areas where there are no high traffic flow. All in all, for Zone 3, we are removing 7 trash bins.

William did an excellant job planning the route ( see image) , combing all the current locations and suggested locations in a seamless path. Great Job!!! To do that, he had to walk one time before our actual walkabout.

Zone 3 walkabout map

Zone 3 walkabout map

Great Job, we can’t wait to finish all the zones walkabout – put in the new bins, fix up the NUS staff Club bin centre.

After that, I think we should finally finish our recycling work and it will just be maintainance work!

Marcus Tay

Reminders after installing recycling bins

It is a continuous work to remind and reeducate staff to maintain the proper standards of recycling bins.

After installing new bins, we often have to monitor the situation and then get all our landscaping/housekeeping supervisors and remind them that we are watching!!

Dr Peck and some of us go around snapping photos to later show to our landscaping/housekeeping vendors.

The powerpoint of all the photo records at Google Doc!

Actually in our briefing, we issue the following manual to the supervisors

Recycling Instructional Manual 100517

Hence, at the end of the day, it is getting people to follow instructions. Perhaps, if we had included everyone in the decision making process right at the beginning. Maybe we will do less policing work?

But such policing work has proven to work although it is tiresome. After repeated reminders, the landscaping contractors now no longer has simple mistakes with our recycling bins of covers being upside down etc.

It really takes time to bring about real systemic change.

It is not as easy as you design the system and things just get done. It will be good to involve stakeholders involved right at the beginning.

YIH Follow up check outs

Check out by Dr Peck on 5th May 2010

YIH Checkout by Dr Peck
Same check out by Dr Peck on 8th May 2010

Check out by Marcus Tay on 130510
YIH check out on 130510

As you can see in the photos, the situation seems to get worse and worse as the days past since our last walkabout.

Together with another checkout of the Science Bin centre, it seems that Spoke and Hub is almost a complete failure.

We have achieved:
1. Recycling of cartons from canteens = get into NUS data, that previously may have ended up in any rag and bone or in the trash
2. Increase recycling of vegetable metal oil cans and plastic bottles for sauces which definitely have ended up in the trash previously.


The housekeepers or whoever are still not collecting the plastic and cans from the recycling bins and throwing them into the bulk bins for recycling.

They are either being thrown away as trash or sold on their own.

Next thing to work on: people motivation.

Hubs walkabout on March 24th

On March 24th, we went to check out the following hubs to better address issues of:
– cartons are not flatten
– cans and plastics are not recycled

Sites visited:
– Engineering Canteen
– YIH Canteen
– Engineering workshop
– Staff Club Bin Centre

Engine Canteen
The purpose is also to bring together housekeeping supervisors, canteen vendors so that personnel under Retail and Dining, Estate Maintainence can meet face to face to solve issues. We also very lucky to have Mr Ismail from Veolia to join us as well and give us their inputs

Engine Canteen workabout

Despite the cartons looking well packed for this visit:
Well stacked cartons at Engineering

We understand that this is not the norm.

Cans and Plastic recycling bulk bin in Engn

There are still rubbish inside the plastic and cans recycling bulk bins.

– Try out Metal Cabinet to replace bulk bins. The hope is that being higher in height, we can fit more cartons. It is also because bulk bins are tapering in shape, hence not so suitable for cartons. Engineering Canteen Height: 2.3m, so the metal cabinet height can only be about 1.8m

– After we get the new equipment in, we need to put up all the posters about only using Veolia as ONLY recycler. According to canteen vendors, there are other recyclers who come and empty the cans.
– After the equipment and posters, we will gather all stakeholders : Canteen, MacDonald, Housekeepers. No one is to claim anymore that they are not aware that recyclables should be properly collected and be picked up by Veolia.
– We also need to explore if Veolia can pick up only in the afternoon where the cartons have culminated. This is probably not possible cause Veolia have to go other places to collect in the morning.

YIH Canteen:

Dr Peck in talk with YIH Canteen Owner Tracey

We still see trash in the organic food waste bin.
Approach has to be similar to Engin canteen – all equipment ready, poster up, then get all vendors so that they stop finger pointing at each other.

Possible location for sercurity camera at YIH

We have also identified a possible location for the sercurity camera, though I feel this is a very heavy investment just to prevent illegal dumping as well as improper disposal of recyclables

Summary improvement:

1. YIH needs lots of Chinese labels cause lots of chinese workers

2. Stakeholders – OSA, Munchie Monkey, COOP, Post office, Cheers, Subway, Old Chang Kee,

3. 2 more yellow bulk bins for cans and plastics due to yellow vegetable cans.

Staff Club
Site location for drain cover to create space for another bulk bin

Another location to install drain cover so that we can have  a bulk bin there

Another location to install drain cover so that we can have a bulk bin there

Staff Club decisions:
– need to fix up the drains and set up the bulk bins.
– then gather all the stakeholders – Staff Club, Great Wall of China Cafe

PGP walkabout

A combined survey was done by PGP housing service, SAVE and OES on 14th January 2010 to inspect the various recycling bins that have been placed in Prince George’s Park Residences.

Some of the important observations have been summarised below:

1. At a number of bin points, the trash bins were not present alongwith the recycling bins. This increases the probability of contamination in recycling bins as the users do not have the trash bin to thrown the non-recyclable items.

Residence 6 bin point

Residence 6 bin point

The R6 bin point had all three types of recycling bins however the trash bin was not present.

Residence 1 bin point

Residence 1 bin point

The R1 recycling bins were put together but the trash bin was at some distance.
GSA bin point

GSA bin point

The GSA bin point had the two recycling bins only.

Air-con canteen

Air-con canteen

Air-con canteen

The recycling bins were placed at different places in the air-con canteen and the trash bins were not placed with them.

2. Some bins were not properly labelled.

Residence 5 paper bin

Residence 5 paper bin

Residence 6 paper bin

Residence 6 paper bin

After the visit, two slits were opened on the upper cover to facilitate the easy drop of paper into the bin.


1. Make sure that the trash bins are provided with the recycling bins.

2. Slits can be made in all the existing and future larger blue bins.

3. All the lounges in PGP should have the yellow can recycling bins as per the suggestions of PGP officials and RA.

By March 6th 2010
recycling bins and trash bins are already placed together . Slits have also been made in the blue paper recycling bins.

– The only tasks outstanding are the new bins from OES as well as all labelling work by SAVE

Recycling Collection Centres Walkabout

This is a walkabout to identify the current problems/issues of the recycling collection centres. It was done by OES intern Shriyanka
This is to serve as a resource to continue to check and update the work of the housekeeping stuff.

21 Heng Mui Keng

21 HENG MUI KENG: There are 4 green bulk bins out of which 2 are supposed to be 2 general waste bins and 1 bin each for paper and carton. The signage for paper and carton are not clearly seen hence that might cause the under-utilisation of the paper/carton bins.

Tasks: Replace with proper blue bulk bins and remind housekeeping staff again.





BUSINESS CANTEEN (CARPARK 11): There is an extra organic waste bin and the paper bin has been placed such that it is inaccessible for maximum usage.

Identify if the Organic waste bulk bin is in use?
Is there a need for the paper bulk bin that is currently being hidden? Seems that only carton is collected and paper is still not being collected by the housekeepers. A possibility that paper meant for recycling are not being collected from the recycling points.




ARTS CANTEEN: The general waste bin is not seen here. One of the green bulk bins is being used as a cardboard recycling bin.

Tasks: Replace with proper blue bulk bins for paper/carton recycling bulk bins




CENTRAL LIBRARY: Neatly arranged. Proper signages present on the bulk bins for paper and cardboard bin however, paper and cardboard have been found to be mixed in the bulk bins.

Tasks: Similar, replace with proper blue bulk bins.





ENGINEERING CANTEEN: No excess carton/paper placed around the bins. However, no paper recycling bins were found. Only 3 carton recycling bulk bins were placed.

Tasks: NO PAPER recycling bulk bin!! Add paper recycling bulk bin and replace carton with proper blue bulk bin as well



EW1 Workshop: 4 green bulk bins are being used for the purpose of paper and cardboard collection and there is scope for mingling of both.

Tasks: We should actually consider different shades for blue for carton and paper? Not a pertinent issue but still good to solve



KENT RIDGE HALL: Only the general waste bins were found. Smaller paper recycling bins(capacity = 330 litres) are placed in different parts of the hall. However, the yellow bin was missing.

Tasks: Where is the yellow bulk bin?!




MD11: The photographs clearly show the contamination of different forms of recyclables. The yellow bin is containing paper waste and so does the general waste bin. It has been noticed that this area has a large amount of paper/carton waste and the number of recycling bins may be inadequate.

Tasks: Need more blue bulk bins!!!


PRINCE GEORGE’S PARK RESIDENCES: Inadequate provision for carton recycling bins is apparent. Therefore, cartons have been dumped into paper and aluminium/plastic recycling bins.

Tasks: Again, more blue bulk bin? There was one green bulk bin previously for carton actually.





S4A: Excess general waste has been noticed however not much paper/carton separation is noticed. There were carton recycling bin and the yellow bin for aluminium cans and plastic bottles. However, there was no paper recycling bin.

Tasks: No PAPER recycling bulk bin again. Properly removed to go to Dentistry block. Wasted efforts in previous labelling.

Again, may suggest that paper recycling is not done. Only carton recycling.





SCIENCE CANTEEN: No contamination in organic waste bins is noticed. However, the paper and carton items are found in all other recycling bins, including the yellow bins.  Another observation shows that boxes of all materials are being confused with carton and are dumped into the recycling bins. The last pic shows a plastic box dumped with the cartons.

Tasks: Again, we need proper blue bulk bins to better encourage housekeepers not to throw rubbish into the paper recycling bulk bins



SHAW FOUNDATION ALUMNI HOUSE: 3 green bins are being used for collection of general waste, paper and plastic/aluminium cans, however they are neatly labelled and separated to avoid any confusion. The amount of carton waste has been noticed to be exceeding the bin capacities, therefore some cartons have been dumped into the plastic/aluminium recycling bin.

Tasks: Offer Shaw Foundation Alumni house proper coloured bulk bins and offer them an additional paper/ carton bulk bin?


STAFF CLUB: All 3 types of recycling bins are placed at a distance from the bin centre and the cardboard bin needs to be labelled. These bins appear to be under-utilised.

Tasks: Need to check with housekeeping staff if such bins are used.



TEMASEK LAB: The photograph and feedback from passers-by are clear indication that there is a need for general waste bins. There was a green bin which is being used as general waste bin. No cardboard recycling bin was found. In spite of lack of bins, the cartons or general waste have not been dumped into the recycling bins.

Tasks: Great job by housekeeping staff not to throw waste into the recycling bulk bins!!

OED should consider creating a new trash collection point here. Need to talk to Ishak.



UNIVERSITY HALL: There are 3 green bins out of which 2 have been clearly labelled as paper bins. However, carton waste is more prominent than paper waste and no bin has been labelled as carton bin.

Tasks: Just replace with proper blue bulk bins. Under- utilized.




YUSOF ISHAK HOUSE: All the bins are placed neatly with clear labels and the contamination level was not noticeable.

Tasks: Seemed to have improved drastically since the last highlight to Retail and Dining. YEAH!




YST CONSERVATORY OF MUSIC: 2 general waste bins are placed at the bin centre however another bin was placed at a distance away from there. There was a bin for cardboard but no bin for paper collection.

Tasks: Need to replace with proper blue bulk bin again. Need to check if there is room or space for blue bulk bin for paper.

Recent studies of FoE Recycling bins

 A group of students from GEK1052 Community Service and Social Action did a study on the contamination of recycling bins in FoE and sort to tackle the it.

Here are some of their main findings:

Common contaminants

– For Plastic Bottle recycling bins located near the vending machines, paper cups were the main contaminant found. This could indicate that users may wish to recycle, however paper cup recycling is not accepted hence they throw their used cups into the plastic bottle bins instead.

– Plastic Drink Cups were also commonly found.

After checking with Mr Ismail of our new recycling vendor Veolia, we can recycle both the paper cups as well as the plastic drink cups. However the paper cups should not be thrown in paper recycling bin because it will contaminate the other better grades of paper.

So the next improvement that we will be doing is to have paper cups and plastic drink cups to be collected in plastic recycling bins.


Improper carton recycling at YIH….

Messy YIH 2Messy YIH 1

This was what happened at YIH during the week of 3rd-7th August.

Cartons were littered all over the place despite us putting up signage and having labelled bins ( all circled in red) in the area. To make matter worse, the bulk bins that are allocated for carton recycling itself are not used.

We wrote to Sharon of YIH IT Coop and Chin Hoon of retail and dining to help us inform their staff and canteen vendor of this issue.

Older posts