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What’s behind the lights?

Skypad Living

12 Oct 2017

Litter from the heavens

Recycling is one way of dealing with high-rise waste but, unfortunately, there are other routes taken by our rubbish.

Building based recycling is growing in popularity for vertical dwellers and we are told that there are just two key ingredients.

The first is the recycling facility that best suits our building, be it a worm farm, a dehydration centre or some other processor, along with the systems to operate and maintain it. The second, and arguably more important ingredient, is the motivation of residents to appropriately use these facilities, as this typically requires additional effort (eg sorting one’s rubbish and physically taking it to some dark corner of the building).

To date in Australia, such additional effort remains voluntary. But in a growing number of countries, external motivation is being used to “encourage” participation. Take the case of South Korea with its “pay as you trash” system introduced in 2013. In an effort to cut food waste, South Korea requires, by law, that people separate food waste from the rest of their garbage.

Residents place this waste in bags bought from the city and then, each day, weigh their rubbish. This information is captured on a card registered to the household, along with the corresponding charge. Anyone who doesn’t recycle food waste faces potential fines.

Returning to our own shores, in a recent EcoForum several building managers were of the opinion that their own residents were not sufficiently motivated to voluntarily recycle their waste (maybe they have doubts about its ultimate destination!). But more than this, these building managers were annoyed that too many residents did not even dispose of their waste through conventional means. In other words, they litter.

Take internal litter – ask any building cleaning staff and they will, all too readily, relate horrifying stories of clogged chutes from carelessly or mischievously discarded refuse. Whether these are cases of “can’t be bothered” or “they’ll never know it was me”, the impact of their actions can be significant. (On an aside, once plastic bags bans begin to bite, owners’ corporations will need to rethink their current requirement for the plastic bagging of refuse.)

As for external litter, there is one category that is of particular concern – the throwing of items out of high-rises. Known as “killer litter”, these offending items can achieve some pretty impressive acceleration rates as they hit the ground (or someone’s head). Fortunately, we have yet to hear of incidents such as is occurring in Singapore where recently two teens were videoed throwing an Ofo bike from their block. Such is the concern in Singapore over “killer litter” that its government has approved laws to not only arrest and jail offending parties, but for the Housing and Development Board to compulsorily acquire the offending rental flats.

Returning locally, our own “killer litter” principally takes the form of the dreaded cigarette butt. While small compared with a bike, the harm they cause is disproportionate to their size. If they make landfall, they enter our waterways and wreak havoc with local marine life. But if they don’t make landfall and arrive on a neighbouring balcony, we well know what this might lead to – fire.

Of course there are several regulations that make this behaviour unlawful.

However, if a breach cannot be detected, or if the source of the breach cannot be identified, then redress is problematic.

The Singaporean response is for their National Environment Agency (NEA) to install surveillance cameras to monitor high-rise littering in places with a persistent problem.

However, the Singaporean Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources, Grace Fu, believes the real solution lies in behaviour change and that more effort should be made to develop stronger community ownership for a clean environment.

Ms Fu said: “Stepping up enforcement for littering does not completely address the deeper challenge of nurturing the right values. We must build greater individual ownership and community action if we are to raise the standard of cleanliness in all our public spaces.”

Failing this, maybe we have another opportunity to “bring on the drones” – either for detection or rapid debris retrieval!

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