If you’ve ever stood at the blue bin scratching your head over what can or can’t be recycled (and then spend hours wondering what happens once all the trash is picked up), we hear you. Here’s our big green guide to waste disposal in Singapore.
“There is no such thing as ‘throw-away’. When we throw something away, it must go somewhere.” Never a truer word been said. When it comes to recycling, we can’t continue to sweep the issue under the rug. And thanks to the National Environment Agency’s hugely engaging campaigns, the extent of the problem is finally starting to cut through and resonate in Singapore. Not only is it making a lot of noise about the perils of plastic but it’s also making it ridiculously easy for even the not-so-conscious to recycle. The gist of it involves what we like to practice and preach as #LittleGreenSteps. And if we all follow them and do our teeny part then collectively, we’ll make a giant and impactful difference.
Now, before you head straight to the blue bins and dive into recycling, we first need to talk about reframing our relationship with stuff. Because recycling alone is not the catch-all solution to dealing with waste. We first need to focus on reducing consumption and reusing what we already have. Reduce. Reuse. And then recycle. But once you’re sure something has to go, here’s our handy recycling in Singapore 101 lesson.
The current rubbish situation
We’ve all seen the rubbish. Whether it’s an overflowing bin at the mall or an image on social media of an ocean island formed entirely of garbage. The good news is we’re producing slightly less waste. The bad news is there’s still a long way to go and Singapore’s recycling rates are dropping. Numbers don’t lie; the stats ain’t pretty.
According to the NEA:
– In 2019, about 7.23 million tonnes of solid waste was generated, of which 4.25 million tonnes was recycled. That’s a 6% reduction in waste generated compared to 2018, and the third yearly reduction since 2017.
– Waste generated by the non-domestic and domestic sectors saw a reduction in 2019, from 5.70 million tonnes and 2.00 million tonnes in 2018 to 5.37 million tonnes and 1.87 million tonnes in 2019.
– But, the amount of rubbish Singapore creates has increased seven-fold over the last 40 years
– Overall, the recycling rate decreased from 61% in 2018 to 59% in 2019.
– The domestic recycling rate decreased from 22% in 2018 to 17% in 2019, while the non-domestic recycling rate decreased from 75% in 2018 to 73% in 2019.
– Singapore’s only landfill (Semakau) is due to run out of space by 2035.
What can & cannot be recycled
We’ve all been there; pausing in front of a recycling bin. Looking down at the item in your hand. And not knowing what to do with it or where it belongs. Make a mental of note of this everyday item cheat sheet so you can make a more conscious choice next time:
Can: Paper envelopes, carton juice boxes, newspapers, magazines, and cardboard boxes
Cannot: Tissues and paper towels
Can: Plastic bottles, detergent bottles, skincare containers, and plastic food containers
Cannot: Plastic film covers (like chopsticks and crisp packets), disposable polystyrene food containers and disposable cutlery
Can: Drink cans, food cans, glass bottles, aerosol cans, biscuit tins
Cannot: Food waste, disposable chopsticks, mirrors, light bulbs, batteries and nappies
It’s estimated that globally only 15-20% of e-waste is recycled. And by e-waste, we mean your electrical or electronic devices like phones, computers or TVs. Most cannot be recycled, so the NEA recommends repairing electronic equipment when possible, reusing or donating items in working condition and if you must, recycle unwanted items at one of the recycling points listed here. You can also turn to Gravo, a recycling app that makes it easy to recycle e-waste. Just download it and arrange for your waste to be collected.
Sort it right
Need to know more about what can and cannot be recycled? Watch this for a full breakdown.
What CAN or CANNOT be RECYCLED? Fast. Easy. & Practical #Recycling Guide in #Singapore.Singapore uses 2.2 million straws everyday, enough to cover Singapore's coastline twice over. Time to wake-up! Take #LittleGreenSteps every day and share with us how you #RecyclemoreWasteless. Brought to you by Green Is The New Black Asia, DBS, Eco-Business, Sembcorp, and the Climate Action SG Alliance for the year of Climate Action. Starring Judee Tan.
Posted by Green Is The New Black on Thursday, 8 November 2018
What happens next to the recyclables?
Have you ever wondered what happens to your recyclables when they get picked up? The National Environment Agency (NEA) has put together a handy infographic to help simplify what happens after collection.
Breaking it down even more
Eco-Business breaks down the recycling process even further with TV host and actor Jason Godfrey in this video that follows the trash. Follow him as he takes viewers through every single stage of the process. The amount of work that goes on behind the scenes to sort through our trash is astonishing.
Did you know? Contamination is the silent recycling killer.
Remember to rinse your containers and recyclables. If they are contaminated with oil stains, food residues, or anything else it will cross-contaminate everything near it. And it will then get sorted as general waste. In Singapore, a staggering 40% of items are contaminated (!), so next time you’re about to toss a half-full drink into the bin, think again.
BUT — just because you put something in the recycling bin, doesn’t mean it gets recycled
Items have to be transported, sorted, processed and put to market. But if someone doesn’t buy it, then it doesn’t get recycled. Shocking, we know! Around the world, recyclables often end up landfills where they pollute environments and our planet is swimming in plastic (literally, it’s clogging up our oceans).
In addition, following China’s ban on importing recyclable materials, and restrictions from Malaysia and Thailand, the demand for recyclable materials has decreased considerably. Which means in some cases recyclables end up being incinerated along with general waste. It’s a bitter pill to swallow but don’t be discouraged. Instead, place extra emphasis on reducing and reusing; it’s a critical part of the conversation.
How to responsibly dispose of…
General household waste
Paper, plastic, cans, bottles, magazines, paper; all of this stuff can go in your blue bin. Just make sure it’s clean first. But, if you want to take it one step further, take all of these things to a Tzu Chi Foundation recycling point instead. It’s more reliable than the blue bins and you can rest assured your effort won’t be undone by contamination (it has a 0% contamination rate). Plus, they will also accept other hard to dispose of items like ironing boards and umbrellas (more info on Tzu Chi in a jiffy). Also, if you’ve got a stash of used pens laying around in *that* drawer check out savethatpen.org. Simply take your old pens and drop them at one of the pen bin locations. Refillable pens will be given a second lease of life and donated to less privileged students in Singapore. While pens that are deemed unusable are stripped of their plastic and metal to be recycled.
Food is the fifth-largest source of waste production in Singapore. In 2019, 744,000 tonnes of food waste was generated, with only 18% of it being recycled. Try to only buy what you need and explore these methods to dispose of waste rather than fling it in the bin.
Composting is one of the easiest ways to dispose of food waste, and it’s fun! The Composting in Singapore Facebook page is a good place to start for beginners, as is this guide from Zero Waste SG. Worm composting is also a thing (and yes, there’s a Facebook group for that too!).
Olio is a genius service that connects neighbours with each other and with local businesses so surplus food can be shared, not thrown away. Got any spare home-grown vegetables? Or groceries leftover in your fridge when you go away? Download the app and share the details of your excess food for your neighbours to view and collect. You can also benefit from taking the food that other people are getting rid of. Food waste, be gone.
In 2019, Singapore generated more than 168,000 tonnes of textile and leather waste, but only 4% of it was recycled. If your closet is bursting at its seams, here are a few options to help you declutter consciously.
– For swapping, upcycling and tailoring – The Fashion Pulpit. This is a fashion space for those who value style and sustainability. You can join as a member with the option to swap all month long or just purchase the pre-loved clothes. They also have upcycling and tailoring services so you can repair, reuse and refit.
– For clothes recycling collected from your house – check out Greensquare who provide a free textile recycling service. They will collect items from your house or you can drop off at myriad locations island-wide. Refer your friends via its website and you’ll get a 10% discount at Zerrin when they recycle their clothes.
– For clothes recycling bins – You can drop off clothes (any brand, any fabric) to be recycled in the bins at H&M. Plus, you’ll get a discount on your next purchase.
– For buying or selling pre-loved items – REFASH – Makes buying and selling secondhand fashion quick and hassle-free. Listing your items is free and they take a 19% handling fee.
– For buying or selling pre-loved luxury items – StyleTribute – offers authentic women’s luxury fashion brands such as Chanel, Céline, Hermes, Louis Vuitton, and many more at up to 90% off original retail price. Opt for DIY upload to keep 80% of the sale price or ‘white-glove’ for hassle-free service to keep 70-75% of the sale price.
Before you change to that new iPhone or Android, think about what to do with that old phone. If it’s still usable, sell it at your nearest resellers. But if it’s not in working condition, locate your nearest e-waste collector and drop it in. Additionally, if your items are like-new and you want to give this a new lease of life to someone else, donation and trading-in is another option.
For most electronic appliances and accessories:
– Download Gravo and arrange a home pick-up. It’s that simple. As well as e-waste, it’s also great for bulky items, like fridges and other white goods, metals, and paper.
– Starhub’s RENEW Programme – over 300 bin locations
– Singtel x SingPost’s E-Waste Recycling Programme – over 15 locations
– M1 E-Waste Drop-off Point Programme – 7 locations
– City Square Mall E-Waste Recycling Programme – 1 location
– Heartland E-Waste Recycling Programme – Collection points are at RCs, CCs and NCs around the South East CDC on the first Saturdays of the month between 9.30 am to 1.30 pm
For light bulbs and fluorescent tubes:
– IKEA’s Lightbulb recycling programme – Collection bins at the lighting department and wrapping stations
Ink and toner cartridge:
– Dell or HP – they can even pick it up from your home
– Project Homecoming – located at 21 public libraries
Tip: Remember to wipe clean the data, you don’t want your personal details and account numbers floating around.
Bulky furniture can be tricky to recycle so the best way to dispose of unwanted items is to donate or sell them online for reuse. There are plenty of Facebook groups like Furniture Stop and, of course, Carousell that make selling easy. But here are two ways you get rid of your stuff while also doing some good.
– Pass It On is a community project that provides a meaningful way for you to distribute unwanted items to those who need them most. Check here to see the latest wish list from community members in desperate need of particular items.
– Freevo Nation Freevo Nation is on a mission to make rehoming preloved furniture easy, fast and friendly. Its mantra? Whether you are moving out, renovating, upgrading your couch, downsizing, making room for a baby, or simply getting rid of your ex’s stuff…the things you used to love will find a second home. Its Facebook group is excellent for anyone looking to reuse, recycle, upcycle or pass on their home items for free. To date, over 4,500 pieces of furniture have been given away via this platform.
More donation & community-based projects
Do you have unwanted stuff that is still in good condition? Give it a second lease of life by donating it. But remember these places are not trash bins, let’s be responsible donors people.
– For clothes, shoes, general donation items check out thrift stores – such as New2U, MINDS Thrift Store, Salvation Army and TOUCH Thrift Mart. Their profits go to the organisations they support and it’s a good way to not just shop, but also give your old items a new lease of life.
– For bras – Uplift Project Singapore collects bras to provide support to women who don’t always have access to them. We always love seeing #WomenSupportingWomen.
– For baby supplies, clothes and reusable items like toys and essentials – Babes provides support to pregnant teens to help them along their newfound journey towards motherhood and your donations will go far with them.
– For old electronics, textiles, and other items – drop them off at Metta Welfare Association. Or, check out Pass It On where your used home appliances, electronics, clothes and toys go to people who need them more than you do.
– For regional donations – Blessings in a Bag passes on these items to communities overseas that need your help.
Tzu Chi — Community recycling points for a good cause
Tzu Chi has organised community recycling points around Singapore, where it transforms trash into gold, and gold into loving hearts. With close to 40 locations islandwide, on every second Sunday of the month, it converts the void decks of HDB block’s communal pavilions, activity areas, and more into pop-up recycling stations. Together with resident committees, people bring their recyclables for sorting while learning about consumerism and environmental protection at the same time.
Once the recyclables are sorted, Tzu Chi sells them to recyclers and proceeds go to support their programmes and services that benefit local communities. Check out its list of what can and cannot be sorted at their recycling points as well as locations around Singapore. Follow along here for information on its next event.
Art Don’t Throw — Resource sharing
Art Don’t Throw is a community bringing together artists and art groups in Singapore to foster a mindset for sharing resources. Whether you are looking to dispose of materials or want to scavenge for materials to build something – check out this Facebook group. And it’s not just for artists and art materials. It’s for anyone who wants to share or give away a variety of other goods like post-production items.
It’s also here that we discovered a company launching in March called Seekabook, which is currently collecting books of all kinds to be catalogued for the public to make requests and take home.
Green Warehouse — Reusing and repurposing trash
Green Warehouse is a community looking to inspire a DIY culture that transforms your daily discards. The group encourages reusing, recycling and repurposing materials and goods that have outlived their initial purpose. You’ll find plastic bottles, papers, old tools, wooden products (e.g. wine crates and pallets) and more which can be repurposed or upcycled into useful items.
If you’re lucky, you’ll also discover random items up for grabs like clothes, shoes, jars, eggshells, paper bags, books, plants and more. Most people give these away for free or sell them at a low cost. A kind note that is not the place to earn money by selling your second-hand stuff, but to reuse and repurpose it.
Freecycling Singapore & Re-Usable Objects — Instead of recycling, give it away for free
At Freecycling Singapore, it’s as easy as posting an image of the items you want to rehome, then updating once the items have been reserved or taken. It’s very straightforward although these pages don’t have quite the interaction as some of the other groups.
Journeying to Zero Waste – Looking for ideas or suggestions to live a zero-waste life?
If you are looking to reduce the amount of waste you produce even further, or are curious and interested to learn more, check out Journeying to Zero Waste. To be clear, this is not a freecycling group, but they do have a subgroup for giving away or asking for items. This group has been around for a while and has heaps of content. Make use of its search function to find answers to what you are looking for.
Head here if you are looking where to donate your things in Hong Kong.
*Lead Image by Daria Shevtsova via Pexels