Taking a Look at Waste Management in Singapore

In Singapore, waste management is managed by the National Environment Agency (NEA), which is responsible for managing the waste management system for our general and hazardous waste. But what precisely are the types of garbage we are producing in Singapore before we head out? Well, Singapore has three types of solid waste with each presenting particular challenges in how they are processed, treated and disposed of.

In 2018, more than a third of our homes’ 1.6 million tons of household waste is collected – including all our plastic bottles, milk cartons, paper bags, egg trays, and metal cans. The single-use packaging containers such soft-drink bottles are one of the main culprits of packaging waste. Unfortunately, these containers can not be recycled, since they contain food.

Food Waste

Though we have been continually reminded to finish our food as we grow up, food waste is one of Singapore’s largest waste sources and has grown by 30 percent in the last 10 years! More than 800,000 tons of food waste were produced in 2019 with more than 80 per cent disposed of.

Food waste is produced in Singapore every day from our food cycle – processing, distribution, retailing to consumption, and waste is sadly due to several reasons, such as food spoilage due to inappropriate storage or handling, edible food discarded away because it does not look nice or ‘expired,’ food discards or residues during cooking and when we cannot finish our meal, etc.

From our farms, food producers, food distributors, food retailers, wet markets, supermarkets, hawker centers , restaurants, food courts, caterers, and our homes, food waste is produced. Not only would it have to be shipped off for incineration and the ash sent to landfills to be buried as we waste food, we will also be wasting the energy required to produce and transport the food, raising our carbon footprint and contributing to climate change.

Electronic Waste

E-waste refers to electronic waste, including computers, printers, cell phones and televisions. While these items may also be recycled, restored, or recycled, they are thrown away instead. Not only does e-waste comprise valuable and scarce resources such as silver and gold, but there are also tiny quantities of harmful substances such as cadmium and lead which, if not treated properly, may potentially damage our environment and health.

From your old cell phone to the laptop and television, e-waste is one form of waste the rises as we become more prosperous and technology continues to evolve faster and new devices begin to appear. On average, Singapore generates 60,000 tons of e-waste per year, less than 6 per cent of which is recycled. The problem with e-waste is the existence of toxic chemicals such as cadmium , lead, and other heavy metals that, if not properly disposed of, may impact human health and environment.

Although recycling is the best way to deal with the waste we produce, about 41 per cent will have to be deposited of and in Singapore, through our waste-to – energy incineration plants and the Semakau Landfill. Because of our land shortage, selected waste incineration helps to minimise the amount of solid waste by about 90%. This is achieved by four waste-to – energy plants, which are: Waste-to-Energy Plant Tuas, Senoko, Tuas South and Keppel Seghers. The ash from the incineration is then finally transported for disposal to the landfill.

Although the landfill is expected to last until 2045, our today’s fast-increasing waste puts a strain on this timeline forcing the government to focus on numerous waste management projects and collaborations with both businesses such as aircon servicing companies and residents.

Waste Collection

It would need to be collected before waste can be recycled or disposed of – and this is a very arduous process, given that Singapore has many communities and estates plus private homes that will need to collect their waste! This duty is performed by licensed general waste collectors (GWCs), who manage recyclable and waste collection for the various parts of Singapore.

In Housing and Development Board (HDB) properties and private housing recycling is handled differently. In most districts, large recycling bins are given for each HDB block, into which mixed waste can be thrown. Color-coded bags are also issued for door-to-door collection, one recycling bank for five HDB blocks is provided in some areas and a door-to-door collection takes place every fortnight. Even karung guni men, the rag-and-bone or junk dealer version of Singapore, can stop at HDB assets.

Singapore can recycle paper, glass , metal and several forms of plastics. Guidance can be found on the related PWC’s website, either by the recycling bin. Most private homes in Singapore have regular door-to-door recycling collections, but in some districts this can happen fortnightly. Collections of garden waste can be coordinated with local PWC.

All the wastes generated in the blue recycling bins is gathered by the collectors of public waste and sent to Materials Recovery Facilities for processing into forms of paper , glass, metal and plastic. They are then sent to different recycling centers and processed into raw materials which can be used for new goods. Smaller parts of plastics will be compressed, mixed, extruded and formed into large pellets sold to businesses.