Singapore—Reverse vending—or recycling—machines have seen fewer people availing of rewards ever since the rewards were decreased, suggesting that people have been disincentivized in their efforts to recycle.
A report from Channel NewsAsia (CNA) says that the reverse vending machines at Our Tampines Hub were unoccupied earlier this week, unlike in days past when there were long lines of people waiting their turn to avail of reward vouchers for turning in bottles and cans.
The change in rewards for turned-in items seems to be the reason for the decrease in motivation for recycling. Before January 10, individuals only had to return four items in order to get a S$0.20 voucher from NTUC Fairprice. From January 10 onwards, the number of items to be recycled was raised to 20, for the same reward.
CNA reports visiting the reverse vending machine at Our Tampines Hub on January 10 and finding no one in line.
The purpose of the project, which was jointly launched last October by F&N and the National Environment Agency (NEA), was to get people to recycle more.
CNA reports that when asked about the change in rewards, NEA and F&N gave a joint response saying they were in the process of trying out various systems to incentivize recycling. They did not explain how and why they came up with 20 items as the new amount of recyclables for the rewards system.
F&N and NEA said, “The most ideal outcome is if the recycling action is motivated intrinsically and second nature. However, for a start, some incentives may be helpful to nudge the right recycling behaviour, and we will continue to tweak the incentive system to bring about the desired outcomes,” and added the hope that as time passed, people would practice recycling out of their own initiative, with no need for outward motivation.
Over 1.2 million pieces of recyclables had been collected by the end of 2019 in the 10 reverse vending machines scattered throughout NTUC FairPrice outlets.
NEA and F&N also said that from January 10, some of the machines were transferred to other venues such as hawker and community centers in order to “reach out to more users and residents in different parts of Singapore.”
However, some residents have told CNA that the increase in the number of recyclable items had made returning them “not worth” the effort and time it would take to collect and then haul the items all the way to the machines.
The large decrease in incentive rewards seems to have served to demotivate people. In the end, they may just choose to throw these items away in the blue bins earmarked for recyclables.
The CNA report quotes Tan Ern Ser, a sociologist at the National University of Singapore (NUS) as saying, “Once the rates are reduced, it would not be worth the while queuing up, and we could expect the numbers to fall drastically, unless people eventually internalise the intrinsic value of recycling and make it a lifestyle, with or without monetary incentives.” -/TISG
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