Another dot in the blogosphere?

Recycling an idea

Posted on: June 27, 2016

We have an insidious problem with the heartland recycling programme in Singapore.

I am not referring to the statistic that “the domestic recycling rate fell to 19 per cent in 2014 from 22 per cent in 2010”. That is a glaring figure given that “since September 2014, every Housing Board block has had a blue recycling bin, in which people put paper, plastics and other recyclables, placed close by”.

If you watch what happens at mixed recycling bins over the course of a day, you might observe:

  • Residents properly depositing mixed recyclables.
  • Passers-by improperly throwing rubbish into the recycling bins.
  • “Recycling” uncles and aunties digging through the bins.


The last group are elderly folk who might be collecting cans and cardboard to earn some much needed cash. They might leave a mess in what was carefully bagged and possibly sorted recyclables.

But it is hard to judge this group because they do this to feed themselves or their habits. The big blue bins are a convenient bonus when compared to the rubbish bins scattered over a large area.

So here is an outside-the-box idea: Why not employ these auntie and uncles as sorters at recycling centres?

There is no need for them to lug loads about. They instinctively know what to look out for, and basic training or some automation can handle the rest.

This will deal with our strange policy of not requiring the recyclable material to be sorted first and to reduce scavenging.

As is my habit, my mind wanders to the way schools use technology. Most schools rely on officially sanctioned devices, apps, and services.

The approach does not require school leaders, administrators, or teachers to plan as much. This is what you can and should use, use them. This is like providing the recycling bins at the bottom of every block and not requiring people to sort recyclables.

The message this method sends is that someone else will take care of things and do the heavy lifting and thinking for you. You just have to do as you are told.

Being so well taken care of does something to our collective psyche. We become dependent on someone else to do something. If something does not happen, we complain instead of also doing something about it.

We already live in an age of BYOD (devices) and BYOC (connections). This might be like the “mobile” aunties and uncles picking and choosing what they need to benefit them the most. Unfortunately, this behaviour can be viewed as counterproductive.

Why not incorporate this entrepreneurial approach to educational technology? There are products and processes that a system already has, but these are far from ideal because rarely does one size fit all. Let the pickers and doers try what works and incorporate those strategies into the larger system.

A system that plans and provides for its people all the time might be efficient initially, but be less effective in the long run. One that relies on its people for solutions might seem messy at the beginning, but be more effective overall.

The strategies breed different cultures of thought and action. I know which we need more of today and tomorrow. Do you?


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