Environmental Behavior and Practices: Singapore

There are many environmental behaviours/ practices in Singapore. In this section, we will be taking a closer look at two environmental behaviours/ practices in Singapore. We will try to categorize these environmental practices and explain its success or failures.

The two environmental practices are:

1. Recycling of waste materials

2. Reducing the use of plastic bags

Recycling of Waste Materials


Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:NEA_recycling_bins,_Orchard_Road.JPG

Recycling is considered a behavior choice under the three categories of behavior proposed by Clayton and Myers. It is a practice that does not call for individuals to consume less. It simply asks that individuals consume at the same level, but with lesser environmental impact as waste materials are recycled.

Singaporeans are encouraged to recycle their waste materials so that these waste materials can be converted into other useful materials. Plastic, cans and papers are among the various types of waste materials that people are encouraged to recycle.

According to ZeroWasteSg, in 2011, about 59% of the waste generated by Singaporeans was recycled (Tay, 2012). Also, the rates of recycling in Singapore have been steadily increasing.

Source: http://www.zerowastesg.com/2012/03/27/singapore-waste-statistics-2011/

As can be seen from Fig 4 above, the recycling rates in Singapore has been steadily increasing since year 2000 when it was only 40%.

Let us now explore the reasons for why more individuals are recycling over the years by exploring factors influencing pro environmental behavior:


Affordance is what is allowed or enabled by the physical or social environment that an individual is in (Clayton & Myers, 2009).

The Singapore government has tried to enable recycling in Singapore by various measures.

For instance, under the National Recycling Programme (NRP) initiated by the National Environment Agency (NEA), residents of HDB estates and landed properties are given recycling bags or bins to put their waste in. Fortnightly, licensed recycling contractors will pick up the bags or bins residents place outside their homes for recycling (Tay, 2011).

 Figure 1: Source: http://www.zerowastesg.com/2011/01/25/7-types-of-recycling-at-hdb-housing-estates-in-singapore/

Also, for every 5 blocks of flats in Singapore, there will be one Centralized Recycling Depositories (CRD) that the neighborhood can use.

In addition, recycling bins are located at many places nationwide. This is a map which  illustrates the number of recycling bins that can be found in Singapore:

Figure 3: Source: http://www.zerowastesg.com/map-of-recycling-bins/

The different colors in the map representing the recycling bins indicate which recycling contractors are responsible for them.

And since recycling has been made so convenient and easy for Singaporeans, recycling rates will definitely increase over the years.

Reinforcement Contingencies

Licensed recycling contractor set up recycling stations monthly to encourage residents to come forward with their recyclable materials in exchange for money or food items. This provides an incentive for residents to recycle their waste materials.


As mentioned in the section Environmental Attitudes: Singapore, Singaporeans get to learn about environmental issues and threats in schools as part of their curriculum. 

In addition, the National Environmental Agency (NEA) has also partnered schools to develop Environmental Education modules for students to learn about environmental issues like global warming and climate change (Mohandas, 2007).

In addition, the NEA also organizes recycling campaigns like Recycling Week 2011 to raise awareness and educate Singaporeans of the need for recycling of their waste materials. At Recycling Week 2011 campaign, information such as these was provided:

Source: http://www.zerowastesg.com/2011/06/04/photos-from-recycling-week-2011/

All these effort ensures that Singaporeans are equipped with the relevant and important information that encourage pro environmental behavior, which in this case is recycling.


It seems that the attitudes that Singaporeans have towards the natural environment are pro environmental, as was discussed in Environmental Attitudes: Singapore and this clearly influence pro environmental behavior in Singaporeans. Hence, the environmental attitudes Singaporeans have may be one of the factors behind the increasing recycling rates in Singapore over the years. 


While the recycling rates in Singapore looks promising and has been increasing over the years, it is still far from the goal set by the Singapore government. The government has set a target of 60% recycling rate by 2012 in the Singapore Green Plan 2012, and 70% recycling rate by 2030 in the Sustainable Singapore Blueprint (Tay, 2012).

And one factor behind this could be responsibility. Singaporeans often hold the general mindset that the government instead of themselves is responsible for issues concerning the environment– a classic case of the Diffusion of Responsibility (Geh, 2008).

This probably also has something to do with the political background and culture in Singapore. Singapore rose from a Third World country to a First World Nation within one generation. Considering the many constraints faced by the country when it obtained its independence in 1965, such a quick turnaround of its fate was possible only with very strong leadership from the government. And having a highly efficient and effective government has inevitably resulted in many Singaporeans growing reliant on the government to help them plan and execute many issues that are pertinent to them (Chan, 2007).

Such dependence on the government may cause Singaporeans to assume lesser responsibilities towards the environment than they should. Hence, perhaps, Singaporeans’ recycling rates can further increase if Singaporeans assume more responsibilities towards the environment and not hold the mindset that their government will take care of everything all the time.

Let us know explore the another environmental practice in Singapore: the reduction in use of plastic bags. We will try to understand whether such a practice has been successful and the factors influencing it. 

Reducing the Use of Plastic Bags

Reducing the use of plastic bags can be considered a curtailment behavior as it requires the act of consuming lesser.

The consumption of plastic bags is harmful to the environment for various reasons. The manufacture of plastic bags add tonnes of carbon emissions into the air annually. Most plastic bags take more than 400 years to biodegrade.

Source: http://www.blogonsmog.com/trash-thursday/the-poop-on-plastic.html

Source: http://www.blogonsmog.com/trash-thursday/the-poop-on-plastic.html

Plastic bags are responsible for the deaths of over 100,000 sea turtle and other marine animal every year when these animals mistaken them for food (Natural-environment, 2012).

Source: http://app2.nea.gov.sg/compaign_byobd.aspx

To reduce the usage of plastic bags, the NEA launched the Bring Your Own Bag Day (BYOBD) every first Wednesday of the month. It was subsequently changed to every Wednesday of the month. On BYOBD, shoppers are encouraged to bring their own shopping bags in order to reduce wastage of plastic bags and promote resource conservation. Alternatively, on BYOBD, if shoppers do not bring their own shopping bags, they can purchase reusable bags available at the participating supermarket or donate 10 cents for each plastic bag they take at the checkout counters.

Participating retailers of BYOBD include Carrefour, Cold Storage, Giant, NTUC Fairprice, Prime Supermarket, Sheng Siong, Shop N Save, Autobacs, Rehab Mart, Homefix and Stamford Tyres (Channel News Asia, 2008).

I am also personally familiar with BYOBD as the 7-11 retail stores and minimarts in Nanyang Technological University (where I study in) are also under the BYOBD program.

BYOBD was rather successful. According to Channel News Asia, NTUC Fairprice claimed that within a short period of time, about half of their customers brought their own bags. Leading supermarkets like Cold Storage and NTUC Fairprice also said they were able to reduce its use of plastic bags by 60 percent. It was estimated that about 8,000 to 10,000 reusable bags were sold on the first day of the launch of BYOBD (Channel News Asia, 2007).

NEA conducted a survey on the participation rate of BYOBD in 2007. It was found that more than two-thirds of shoppers either bringing their own bags, buying reusable bags at the check-out counters, giving a donation for taking plastic bags, or not taking plastic bags for small purchases (National Environment Agency, 2007).

In year 2010, in NTUC Fairprice alone, 6 million plastic bags were saved. This was a 16 percent improvement as compared to the 5.1 million plastic bags that was saved in 2009 (AsiaOne, 2011).

Let us now explore the reasons for why BYOBD was fairly successful by exploring factors influencing pro environmental behavior:


As we can recall, affordance is what is allowed or enabled by the physical or social environment that an individual is in (Clayton & Myers, 2009). 

As mentioned above, many retailers showed their support and participation for BYOBD. The list of retailers includes Carrefour, Cold Storage, Giant, NTUC Fairprice, Prime Supermarket, Sheng Siong, Shop N Save, Autobacs, Rehab Mart, Homefix and Stamford Tyres (Channel News Asia, 2008). That covers a wide range of retail supermarkets and outlets that Singaporeans shop at.

This encourages consumers to bring their own bags because almost every supermarket they shop at on Wednesdays sell reusable bags and require that they pay 10 cents for every plastic bags they use. The physical and social environment that these customers live in now allow them to more actively reduce their use of plastic bags. Therefore, it is natural that the use of plastic bags will decrease.

Reinforcement contingencies 

Customers who do not bring their own bags are made to pay 10 cents for every plastic bag they take away at the checkout counter. This is akin to a punishment that is meant to discourage customers’ use of plastic bags. Naturally, since plastic bags now come at a cost and are no longer free, their consumption will naturally decrease. 

In addition to this punishment, some retailers are providing customers rewards for bringing their own bags. For instance, NTUC Fairprice gave a rebate of 10 cents to shoppers who bring their own bags to pack their purchases, subject to a minimum purchase of $10 (National Environment Agency, 2007). This rebate is an incentive to customers to bring their own bags and hence reduces the consumption of plastic bags.

Social Norms

We can assume that BYOBD was a well received campaign: about 8,000 to 10,000 reusable bags sold on the first day of its launch. This may have created a social norm in Singapore among Singaporeans regarding the use of plastic bags. Social norms are very powerful in driving pro environmental behavior, as demonstrated in the section Environmental Behaviors and Practices. Hence if we can assume that the reduction of use of plastic bags have become increasingly well received since its launch, it may have become a social norm in Singapore. This will then encourage more people to participate in BYOBD. 


Knowledge is definitely important for pro environmental behavior to take place. As mentioned above, Singaporeans are educated through their education system about environmental issues. They also regularly have environmental campaigns (examples can be found under the Environmental Attitudes: Singapore section) to encourage pro environmental behavior. As such, the knowledge that Singaporeans have about the environment could be one of the reasons why BYOBD was quite well accepted among Singaporeans. 


It seems that the attitudes that Singaporeans have towards the natural environment are pro environmental, as was discussed in Environmental Attitudes: Singapore and this clearly influence pro environmental behavior in Singaporeans. Hence, the environmental attitudes Singaporeans have may be one of the factors behind the popularity of BYOBD in Singapore since its launch.