What I learnt from the UK

May 3rd, 2011

By guest writer, Janis Chng (a Singaporean based in UK)

I am going to share with you my experience of recycling / green living in the UK. I will write specifically about my experience in London, as I have been living and working here for more than 7 years.

Before I came to the UK, the only thing I recycled in Singapore was paper/newspaper — my family keeps these unwanted paper at home until the ‘garang guni’ (or rag and bone man) comes door to door to collect our unwanted recyclables.

When I first started living and working in London, I was living near Mile End (towards the east side of London) with a female house mate. We had a roll of recycling plastic bags that tell us, on the surface of the bags, what to put in them — generally paper, (including cardboard), glass bottles and jars, cans, tins and empty aerosols, plastic bottles (not any other plastic items though), and all food and drink cartons.

Initially, it was quite hard for me to adapt to the recycling practices and I would throw away things that could be recycled, especially plastic bottles and food cartons. Fortunately, my housemate was very environmentally conscious and she would remind me of what could be recycled. Slowly, I got more used to it.

A couple of years later, because of work requirements, I moved to north west London (which is part of Camden borough). Unlike my previous flat, I was living in a converted ex-council estate which only had mini street-recycling centres (large bins with holes on each end for different things). This meant that residents had to bring their recyclables to the collection centres, instead of having the recyclables collected from their homes by the recycling agencies. Such practices made recycling less convenient, and probably discouraged some families from recycling. Because regular recyclable collection and recycling bags were available for residents in other parts of Camden, just not for my area, I actually emailed the council to ask them why they did not provide such a service and requested for recycling collections. That to me, is a very difference compared to how I was like in Singapore. Back at home, I probably won’t have cared so much. But now, I do.

As for the request, unfortunately, the council could not accommodate my request. But I felt proud that I at least voiced my opinion. I then started my own recycling bag in my flat and encouraged my two other housemates to practise recycling with me. What I did was to ask everyone to discard the recyclables, like paper, plastic bottles, and glass bottles into the common recycling bag, and when the bag was full, one of us would then head for the street recycling bins with the bag, sort out the recyclables and throw them into the correct recycling bins.

My other housemates started off quite enthusiastically. However, they soon started to get lazy and just threw everything into the general bin. At times, I had to pick recyclables up from the bin, rinse/wash them (e.g. jars, cans) and then put into my “recycle plastic bag”. I was also often the one who goes out to empty the recycling bag — this meant walking out into the cold to the nearest recycling centre and sort the things into the respective bins.

I notice that my boyfriend’s parents in Bromley (just outside London) have a more comprehensive recycling practice than what I experienced in London. On top of the usual recycling collections, they also have a little compost bin where they put food waste (e.g. orange/banana skin, food leftovers) and that gets collected by the local council for recycling. In some other boroughs/local councils, there’s even garden waste collection. I am not so sure about those recycling practices as I have always lived in flats closer to central London. My impression is that if you have a house in the outskirts of London, you are more likely to have more recycling options.

There are some places in England where people are ‘forced’ to recycle because their general waste are only collected fortnightly and their recycling bags collected weekly or fortnightly. Hence, if they don’t recycle, they would end up with many smelly waste bags outside their house which is neither hygenic nor sightly. There’s even places where people get fined if they don’t recycle. I don’t think that giving people fines is a long term solution but I think the first method of collecting general waste less frequently can really make people think and look twice before they throw something away into the general waste bin.

Personally, I have not been forced to recycle in London — there’s always daily/weekly general waste collection. But having learnt about recycling, especially from my first housemate, I now take pride in doing my part for the environment. I think I am lucky that my closer friends in London are environmentally conscious and the habit of recycling is natural to them, which made it easy for me to acquire the habit. Over time, I developed the impression that people who are born in the UK tend to be more likely to recycle, perhaps because of a greater focus in environmental consciousness during their upbringing. I wonder how we could do the same in Singapore and start changing people’s mindsets and habits in recycling.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011 at 8:34 am and is filed under Reflections, Singapore's Green Efforts. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

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