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Putting their heads together to think green

Five teams pitch climate action solutions for funding of up to S$70,000 from #OCBCCares Environment Fund to further scale their projects

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Students from Mee Toh School explaining their project at The OCBC Green Pitch. The Wishy Washy is a piece of equipment that cleans recyclables so that they are in good condition for recycling.

Singapore

WHEN most 11-year-olds were out having fun on Fridays and their holidays, Jeanieve Lim from Mee Toh School was thinking of ways to help the environment.

She saw the state of contamination of recyclables in neighbourhood commingled bins, and with help from her four 10-year-old teammates and teacher Eleanor Quek, she came up with The Wishy Washy, a piece of equipment that cleans the recyclables so that they are in good condition for recycling.

Rainwater is collected in a water tank and two sprinklers - controlled by micro:bit, a tiny programmable computer - are used to wash the plastic bottles and metal cans. The items are then released into a sorting drawer after the washing process.

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Teams The Wishy Washy and Project Black Gold were among the five teams that obtained total funding of up to S$70,000 from #OCBCCares Environment Fund at The Green Pitch event held at Marina Bay Sands on Saturday to further scale their projects.

The objective of the fund is to rally the community to take action to protect the environment. This is part of OCBC's ongoing effort to fight climate change.

All five teams impressed the panel of judges - comprising Koh Ching Ching, head of group brand and communications at OCBC, guest judges Eco-Business CEO Jessica Cheam, and producer and director Fraser Morton - as they met the various criteria which include innovation, having achievable outcomes, and benefiting a wide segment of the community.

Group member Tristan Hoh said that the initial idea was to build a piece of equipment that could function like a washing machine, with the additional function of sorting out paper. But with the advice of teacher Ms Quek, the team realised it was a difficult idea to execute.

After some deliberation, and due to time constraints, the team decided to embark on The Wishy Washy project, and it took the team six months to build the workable prototype.

This innovation won the Primary School category of this year's G!nnovation Challenge - organised by National Environment Agency (NEA) & North East Community Development Council in September.

Member Brendan Ng said inspiration came from the game Plinko. He said: "We thought we could make it into a game to make it more fun for people to recycle."

With the funding, Mr Ng said they hope to create similar equipment to be placed in other schools as well to encourage students to recycle right.

He added that the prototype will be further developed into sturdier automated recycling bins - which include using more durable materials and for the sprinklers to have stronger wash power - as there will be higher rate of plastic bottles and drink cans collection.

Keeping track

There will also be a counter installed to keep track of the number of bottles and metal cans collected. The group considers the invention to be successful if at least 100 clean plastic bottles and 100 clean metal cans are collected for each Wishy Washy.

The bins will be placed in schools, and Tricia Leong said that they will put up posters and give assembly talks at the various schools to encourage their usage.

She added: "We even adapted the Recycle Rap to suit our theme and attract more people's attention."

Another team that bagged the #OCBCCares Environment Fund is Project Black Gold, which wants to kick-start Compost Hubs, where communities come together to do food scrap composting in their own neighbourhood.

The idea came from the four contributors of Foodscape Collective, which is a loose network of people who come together to co-create towards a more regenerative, fair and inclusive circular food system for all.

After a meal, food scraps are usually discarded without much thought given to where it ends up. National Environment Agency statistics show that food waste accounts for about 10 per cent of total waste generated in Singapore. Only 17 per cent of food waste is recycled. The rest is disposed at the waste-to-energy plants for incineration.

Hence, Project Black Gold's team is on a mission to get entire communities to realise that food scraps from our homes are valuable materials for creating compost in our own neighbourhoods, and this can be used to regenerate healthy soil and grow nutrient-dense food. Community composting is empowering because everyone can contribute.

Pui Cuifen, founding member of Foodscape Collective, said: "The impetus to put in an application came about as a few of us want to be more proactive in bringing community composting to more neighbourhoods in Singapore."

Chen Ching Wei, who pitched on behalf of the Project Black Gold team said that Singaporeans are actually quite receptive to the idea of composting. "During a week-long trial collection of food waste from households, conducted as part of MEWR's Recycle Right citizen workgroup, my team and I conducted a seven-night experiment during which we went door-knocking in a block in Jurong and asked households to separate their food waste. We gave each participating household a bin (provided by my team) which we collected and emptied every night."

Ms Pui said: "Composting keeps the carbon of food scraps (and any other material) in physical form. Rather than incinerating food and turning the carbon in food into carbon emissions, we see composting as a way to keep the carbon in soil. Compost can be used to regenerate healthy soil, which in turn provides the condition for healthy plants to grow. Healthy plants would be able to take in more carbon from the atmosphere. In other words, we are looking to nature to look at how we can take appropriate carbon mitigation."

With the funding from #OCBCCares Environment Fund, Project Black Gold intends to shortlist three communities to kick-start Compost Hubs.

Ms Chen said: "Right now, gardeners have to spend a lot of money to buy soil, which may not be healthy soil or sustainably sourced. So we feel that this is a method to help, to have healthier soil. We also not just use food scrap but brown waste as well, such as cardboard etc, so in a way, we cut down on wastage."

She added that they will put part of the funding into creating a starter kit, together with a project website. Observations and learnings made over the six-month community engagement will be shared on the website, social media platforms and starter kit. These will remain publicly available for access after the project with OCBC ends.

Ms Pui said she hoped that the project would debunk some misconceptions such as composting smelling bad. She added: "Composting actually doesn't have a bad smell. On the contrary, when you do aerobic composting (ie there is air and oxygen involved), your compost pile/bin should actually smell good."

Fostering relationships

Team members Liow Oi Lian and Heng Tien Tien added that composting is also a good way to foster closer relationships within the community. Ms Pui concurred, saying: "Composting can be done anywhere really - even in the parks and the open green areas. We are simply helping to join the dots, and lending a hand to any community that needs a bit of help to kick-start or get past the barriers."

She added: "At the end, we don't want to say x number of neighbours participated, therefore we are successful. Rather, we want to measure the environmental and social outcome we want to see: Is the community taking care of the compost? Are the compost makers confident to make good compost? What is the quality of the compost made by the community? Is the compost full with life? Are the plants grown in soil, amended by community compost, healthier? Do the food scrap givers feel closer to their community?"

OCBC commits S$100,000 annually to fund such projects.

The other three teams that were selected were The Clothes Library, which promotes a sustainable way of clothing ourselves with second-hand clothes, and Afoodable and Foodiv. The latter two teams pitched location-based apps that would help F&B companies and food retailers minimise food wastage by notifying consumers of deals on unsold perishables that would otherwise be thrown out. One group had the network contacts while the other had the technology know-how. The judges felt that their skills would benefit each other, and in the spirit of collaboration, asked them to combine forces for the greater good.

Each year, OCBC invites submission of proposals for the #OCBCCares Environment Fund by end September. This year, besides the usual route of receiving submissions at the end of the year, The Green Pitch - organised by OCBC - was part of Changing Course, an exhibition at the ArtScience Museum at the Marina Bay Sands Singapore featuring the Arctic region, the sobering frontlines of climate change.

  • Online application for the funding closes on Dec 31.
    For more information, visit ocbc.com/green
  • This article is part of a series on climate change initiatives, supported by OCBC Bank