SINGAPORE: Every few minutes, a truck turns into the gravelly path off Lim Chu Kang Road, raking dust off the ground as it lumbers past. Depending on what it is carrying - whether plant waste or construction materials - the truck will deposit its contents at one of more than 10 recycling companies that lease plots of land within Sarimbun Recycling Park.
Some plants will turn horticultural waste into compost, while many recover sand and metals from construction waste. It is a busy, but somewhat chaotic facility. That could change in the near future.
More than three years after plans for a multi-storey recycling facility at the park were mooted, the National Environment Agency (NEA) called for a tender in May to study the ground conditions there.
“The National Environment Agency (NEA) routinely reviews the use of space by the waste management industry to see how our land resources can be maximized,” it said in a statement to Channel NewsAsia.
NEA’s tender, published on the government’s e-procurement portal, GeBIZ, called for a geo-environmental and geo-technical study for the Recycling Park, attracting seven bids.
They range from between S$370,000 and S$3.6 million. While the contract is pending, NEA said the study is expected to start in the “third quarter (of) 2017” and will take about a year to complete.
“The study will provide technical data, such as the strength and stability of the ground, and soil and ground water conditions, to help NEA in its planning on the use of the site.”
IMPORTANT TO STUDY SOIL STRENGTH, OTHER ENVIRONMENTAL FACTORS: EXPERTS
According to NEA’s website, Sarimbun Recycling Park used to be part of a landfill site known as the Lim Chu Kang Dumping Ground. Operations at the original facility began in 1976, and closed in September 1992.
The website said the land will require 30 to 40 years to stabilise, before it can be used for “more permanent developments”. Experts Channel NewsAsia spoke with said the geo-technical and geo-environmental studies called for by NEA are especially critical to investigate soil conditions at former landfills.
A geo-technical study typically assesses the stability and strength of the soil before construction begins, said Professor Chu Jian, Director of Nanyang Technological University’s Centre for Usable Space. “Solid waste is completely different from soil. You have to investigate the geo-technical properties of the solid waste as well. For example, solid waste contains lots of organic matter and organic matter will decompose with time.”
In other words, Prof Chua said, the decomposition of organic matter could cause the ground to sink.
Unlike reclaimed land where “clean sand” is deposited and will not have a negative environmental impact, the soil at a landfill can also be contaminated with heavy metals and other toxic materials, said Prof Chu.
“When you build a structure, you have to dig foundations and so you disturb the ground and this construction process might cause some disturbance and may cause contaminates to be leeched out,” he said.
A geo-environmental study is important to investigate all these issues, Prof Chu said.
NEA CONDUCTED FEASIBILITY STUDY IN 2014
The studies come three years after plans to build a Multi-Storey Recycling Facility (MSRF) were first discussed with tenants at the site In a notice sent in October 2014 and seen by Channel NewsAsia, NEA told tenants that they had appointed a consultant to carry out a feasibility study on the viability of such a multi-storey facility for the waste management industry.
"Faced with growing land scarcity and a need for a sustainable recycling eco-system to handle the increasing amount of waste and recyclables generated locally, the government has commissioned this feasibility study to look into creating a viable solution to optimise land use and create more space to support the growth of the waste management industry," the notice read.
In 2016, Singapore's overall recycling rate remained at 61 per cent, some way off from the government's target of 70 per cent by 2030.
The notice said the facility would house different tenants and recycling operations under one roof. It said the study would also explore the possibility of incorporating common facilities such as weighbridges, meeting rooms and a vehicle parking depot.
According to the notice, the study would include a topographical survey, soil investigation that would entail drilling boreholes to obtain soil samples for testing, as well as a "broad environmental impact assessment".
The project was said to be an “inter-agency” task force comprising NEA, the Urban Redevelopment Authority and JTC Corporation. Media reports said the URA had identified two possible sites, one within Sarimbun Recycling Park, and another site in Lim Chu Kang.
When asked about how the the latest study differs from the feasibility study conducted in 2014, JTC said it has been working to explore the feasibility of a “multi-storey, multi-tenanted facility for recycling companies”.
“An update on the project will be provided next year, following consultations with various stakeholders.”
Channel NewsAsia understands more concrete plans were shared with some tenants towards the end of last year, including a detailed impression of the facility.
Some tenants Channel NewsAsia spoke with said they had shared with the authorities that a multi-storey recycling facility would not suit their line of work, if for example, high heat was involved in decomposing recycled wood.