Sparking Change: Recycling For a Sustainable Future

Homegrown recycling firm Tay Paper turns waste into high-quality paper products, while raising awareness of recycling in the wider community.

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Over the last three decades, Singapore-based recycling firm Tay Paper has made strides from its humble beginnings. Starting out as a small-time karang guni (waste paper collector) business with just one lorry, the firm now operates a fleet of collection vehicles and its own factory facility – and is looking to grow its business even further.

At the same time, Tay Paper hopes to champion what it believes is an important cause: to raise awareness of recycling in the wider community. It does this through its business and recycling campaigns, which go towards helping the needy. Says Tay Paper’s business development manager Andrew Tay: “We usually use recycling as a core basis of positively impacting the community. For instance, the value recovered in a recycling campaign will be donated to the relevant organisation or charity.” Its beneficiaries include Bread and Butter, a community group which helps underprivileged Singaporeans.

Challenging business environment

Every day, Tay Paper collects some 100 tons of waste paper for recycling, consisting mostly of cartons, office documents and printing waste from printing companies. Sorting the waste paper is a laborious process: paper is moved along a conveyor belt lined by workers on both sides, who sort the paper as it comes through. The labour-intensive nature of this work, Andrew says, is a big challenge as it drives costs up.

Tay Paper faces other unique challenges as a Singapore-based recycling business. Unlike in other countries like Sweden where waste producers have to bear all costs related to the collection, recycling or disposal of waste, Tay Paper pays to collect waste paper. Furthermore, there are no laws in Singapore which require people to recycle, and the fees for waste removal are not enough of a deterrent to change people’s attitudes towards waste disposal and recycling.

Andrew adds that although the waste management sector provides a crucial service for the country, it does not receive any financial relief to defray its costly operations. “We are all still under the same Certificate of Entitlement (COE) scheme (for vehicles), labour restriction laws, diesel tax and so on.” These factors, he says, affect business operations as they drive up the cost of acquiring waste paper for recycling.

Opportunities for growth

Despite the challenges, Tay Paper has found success by playing to its strengths. On the export trading front, the firm is known for its high-quality, well-sorted paper. Says Andrew: “We focus on quality very early in the game when others are still using water and trash to ‘boost’ weight.” This, he says, has enabled Tay Paper to continue exporting its waste paper despite China’s ban on waste imports, and increasingly stringent checks on recyclable materials.

The firm is also seeking to grow its confidential document shredding service, which has grown in popularity since corporations became more mindful of the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA). Corporate clients routinely engage Tay Paper to shred confidential documents, either on- or off-site. Says Andrew: “Our clients know that shredding with us will ensure their paper documents are all recycled.” Tay Paper, he says, has devoted significant resources towards attaining certification and accreditation for its services. It has also invested in training and development for its sales representatives, to help them better serve their customer base.

Aside from growing its shredding business, Tay Paper is also exploring the possibility of diversifying into the processing of other types of waste. These include plastics, food waste, e-waste, household recyclables and tyre waste. The firm is also exploring the feasibility of setting up a paper mill in Singapore to “close the national waste paper loop,” Andrew says.

He adds that after attending a DBS BusinessClass Star Advisor networking session featuring Family Business Network International’s Head of Sustainability, Caroline Seow, he was inspired to build a more sustainable business, and to work with DBS to achieve his business goals. The financial services provided by DBS Bank – such as letters of credit and factoring services – have played an important part in helping the firm on its growth path. Says Andrew: “We hope DBS can continue to support us on our road of growth towards sustainability.”

He also hopes recycling will be an integral part of daily life in Singapore, and that people make environmentally-conscious decisions from the point at which they purchase something, all the way to the point where they dispose of it.

Says Andrew: “The government could implement legislation to enforce such good practices. That way, recycling businesses like ours will benefit from the higher percentage of recyclables kept clean and separated – and our community will enjoy a better environment for generations to come.”


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