News: Aiming for a zero-waste NUS

The University aims to become a zero-waste establishment in 10 years. It would be a campus with students, staff and visitors conscientiously sorting their waste into various recycling streams as a social norm. Overall campus recycling rate would be brought to a high of close to 50 per cent. Supported by incentives and schemes such as “Pay-as-you-throw”, adopting reusables for takeaways and sharing pre-loved items would become a way of life.

Driving this target is the NUS Zero Waste Taskforce through the Towards a Zero-Waste NUS Action Plan 2030 launched digitally in August. Said Professor Yong Kwet Yew, NUS Senior Vice President for Campus Infrastructure, in his opening remarks, “The University has a role in public service to shape the hearts and minds of our students to be future professionals and champions of sustainability. Collectively, we can create a NUS community that takes pride in the 3Rs — reducing, reusing and recycling waste.”

Dr Amy Khor giving her opening speech. Photo credit: MSE

The Action Plan aims to achieve a 80 to 90 per cent waste recycling rate for various waste streams such as horticulture, food waste, e-waste and packaging and a slightly more than 30 per cent recovery of non-recyclable waste using decentralised waste gasification technology.

The 80-90 per cent recycling rate is a significant step up from the 25 per cent recycling target by 2020 set out in the NUS Sustainability Strategic Plan 2020 published in 2017. It outlines strategies and programmes that the University must take to contribute to the national objective of diverting waste away from incineration plants and extending the lifespan of Semakau Landfill.

In the longer-term, NUS will partner industry and government agencies to test-bed and scale up decentralised waste gasifier systems for mixed solid waste to recover energy and produce useful products such as diesel, useful chemicals and bio-char. This will divert even more waste away from incineration plants.

Dr Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State for Sustainability and the Environment who was Guest of Honour at the launch, said the Action Plan is another milestone in NUS’ journey towards sustainability. ”In fact, what the plan has set out to achieve is very much aligned with the strategies in Singapore’s inaugural Zero Waste Masterplan,” she added.

Dr Peck Thian Guan, Chairman of the NUS Waste Minimisation and Recycling Taskforce, sharing the taskforce’s plans

A glimpse into the future

The Taskforce seeks to facilitate a whole-of-university behavioural change and establish a campus social norm of sorting waste into various waste streams of food waste, packaging and e-waste. This is done through a combination of operation changes, policy requirements for takeback, economic incentives and continuous education.

In all NUS canteens, food courts and dining halls, students, staff and kitchen operators will be required to diligently sort the waste into food waste and other recyclables in both the front- and back-of house operations. Single-use disposables will also be phased out as part of stall tenancy requirements.

To close the waste loop, the sorted food waste will be fed into food waste digestors and its by-products of compost used for campus greening and urban farming purposes. “Pay-as-you-throw” schemes will be implemented in refuse bin centres to create the economic incentive for operators and suppliers to reduce waste generation. Suppliers will be asked to implement takeback arrangements for their packaging.

In hall and college accommodations, people can leverage digital marketplace such as Sharetings, to give and receive free pre-loved items in good condition  instead of buying new ones or throwing old items away. This helps to maximise the value of resources by keeping them in use for as long as possible, in line with a circular economy approach.

Dr Khor and event presenters engaging virtual participants in the panel discussion

“The University is committed to recycle and recover as much as waste as possible through our operations. Our core aspiration and challenge is to imbue in the hearts and minds of our students and staff the value of not wasting precious resources,” said Dr Peck Thian Guan, Chairman of the Taskforce.

Article published on NUS News, 19 September 2020.