Trip Report – A Visit to Tzu Chi Singapore’s Recycling Point

Recycling is often thought as the de facto solution to our environmental problem. The more we recycle, the more we are saving the world. Yet the solution is not as easy as it seems.

In November 2018, Green Nudge carried out a trip to one of Tzu Chi Singapore monthly recycling points. Given Tzu Chi Singapore’s extensive network, as well as well known recycling processes, we wanted to learn how we could better sort out our own recyclables, as well as explore ways to inculcate better recycling habits among ourselves.

What we saw was quite an eye-opener. For instance, we saw how simple steps such as sorting and washing your recyclables made a whole lot of difference. Some items were sticky and stank when we opened up the bags and some bottles grew mouldy because they were stored for a month, which meant they had to be thrown away in the end. That was one takeaway we always assume otherwise: Rinse your recyclables, it’s a lot more hygienic and kinder for those who are helping out.

The sheer amount of recyclables collected was also staggering – in the short 3 hours that we were there, we collected almost 6 huge bags of different plastics! And this was just from one collection point. With 40 recycling points around the island, one can just imagine the amount of plastics, as well as other items collected in just one morning. Fast forward one month, the Tzu Chi volunteers say, and we should be expecting a huge amount of clothes and other items from the spring cleaning and year end holidays.

Honestly, it is easy to claim that we have done our part by just placing our items at recycling bins. But it takes a lot for volunteers from Tzu Chi Singapore who do this out of their own time and money on a regular basis. Many of them do this because they were concerned about the larger purpose of the environment and contribute in their own ways.

Beyond the environmental cause, we also see innovation at play, with technology being harvested to spin recycled plastic bottles into blankets used for natural disasters. We also discovered instant rice, which were invented so that they can be a source of substance during times of need. These are readily “cooked” in cold water in 30 minutes, or hot water in 20 minutes.

We learnt a great deal during this short trip to the recycling point. A lot more humbling and meaningful than we had expected it to be. And we know for sure that it’s not our last time. Internally, we will be making plans to conduct more such trips to get people to be more aware of these efforts. Particulary, we want to allow those who are unfamiliar with the efforts of Tzu Chi Singapore to learn more so that we can all join efforts and green Singapore in our own ways.

Ultimately it’s not about recycling per se, but that our individual efforts come together and that together we can make a tangible (and meaningful) contribution to the environment and community.

Can KFC’s move to reduce straws make any difference?

KFC Singapore’s announcement in June 2018 to eliminate plastic straws at its restaurants island wide makes it the first fast food outlet in Singapore to take a step towards the environment.

Unlike other organisations who have pledged to go green, which usually refers their pledges to infrastructural changes, (which tends to come along with newer buildings anyway), KFC’s move may be considered to be bold or unusual one as it is an intentional move that would affect its entire operations. But is it a really effective one?


Yes, it is

At its dine-in outlets, this measure was being enforced by staff and the straw dispensers are noticeably absent from the counters.

A scan over 5 different outlets showed that there has been some degree of success in reducing the use of straws and lids. Counters also displayed signs that plastic lids and straws were no longer given out. During our visit to one outlet, one staff was overheard telling customers that straws are no longer provided in their outlets.

Based on our observation, there did not appear to be any drop in customer flow. And people simply drank from the cup directly. Perhaps just as how studies from local social enterprise The Final Straw have shown, the majority of people are indeed comfortable without using straws.

Till date, there hasn’t been any large scale demonstrations or uproar over KFC’s measures. In fact, general sentiments towards the move have largely been supportive, with some hoping that this can be followed by other fast food outlets.


No, it was not effective

Yet there were also instances of customers in restaurants who were seen eating from takeaway bags which features covered drinks (KFC’s measures only apply to dine in customers), so it may appear that some customers might have tried to circumvent the policy by claiming to takeaway their food.

At takeaway outlets, this measure did not affect its current policy of covering cups and lids so the measure appears to be limited in effectiveness. Nonetheless, there was a sign placed in the counter informing customers that no straws will be given. Thus, one can argue that there is a level of consistency with the broader message being sent even at these outlets.

Perhaps the largest form of outburst noticed would be in cybersphere where a bulk of social media comments had criticised the move. While not all comments wereinsightful, some had seen the move as cost cutting masked with an environmental front. Although this may not be as widely viewed by the public, this does reveal an alternative view that organisations need to be mindful, particularly when announcements such as these could affect their corporate image, even if these claims are untrue.



KFC’s moves are largely symbolic because it is not altogether going disposable free. Even though this is not the first time it has announced such a policy – it has announced similar initiative in Indonesia, most of its containers were still using plastic disposables, such as for whipped potato, coleslaw and rice bowls. In this regard, while the move is expected to reduce the amount of plastic straws generated, its impact can be limited.

Where KFC has made an impact is this. By reducing the amount of plastic straws and not replacing them with some other materials, KFC is aware that it is the reduction of use that could be more useful to the environment. Its willingness to cut back on a tangible material that is being used in its daily operations also highlights its commitment to be environmental friendly. It is not afraid to go where some organisations have gone and thus could be seen to be a major win from the policy perspective.

Arguably straws are not really its main staple – people come to KFC for its fried chicken and not drinks. In fact, if done well, this could be aligned with its ‘finger lickin good’ slogan. Much is still to be seen whether KFC can do away with other parts of its offering such as replacing disposable trays with in-house plates (such as in outlets in other countries), or going one step further to tackle environmental issues that are closer to its cause – chicken (but that’s another story)


Hmm, where did the straws go?

One question remains though. Since KFC’s announcement, how it does intend to tackle its excess straws? It’s red and blue straws cannotbe given to other fast food outlets, neither is it acceptable to be disposed of in bulk (we hope). So where do all the rest of the straws go? We suspect this will still be given out upon request, especially for takeaway orders.


Final Words

KFC’s measures when viewed on its own, might seem like a drop in the (plastic) ocean. But its move sends a strong signal that companies no longer can ignore the issue. They themselves have a responsibility to play in the while ecosystem. Indeed, when organisations themselves disrupt the current system, they are able to effect a greater change to societal norm. And we hope KFC will be the first of many.

4 Alternatives places to repurpose your recyclables or preloved items

So, you have joined the green movement and collected some recyclables or have some items that are still in good working conditions. But instead of just tossing them in the blue recycling bins, you would like to see how else they can be reused.

Here are 4 ways where your items can be put into good use in Singapore.


1. Playeum

Playeum is an independent registered charity that champions children through play and creativity. Located at Gillman Barracks, Playeum believes in the use of creating with up-cycled materials and the endless possibilities it presents.These bottles become art materials which will be placed at Playeum’s Future Maker Space for children who visit them and want to make creations. Playeum currently accepts a number of other items, including CDs, newspapers, tubes, springs and other materials.

Playeum’s collection drive ends in April next year, which means there is plenty of time to place your items there. But don’t expect a free collection. Be a nice guy and send along your items to them. Click here for more information.

Playeum’s collection is great for many items, especially those that you have collected in bulk, such as plastic bottles. And because they are going to be used as construction materials for children, we know that they are being put to great use. So do them a favour by only sending clean items okay?


2. Materials for Fish Aggregation Devices

Materials for what? In short, plastic bottles are used to build homes for baby fishes.

Onhand Agrarian is a local seafood farm that uses Integrated Multi-Trophic Recirculating Aquaculture Systems for tropical marine species. As part of its commitment to fixing the marine environment, it is seeking plastic bottles to be used as building materials for floating reef blocks. Essentially, these are floating blocks which allow the growth of mangroves, as well as provide hiding places for baby fishes.

The collection of bottles are less frequent but we will see if our bottle collection coincides with the bottles required by the farm. But if so, this is really cool stuff.


3. Migrant Workers Parties / Events

If your items are really in good condition and you know places like the The Salvation Army are already filled to the brim, why not keep a lookout for other occasions where you know your items will be put to good use?

From time to time, activities for migrant workers such as a thank you party are organised by itsrainingraincoats and they need all sorts of items that migrant workers might use. Hot items include shoes, shorts, towels, toiletries as well as fragrance(??) Well, that was what we were being asked when we were giving out our spare travel toiletries collected from hotels or airlines.

Knowing that your items will be used by the unsung heroes is not just about putting your preloved items to good cause, but also giving back to society in a meaningful manner.

And if you have any ladies clothings, fear not, similar events or activities do also exist, although in various forms. One such call could be for domestic workers in homes, where they are staying due to various social reasons and may not be able afford clothing.

We here at Green Nudge are keen to support such causes so you can be sure that we will be posting them up on our social media channels to help when we know of these!


4. Really Really Free Market

If all else fails and you still want to be able to share your items with others, here’s another area that you might want to consider.

According to its Facebook page, The Really Really Free Market is a “temporary market based on the concept of giving and building a community based on sharing resources, caring for one another and improving the collective lives of all”.

So basically, if you have anything you want to give, you could lay out your items on a mat, and wait for those who are in need to take it from you. Similarly, if you have any items that you spied on, feel free to just take them (does not apply to humans).

There are some cons to this concept though. Firstly, this allows you to offload EVERYTHING you want to give away. This means literally anything you think others might want, and indeed there are some really weird items there. Like a whole set of steamers, to used cups, to that missing teddy bear’s eye. And if these items are not taken, then they are unfortunately going to be thrown away.

Secondly, SRRFM has grown to an extent where people are starting to take for granted which means there are some who are treating it as a dumping ground. On the other hand, because it is free for all, there are also others who have viewed them as a treasure trove and help themselves to everything they can find. It does get to the point where you notice the same few individuals at the event who are hoarding everything, which is not exactly the point of the event.

Well, one man’s trash is the other man’s treasure, and if these are indeed being used meaningfully by others, who are we to stop them right?


Final Words

All these venues are great when you have excess materials or items to give away. But the first and most importantly point is to reduce your consumption! We don’t want to sound like we are preaching but hey, it’s really only useful if we start to only buy what we truly need.

Let us know if you know of any other unusual ways to give back your recyclables or pre-loved items!