Well, it’s official: now I know. For the last three years, I’ve been wondering what happens to waste in clean and green Singapore. Every time I visit the country I peep into garbage cans and dumpsters. Inside always seems to be a big mix and mess of all sorts of imminently recyclable materials. Yesterday, as I was peeping under the lid of one such dumpster, observing the perfectly recyclable glass and plastic bottles, the crisp cardboard and also highly toxic fluorescent light tubes… a garbage truck came by. And tossed the whole lot in the back!
I got a chance to talk to the garbage man. As he hoisted the bins into truck, we watched as it all got compressed into a gigantic and hopeless melange, I asked him the ridiculously obvious question: “So does any of this get recycled?” He laughed at me “No, no. We burn it all. Singapore not so green yeah?”
Apparently, all the commercial waste goes to the incinerator to generate ‘energy’. Of course, it’s a really a fantastic waste of energy. Imagine all the energy that goes into making and shipping those bottles– all the glass, the plastic, the aluminium for cans– used once then toasted! And what about the mercury? Those incandescent light tubes contain mercury vapour. Mercury, which is highly toxic, is an element (i.e. from the periodic table). You can’t burn mercury away! It’s going to stay around in the smoke or the ash.
I still have much to learn about what happens to waste in Singapore. I know they do have a household recycling program. And I wish I knew more about their incineration program. Maybe they have some miraculous process for separating mercury atoms from the ashes of the mix! Maybe they’ve done the energy calculus and the incineration is better than using items more than once. If anyone has any details or insights please share!
Until then, it seems to me to be another industrial Big Green Illusion. I remain pretty sceptical.