hile Singapore has a well-established record in waste management, amongst the best in Asia, it is some distance from achieving the holy grail of being a zero waste nation. Overall recycling rate has been around 60 per cent.
Efforts to raise the level have been stymied by a low domestic recycling rate, which has stagnated at around 20 per cent. Numerous programmes and campaigns have been mounted but the rate has remained dismal. It is low as compared with 40 to 50 per cent achieved by Taiwan and South Korea. It also compares poorly with the recycling rate of over 75 per cent in Singapore’s non-domestic sector.
The ease with which residents living in high-rise blocks can discard their rubbish has been blamed for the malaise. With refuse chutes within each unit or on each level, any unwanted detritus can be tossed into the nearest chute. Out of sight, out of mind!
As land-scarce Singapore can ill afford to allocate much more space for landfills once the existing site at Pulau Semakau runs out of space possibly by 2035, more is being done to put recycling at the heart of the Singapore culture and achieve the recycling target of 70 per cent by 2030 as established under the Sustainable Singapore Blueprint.
New Chutes in Apartment Blocks
Domestic waste is receiving special attention. Nearly 2.1 million tonnes were generated in 2016, accounting for some 10 per cent of the total waste generated nationwide.
As the majority of households live in high-rise apartments, Singapore has tweaked the waste disposal system to facilitate recycling. Instead of one chute, Build-to-Order (BTO) HDB flats built since 2014 have two chutes – one for trash to be incinerated and another for recyclables. Studies have shown that households living in apartments with dual-chute systems recycle up to three times more than those in apartments which do not have such facilities.
Encouraged by the success, the MEWR and the National Environment Agency (NEA) require that all new non-landed private residential developments with more than four storeys must incorporate the dual-chute system. This measure will apply to all new non-landed residential development applications submitted from 1 April 2018.
In addition, those developments with at least 500 housing units must have a pneumatic waste conveyance system, which will transport waste from rubbish chutes to a central collection area via a network of pipes, removing the need to collect rubbish manually.
Food Waste Digesters in Markets and Schools
Food waste generated in Singapore has spiked by 40 per cent in the past 10 years. With the growing population and expanding economic activity, the amount can only increase. Food waste now accounts for about 10 per cent of the total waste generated in Singapore.
“Only 14 per cent of food waste is recycled so WMRAS supports efforts to convert food waste to either compost or water for discharge. This is to make our living environment more sustainable because even if we incinerate food waste, it will produce ash for the Semakau landfill which will run out of space by 2035 to 2040,” said Edwin Pang, executive director of Waste Management and Recycling Association of Singapore (WMRAS).
The NEA has waged war on several fronts. Besides education campaigns to cut waste at home, it has installed food waste digesters in markets and schools, which turn waste into non-potable water or compost. It is also encouraging on-site food waste initiatives in individual entities, such as hotels and shopping malls.
Electrical and electronic waste, or e-waste for short, is a growing menace in our digital age. With the short shelf life of electronic consumer products the volume of e-waste generated has spiked. Singapore generates about 60,000 tonnes of e-waste annually but only 6 per cent is recycled through e-waste recycling programmes, such as StarHub’s which provides e-waste recycling bins at shopping malls and community centres through its RENEW programme. The e-waste collected is sent to recyclers such as TES-AMM, where resources such as copper, aluminium and gold are extracted for reuse. The rest is passed to a deliveryman, thrown away, donated or traded in.
The NEA is looking at best practices in other countries to develop a more comprehensive e-waste management system for Singapore. It will also seek public views via consultation.
A common feature in places with established e-waste management systems is to assign responsibilities to key players in the value chain, said the NEA. This may require legislation.
In Germany and Sweden for instance, large retailers are required to provide e-waste collection points in their stores and offer free one-for-one take-back services for larger products when customers make a new purchase, while in New York, electronics manufacturers fund programmes where consumers can mail small e-waste to recyclers.
Singapore’s largest e-waste recycler TES-AMM’s group chief operating officer, Gary Steele, said it would welcome legislation requiring producers to ensure proper recycling of their products at the end of life. This would make it harder for informal collectors – such as scrap traders and rag-and-bone men – to have access to e-waste.
About 3,000 tonnes of the estimated 60,000 tonnes of e-waste pass through TES-AMM’s recycling facility annually.
More importantly, there is a pressing need to reduce waste in our throwaway society. The latest survey commissioned by appliance maker Electrolux Singapore estimates that S$200 million worth of food and beverage waste is discarded by Singapore households yearly.
In 2016, more than 790,000 tonnes of food was discarded, equivalent to two bowls of rice per person a day, and only 14 per cent of the food waste was recycled. A thousand household members aged between 18 and 65 were polled for the survey as part of the company’s annual community initiative called #HappyPlateSG aimed at raising awareness of food waste.
The third in the programme, the survey’s focus this time round was on food storage. Said Douglas Chua, general manager of Electrolux Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan, “Often, we buy food, store them, but end up forgetting to consume them before their indicated dates on the packaging. This results in their eventual disposal. We want to encourage behavioural change that will allow for greater food sustainability and reduced waste.”