The effectiveness of Singapore’s National Recycling Programme has been called to question by this commentary. The commentator posits that the programme should involve our rag-and-bone man (or more familiarly known as the ‘karang guni’ man) to be the employed ambassadors for the programme. In light of the statistics that reveal we have much to improve on before hitting our recycling targets in 2030, the author suggests involving the informal recycling sector in its efforts. The rag-and-bone men of the informal sector had collected 20% of recyclables in 2016, compared with the mere 2% collected through the national recycling effort.

In their trade, the rag-and-bone men collect all forms of recyclables and items which are then sorted to sell to waste-recycling companies or second-hand electronic dealers. They have the knowledge of what is recyclable or not, which is a value-add as it is found that more than half of Singaporeans do not know what plastics to recycle. More needs to be done to raise awareness as contamination of non-recyclable waste with recyclable materials result in 40% of contents in recycling bins not being recycled.

While they are not the most tech-savvy group, the karung guni men have strong knowledge of the basics of recycling. By employing them, they have another form of incentive to educate residents, as well as collect and deliver recyclables to facilities. In addition to the potential impact on the nation’s recycling efforts, this suggestion will give a boost to this sunset industry, and provide more stable incomes for the recyclers.  

Read the full article on Channel NewsAsia: Commentary: Why doesn’t recycling rope in the karang guni?


For the National Recycling Program to succeed and deliver its targets, something needs to be done differently. It is important that we try different solutions to address the worsening issues of climate change with temperatures rising each year. The suggestion given to involve the rag-and-bone men in the campaigns is a refreshing one that also addresses another issue of this sunset industry. With the rag-and-bone service waning out by newer trends and digitalisation, the generation of collectors may soon have little means to carry out their livelihoods. This would be another avenue for them to continue their trade while passing down their knowledge of recycling to the younger generation.  

What might need to be taken into consideration? Involving the rag-and-bone men – who are mostly in the Pioneer Generation age – may be met with some difficulties. For a start, they may not be willing to participate in the campaigns which could be viewed as their competition like the government recycling initiatives which directly collect recyclables from households. But this should not deter us from exploring this interesting option.

Questions for further personal evaluation:

  1. Do you think it will be a good idea to get the karang guni men to be employed ambassadors? Why, or why not?
  2. Why do you think the recycling program is not getting the expected results?

Useful vocabulary:

  1. ‘commingle’: mix; blend
  2. ‘traction’: the extent to which an idea, product, etc. gains popularity or acceptance

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