Soewito’s Recycling Bins

Reading Time: 5 minutes

By Celine Ng (16A01A)

Photo: Straits Times.

History has a fondness for stories about simple, but profound ideas come across in simple ways (think Archimedes and his tub of water). This story begins with a piece of paper in a trash bin.

But first–some of our readers might have been wondering about a survey that’s been going around on Facebook recently with a tinyurl distressingly reminiscent of our Project Work days– This article draws from an interview with its creator, Alice Soewito, and the project she’s using the findings for.

The idea is a simple one: to increase the number of recycling bins in our school so that people will recycle more. The implementation, however, is much more complicated. Alice is currently working on this project with OneEarth (which is also suggesting a food compost system in our school), which have understandably had a few difficulties bringing it up to school management with their teacher. If anything, the reasoning goes something like this: there can’t really be a need for more recycling bins because those we already have in the canteen are chronically underused. Much more likely that the problem lies with a lack of awareness and strong recycling habits.

Indeed, the argument is fairly compelling. Recycling is often far from the typical Rafflesian’s list of priorities, and if anything manifests in somewhat questionable forms. Where exactly, for instance, did all those plastic bottles suddenly come from during IHC Recycling? And why did the sudden recycling frenzy seem to die down once it stopped being a competition? One can’t help but think that a project like Alice’s is a bit doomed -there just might not be any space in RI for the kind of movement she might be going for.

Of course, this introduces a sort of chicken-and-egg problem which goes back to the reason Alice thought of this project at all — the paper in the trash bin. Looking at the paper her classmate had just thrown away, it became clear to her that people don’t think of recycling when it’s just not a big thing in their lives but that the whole process can be made much simpler and more present with a few more strategically placed recycling bins. Not just trash bins, which instead encourage unnecessarily wasteful behavior.

By this point, this article may seem to be making a bit of a mountain out of a molehill. But there is something paradoxically compelling about the effort being put into championing this seemingly insipid cause.  Alice is aiming to garner a stunning 450 responses (in perspective, that’s 15 times the minimum of your typical PW survey) and is actively looking for more ideas about how to strengthen the culture of recycling in RI. More than that, she has an admirably principled reason for pursuing this cause. “There has been some controversy about how effective (recycling) honestly is”, she willingly concedes, “But recycling is ultimately also being conscious of our waste and the environmental impacts of our actions that appear very innocent”. “I guess it reminds us to more considerate about the environment,”, she says, which immediately leads us into her larger commitment to the climate movement as a whole.

Photo: COP21 Conference, Paris

When asked about what undergirds her devotion to the environment, Alice’s answer reveals a deep concern for what carelessness towards it shows about us as well as an admiration for what we can do for it – “Environmental degradation ultimately reveals the evil of Man – greed, lack of consideration for others, the detriments of capitalism – and has been linked greatly to poverty, hunger, disaster and suffering…which is absolutely devastating because care and goodness to the Earth ultimately also shows kindness in ourselves. And environmental science and new technology is beautiful, like clean energy-it has an element of beauty and cooperation and incorporates kindness into (one’s) lifestyle.”

So perhaps then it’s no surprise that Alice has already managed to garner just a little under 300 responses and is still pushing for more. Because something as simple as learning to recycle paper neatly encapsulates the essence of Alice’s hope for environmental consciousness – “don’t waste, don’t overconsume, be mindful” -quite the simple but profound philosophy in its own right.

Currently the majority of responses to Alice’s survey seem to be in favour of introducing more recycling bins to our school. Other ideas, like introducing tetra pack recycling bins, have also been brought up, and she is excited to hear more from people willing to come up with more ideas or even help with running the project. Still, she is quick to emphasise, any kind of help would be greatly appreciated: “even their simple testimony with reasons stating why such things are important or why (they) would be beneficial would be great”.

That said, it remains to be seen how successful Alice’s project will be even if it is realised. Even the trendiest ideas take time to spread and take root, and recycling old pieces of paper hardly counts as the sexiest scheme of the century (or indeed, this year). And while over 300 survey responses is undoubtedly a respectable number, it is common knowledge how much easier it is to express interest in a concept than it is to embrace an entire culture. Beyond that, there is also the question of all the cynicism to deal with. Thus far we have only heard from the people who are largely supportive of this cause and the ideas behind it. But ideas only carry as much weight as people are willing to give them, and it’s not going to be easy convincing skeptics that recycling the odd sheet of paper or too is really about showing consideration for the environment. This whole recycling business, some might argue, runs the risk of sounding superficial or hopelessly unreliable at best.

But perhaps it is the seeming triviality of this venture, and the resultant uncertainty about its success, that makes it so important. Because what is essentially a movement for more strategically placed recycling bins in our school could turn out to say a lot about RI culture and some of the prevalent attitudes in our school. It’s exactly because this sort of thing is unclear that a project like this might be worth watching even for those who aren’t too excited about having new recycling bins. This could end up being a brief and valiant awareness campaign that eventually fizzles out. Or it could actually work out and teach us a thing or two at the same time. In any case, whether random or revolutionary it’s pretty interesting to think what could come of a piece of paper.

On a less glamorous note, there are still matters of practical execution to consider. To date Alice’s project has made some headway, and her team has been referred to the estate department by Head of Year Ms Sharon Chan with her “positive encouragement”. Even the most innocent revolutions need to contend with logistics.

At the end of the day, Alice is just one example of the many people in our school working hard to make RI a better place for all. This is just one way to start thinking about the principles that undergird their various projects, and even lend them a hand where possible. If you’re interested in helping her out, you can contact Alice at, or simply add to her goal of hitting 450 responses. The link is

For reader responses to the article cited by Alice above (The Reign of Recycling), readers can also refer to this page.

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