Waste management has become a preoccupation for businesses of all sectors. Responsible waste management and disposal can not only help a company reduce waste management costs, it can also make it more competitive and demonstrate its commitment to environmental sustainability.
“Pollution from irresponsible dumping of waste poses a major environmental challenge – and a legal risk to businesses as well. In fact, illegal dumping of waste is a serious offence in Singapore and companies guilty of such an act should be taken to task by Singapore’s National Environment Agency,” says Ms Melissa Tan (above), General Manager, Wah & Hua Pte Ltd.
Set up in the 1970s, the local waste management and multi-material recycling company helps businesses turn waste into a resource that benefits the environment. “It is much more than just trash collection,” says Ms Tan. “Wah & Hua is essentially a one-stop shop, providing all-inclusive, sustainable disposal solutions to local businesses and industries.”
In 2011, faced with competition from local waste management firms, Wah & Hua used SPRING Singapore’s (now Enterprise Singapore1) Capability Development Grant to design and build a high-tech Material Recovery Facility (MRF) that sorts and processes recyclable materials. “These are then sold to recycling brokers or manufacturers who would remanufacture them into new products,” says Ms Tan.
The MRF makes it easier for the company to deal with many types of waste and gives clients confidence that their recyclable materials are handled and processed in optimal conditions.
A highly efficient process
The MRF is a sorting system fitted with conveyor belts that efficiently sorts and processes multiple waste streams over a single processing line.
With the MRF, trash becomes a commodity, just like oil or wheat. “Once the MRF processes and sorts the items that get thrown into our bins, they are converted into bales – or tightly compressed blocks of recyclable materials – and sold to manufacturers in Malaysia and Indonesia,” explains Ms Tan.
Before introducing the MRF, the company had to manually screen and remove foreign objects such as broken glass, bricks and asphalt, making the recycling process long and arduous. “Recyclable materials, such as paper, can be ruined in the process and become useless residuals if contaminated by, for instance, broken glass,” says Ms Tan.
Now, the MRF automates the process of sorting and separating commingled recyclables, allowing quicker sorting, reducing contamination and yielding commodities that generate premium prices from recycling brokers and manufacturers.
“Product and service quality is important in a competitive market,” adds Ms Tan. “With the MRF, we have a guaranteed clean product line, which has resulted in higher confidence from recycling brokers and manufacturers and a 20% increase in profits.”
Efficient manpower management
In the past, Wah & Hua needed 10 people to manually pick and sort up to a tonne of waste and recyclable materials per day. Now, it only needs six people to run the MRF.
“We have been able to reduce our manpower needs by 40%,” says Ms Tan. “Essentially, it allows us to do more recycling at a higher profitability.”
In addition, the MRF’s automation technologies have fostered a new way of working with and handling waste, helping the company create a tech-savvy, highly skilled and efficient workforce that performs faster and better.
This has resulted in a 40% increase in productivity and the company winning the SME Quality Initiatives to Assist, Nurture and Grow (QIANG) Gold Award at the 2014 Singapore Workforce Development Agency–Singapore Manufacturing Federation Productivity & Innovation Awards.
Ms Tan adds, “While other businesses face manpower challenges, we have been able to attract and retain highly skilled professionals. With the MRF, we have been able to include quality job creation and long-term business sustainability in our profit and growth strategy.”
Strategy for the future
Today, Wah & Hua is a frontrunner in Singapore’s environmental sustainability movement. Its practices demonstrate the many benefits of applying new processes to remain profitable while being kinder to the environment.
The company recently implemented an enterprise resource planning system to further streamline its waste collection and recycling processes – from the moment waste is picked up through to its storage, transportation, sorting, treatment and dispatch.
“In the future, we plan to add robotics to the MRF system to accurately identify and eliminate any form of contamination, and further improve the quality of our products,” says Ms Tan.
Overall, Ms Tan believes that waste and recycling should be seen as a chance to innovate, streamline business operations and create cost savings for all businesses engaged in Singapore’s sustainability agenda.
“For entrepreneurs, sustainability can become the foundation on which to build a business,” she says. “Just look at how far we have comesince we established the business in the 1970s!"
1SPRING Singapore merged with IE Singapore to form Enterprise Singapore on 1 April 2018.