What happens to our plastic wrappers and paper bags once we throw them into the bin? What do we do with that broken laptop that’s just sitting in the corner?
In Singapore, over 7.2 million tonnes of solid waste was generated in 2019 and of that amount, 2.95 million tonnes couldn’t be recycled! That’s a lot of waste that has to be managed and disposed of carefully and efficiently.
Waste management is part of our everyday lives and is one of the biggest growing challenges we face as a nation that is getting more serious with each passing year!
The Lasting Effects Of Waste On Our Environment
In Singapore alone, about 930 million kg of plastic waste is discarded every year with 96% of them being non-recyclable and having to be disposed of. That means it is likely almost all of your plastic bags, bottles and containers will become plastic waste that will affect the environment even if they are dealt with properly.
The effects of plastic waste alone include:
- Leaching harmful chemicals into groundwater when buried deep in landfills
- Harming and injuring marine animals ingesting the plastic debris should it reach the oceans
- Releasing toxic pollutants and greenhouse gases when incinerated in ‘waste-to-energy’ plants.
And that’s not all, it takes plastic at least 400 years to break down naturally – that’s a long time! In Singapore, a staggering 7.23 million tonnes of waste has to be managed, recycled and disposed of.
There are 5 general types of waste from our daily activities that contribute to the bulk of Singapore’s waste generation in 2019.
Waste Management In A Post COVID-19 World
Waste management is increasingly getting more complex and with societal changes that impact the lifestyles of everyday Singaporeans (and people in general across the globe). Remember your favourite fast-food takeaway or chicken rice set you ordered from Foodpanda?
Well, the packaging (forks and spoons included) is most probably plastic waste. How about the masks that we wear every day and everywhere we go? Yes, those will become waste as well.
In fact, surgical masks will definitely have to be disposed of due to it being a medical waste that could contain germs and diseases.
Not only that, but your mask is also made up of a composite of plastic, cloth fibres and metal, making it even more complex to dispose of and near impossible (and unhygienic) to recycle without any treatment.
How Waste Is Managed In Singapore
Waste management in Singapore is handled by the National Environment Agency (NEA), which is in charge of handling the waste management system for our general and hazardous waste. Let’s dive deep into how our waste is managed and how complex it can really get!
The 3 Categories Of Waste In Singapore You Should Know
But before we start, what exactly are the kinds of trash we generate in Singapore? Well, there are three categories of solid waste in Singapore with each bringing with them unique challenges in how they are collected, handled and disposed of.
In 2018, over a third of the 1.6 million tonnes of domestic waste from our homes were made up of packaging – that includes all our plastic bottles, milk cartons, paper bags, egg trays and metal cans. One of the biggest culprits of packaging waste is the single-use packaging containers such as single-serving yoghurts, orange juice and soft-drink bottles. These containers, unfortunately, cannot be recycled as they are contained with food.
While we were constantly told to finish our food as we are growing up, food waste is one of the biggest sources of waste in Singapore and has grown by 30% over the last 10 years! In 2019, over 744,000 tonnes of food waste was generated with over 80% being disposed of.
Some of these food waste are unavoidable – such as eggshells, crab shells, fish and chicken bones, there is actually a big portion of food waste that can be prevented. These include food that expired, fruits and vegetables that get spoiled from improper storage and leftovers from a big meal that turns stale.
When we waste food, not only will it have to be sent off for incineration and its ash sent to landfills to be buried, we will also be wasting the resources needed to grow and transport the food, increasing our carbon footprint and contributing towards climate change.
Electronic Waste (E-Waste)
From your old mobile phone to that 10-year-old broken laptop and television, e-waste is one type of waste that is growing as we become more affluent and technology keeps progressing faster and new gadgets keep coming out.
Singapore produces on average 60,000 tonnes of e-waste every year with less than 6% of it being recycled. The challenge with e-waste is the presence of harmful chemicals such as cadmium, lead and other heavy metals that could affect human health and the environment if they aren’t disposed of properly.
Electronic waste is one of the least recycled types of waste in Singapore with only one in 10 young Singaporeans actively recycling them and over a third of which are doing it wrong!
Waste Collection – A Challenging Task Handled By Public Waste Collectors
Before waste can be recycled or disposed of, it will need to be collected – and this is quite an arduous task considering Singapore has many neighbourhoods and estates plus private residences that also need their waste collected!
This task is handled by licensed general waste collectors (GWCs) that handle the collection of recyclables and waste for the different parts of Singapore.
Landfills & Incinerators – How Our Waste Is Disposed Of
While recycling is the best option to deal with the waste we generate, around 41% will have to be disposed of and in Singapore that is through our waste-to-energy incineration plants as well as the Semakau Landfill.
Incinerating Solid Waste With Waste-To-Energy Plants
Due to our land scarcity, incineration of selected waste (such as food, paper, hazardous and medical waste) helps to reduce the solid waste’s volume by around 90%. This is done through four waste-to-energy plants which are: Tuas, Senoko, Tuas South and Keppel Seghers Tuas Waste-To-Energy Plant. The ash from the incineration is then eventually transported to Semakau landfill to be buried.
Burying Our Trash In The Semakau Landfill
Spanning over 3.5 square kilometres, the Semakau Landfill is Singapore’s first and only landfill located off Singapore’s main island in the south. Non-recyclable waste that can’t be incinerated (such as our plastics) are sent here to be buried.
While it is estimated for the landfill to last till 2045, our ever-increasing waste is putting a strain on this deadline causing the government to embark on various waste management initiatives and partnerships with both businesses and the population.
What Is Our Government Doing To Reduce Our Waste?
Thankfully, our Government has taken proactive measures to help our nation reduce our waste challenge by tackling both the waste generation and collection. Two of their initiatives include the Singapore Packaging Agreement as well as the National Voluntary Partnership for E-waste Recycling.
The Singapore Packaging Agreement brings companies together in a commitment to reduce packaging waste to not only help reduce the waste generated but also enjoy cost savings.
As of July 2019, over 239 parties are involved with over 54,000 tonnes of packaging waste reduced and around S$130 million in savings enjoyed over a 10-year period.
The National Voluntary Partnership for E-waste Recycling brings industry partners together to bring awareness to the public of disposing electronic waste safely as well as providing more physical recycling points for us to do so.
Some of these awareness initiatives and collection points include:
- Singtel’s E-Waste Recycling Programme collection centres
- M1’s e-waste bins
- City Square Mall’s E-Waste recycling program
Doing Our Part By Recycling In Singapore
As consumers, we all directly contribute to waste generation in Singapore and have a part to play in reducing waste for a cleaner and greener Singapore! We can do this by practising the 3 Rs which you probably have heard of growing up – Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.
NEA’s National Recycling Programme is the most well known that ensures every HDB estate, private condo and landed properties have access to recycling bins and recycling collection services.
The iconic blue bin is one of the most popular and accessible avenues anyone can start recycling their plastic, paper and glass trash.
Here are some practical ways we can take to reduce our waste generation both at home and at the workplace.
Reducing Our Packaging & Paper Waste
This perhaps is the easiest way to contribute to a more waste sustainable Singapore:
- Order fewer take-outs and food deliveries and eat more at establishments themselves
- Buy products that have less packaging
- Bring along a flask or refillable bottle when ordering your favourite beverages
- Reduce the use of plastic straws, forks and spoons
- Opt for electronic statements (from your banks and electricity retailer) instead of physical paper ones
- Print on both sides of the paper when you are in the office
- Utilise your own reusable cutleries as well as bringing your own lunch boxes to work
- Reuse and repurpose your plastic containers to store your toiletries or even to grow small household plants in them.
Cutting Down On Our Food Waste
Singapore is the land of good food, but we should all have the following food-waste reduction tips in mind:
- Order and cook only the portions of food you need
- Correctly store your perishable food such as fruits and vegetables in the refrigerator
- Seek to consume more water versus soft-drinks (better for your health and you cut down on food & packaging waste too!)
- Compost your unwanted foodstuffs such as eggshells, coffee grounds, fruit and vegetable scraps
Recycling is the next best measure we can do as a community to help address the waste management challenge in Singapore. We can help by:
- Locating and recycling our items correctly into the blue bins
- Give (or sell-off) your old clothes to others in need or donate them to organisations such as The Salvation Army
- Donate your excess food (such as peanut butter, canned soup, pasta) to the Singapore Food Bank at their various bank boxes located across the island.
- Collect your unwanted paper waste such as newspapers, carton boxes and old books and donate them to your local Karang Guni man
- Recycle your e-waste at designated recycling points offered by retailers and businesses across the country
Just remember to ensure your items (especially plastics and glass) aren’t contaminated with food or liquids.
Recycling Can Also Be Fun & Rewarding
Want to get rewarded while doing your part? Thankfully, you can!
There are 50 smart reverse vending machines in Singapore that will give you attractive rewards for doing your part in recycling.
Here are some of the rewards you can enjoy rewards that include:
- FairPrice discount coupons
- STAR$ that can be redeemed for eCapitaVouchers that can be used in CapitaLand Malls
- ActiveSG credits that can be used for fitness programs and gym memberships at ActiveSG facilities
- Sentosa Fun Pass Tokens that can be exchanged for many perks including attraction passes and food & drinks
Recycling can get a little complicated but have no fear, we have a handy guide to help you through on how and where to recycle each of your items – from paper and clothes to old mobile phones and plastic bottles.
Where Do Recyclables Go?
All the waste collected in the blue recycling bins is collected by the public waste collectors and sent to Materials Recovery Facilities for sorting out into paper, glass, metal and plastic waste types.
They will then be sent to various recycling facilities and converted into raw materials that can be utilised for new products.
Plastics will be crushed into smaller pieces, blended, extruded and cut into small pellets that are sold to companies.
Glass is cleaned and crushed into cullets which can then be melted into new products.
Papers are shredded and soaked into a pulp and then refined into paper sheets which can be used to make anything from notepads to carrier bags.
While metals are sorted first, compacted together and then cut into smaller pieces and melted into new products.
Reducing Waste Is The First Step To Going Green
Whether you choose to actively recycle your unwanted items or are more disciplined to reduce waste from your daily activities, we can take it one step further to help the environment.
How do we do that? It’s simple! The electricity that we use everyday uses fossil fuels to be generated – that means carbon emissions are released into the environment, contributing to global warming.
At iSwitch, we are the largest green electricity retailer in Singapore and our plans are 100% carbon-neutral. That means your electricity’s carbon emissions are fully accounted for.
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