Singapore’s high rise infrastructure allows many households to dispose of their waste directly from within their kitchen
However, Singapore has developed a fairly unique waste disposal system, which allows people to discard their trash through a rubbish chute either on the same floor in their housing estate, or oftentimes, directly from within the housing unit itself. While convenient and user-friendly, it has reduced households’ accountability towards the amount of waste they generate and makes common solutions, such as requiring standard trash bags, difficult to enforce. Thus, implementing a similar pay-as-you-throw or other proven approach towards reducing household waste would require a customised, context-sensitive approach in Singapore.
In the foreground of the larger policy discussions, several ground-up initiatives have emerged in this space, arguably acting as a ‘living lab’ of different approaches towards targeting food waste. They include Freegans in Singapore, which is a broad network of several thousand individuals who ‘dumpster dive’ for discarded, yet still edible food. They have well-used communication systems that alert others to locations where they can collect and use what would otherwise be food waste. Volunteers in this loose network also work with local markets to connect their bulk unsold or discarded food with local food banks or other organisations, including arranging transportation and logistics – creating an effective food (re-)distribution network in its own right.
Similarly, community refrigerators have been tested in the ground floor of a few housing estates, stocked with food by local residents and managed by volunteers. Food in these ‘open access’ refrigerators can be used by anyone, thus providing a space to connect people with excess food with those who are food insecure. These types of ground-up initiatives have generated wide media coverage on the magnitude and root causes of food waste in Singapore, while also successfully piloting alternative solutions that address the challenge.
Other resident-led groups have created their own initiatives to test new methods of engagement and solutioning on the topic of food waste in Singapore. They include Food Unfiltered’s outreach programmes and videos, Zero Waste SG’s ‘Save Food Cut Waste’ campaign, which brought together culinary schools, a local supermarket and the NEA to re-create traditional recipes using leftovers, and the ‘Feeding the 5000’ campaign where approximately 1,500 kilos of ‘ugly’ vegetables were collected and used to cook meals for 5,000 people. The Foodscape Collective is another local initiative, which crowdsourced an online map of urban farms and used it as a starting point to host conversations about different solutions to tackle food waste. This includes methods that both supplement existing government initiatives (e.g., awareness), as well as bridge into areas that traditionally are not under government purview but pose important facets of a comprehensive solution towards sustainable waste management.
Most importantly, these initiatives reflect on-the-ground, local solutions that represent one of the highest forms of community engagement. While they are generally small in scale, they test out new modes of doing and generate much-needed insights into understanding what is effective for Singapore. They are borne out of day-to-day observations and understandings of the system from a ‘user perspective’ and thus add a rich and important voice to the ongoing conversation. They generally rely heavily on trust, personal networks and connecting with others in ways that are authentic and relatable, and expose potential opportunities that are hidden from a macro perspective. Given due consideration, and with appropriate means to engage with decision-making processes, such ground-up initiatives pose immense capacity to be an effective partner to co-create solutions that respond to the needs and potentialities of our emergent urban challenges.
This post is written as part of the Centre’s research on the role of resident-led initiatives in co-creating urban solutions, supported by the SUTD-MIT International Design Centre (IDC).