Did you know that Singaporean households generated a whopping extra 1.3 million kg of plastic waste during the circuit breaker this year?
If that number gave you pause and woke your inner eco conscience, then it’s never a better time to start doing something about it.
The rate of recycling among Singaporean households in 2019 was only a dismal 17% despite 2019 being designated as the Year Towards Zero Waste. Many of us didn’t exactly grow up with a habit of recycling at home, what with our takeaway culture and copious use of plastic bags when we go grocery shopping. How many of us have had our parents tell us that the NTUC plastic bags are for lining the waste bin?
Admittedly, it’s probably difficult for the older generation to actively recycle, but that’s not to say that we aren’t an environmentally conscious lot. Singaporeans have become increasingly aware of recycling over the years. In fact, survey results released by the government last year found that 60% of households do recycle regularly and that those who made it part of their routine used the blue recycling bins at least once a week.
However, not all may be getting it right, what with wrong or contaminated items being recycled. There’s still a long way to go in terms of improving the national recycling rate but running an eco-friendly household is not that difficult to get started on.
In a nutshell: How to recycle at home
Collect, wash and dry your recyclables
Drop them off the large, blue recycling bin near your home
For electronic waste, there are collection efforts by StarHub, Singtel and SingPost, M1 and more
Related article: 5 Eco-Friendly Home Improvement Ideas For Your New Home
NEA National Recycling Programme
You’ve probably seen the large blue bins littered around HDB blocks and some private housing estates. They are usually located at open areas that are easily accessible such as near carparks and not at void decks for fire safety reasons.
As part of NEA’s National Recycling Programme launched in April 2001, there are recycling bins in all HDB estates, private landed properties and condominiums or private apartments that are part of the public waste collection scheme.
Unlike the recycling bins in malls, parks or other public areas, where there are separate bins each for glass, paper and cans, there’s a common bin in HDB and private estates for all recyclables.
Depending on which region you stay, four licensed public waste collectors collect the recyclables in different areas:
Region in Singapore
Licensed public waste collectors
W&H Smart City
Woodlands-Yishun and City-Punggol
Ang Mo Kio-Toa Payoh and Pasir Ris-Bedok
800 Super Waste Management
Each public waste collector has its own schedule for collection and to find out the exact collection days for your block, you’ll have to check their individual websites.
But in general, in HDB estates, it’s thrice a week collection for 660L bins and for 1,800L or 2,200L bins which are only in the Jurong area, it’s a weekly collection. For private landed properties, recyclables are collected once a week, so you can be sure that your recycling efforts are not going to waste!
Recycling at home - do’s and don'ts
Before all the collection happens, the first step is of course to know what can and cannot be recycled. While most households surveyed in 2019 knew what items can be recycled — newspapers, magazines, brochures and writing paper — a significant number also thought items such as glass cookware or porcelain and ceramics, plastic toys and tissue paper are recyclable.
You may have also seen people dumping regular trash in the recycling bins as well and soiled food packaging — which they are absolutely not supposed to do as it contaminates the other recyclables and just ruins the efforts of those who recycle.
To reduce confusion over recyclables, the government revealed a new label design for the recycling bins last year clearly stating “No Food. No Liquids” and pictorial examples of items that can and cannot be recycled.
Here’s a brief overview of common household items that can and cannot be recycled:
Paper: newspapers, cardboard boxes, egg cartons, junk mail, beverage cartons
Paper: tissue paper, paper towels, toilet paper, wooden chopsticks, coffee cup
Plastic: plastic bags, drink bottles, shampoo and detergent bottles
Plastic: disposable cutlery, drinking straw, food packaging with foil
Glass: drink bottles, cups, plates, medicine bottles
Glass: lightbulbs, porcelain or ceramic plates
Metal: drink cans, bottle caps, aluminium tray and foil
Others: clothes, shoes, toys, food, broken items
You can also check out NEA’s detailed list for more information on recyclable items.
Simple steps to recycling
Our everyday habits generate lots of waste, especially from food and drink packaging. The thing is, many of these items need to be rinsed and cleaned before disposing them in the blue bins.
Step 1: Separate recyclables from your regular trash (i.e. food waste)
Step 2: Empty any remaining food or liquid residue and rinse
Step 3: Place in a clean plastic bag or cardboard box
Step 4: Drop them off at the recycling bin
It’s as simple as that. Note that if you wash any items, you should also let them dry before you take them to the blue bins as we don’t want to risk contamination.
What happens to your recyclables after they’re collected?
How do we know if plastic is really being recycled and not dumped into the sea?
In Singapore, recyclables are sent to Materials Recovery Facilities for sorting by material — paper, plastic, glass and metal.
After sorting, sorted recyclables are sent to their respective recycling facilities for further processing.
Here’s a quick look at what happens according to NEA:
Paper: shredded, soaked and turned into pulp before being fed into a machine to form sheets of paper, then rolled and dried into paper again.
Plastic: sorted according to plastic type, then crushed into smaller pieces and blended. The blended mixture is then melted and processed to form strands, which will be further cut into pellets to be used to make new plastic products.
Glass: sorted by colour, cleaned and crushed and melted down to form new glass products
Metal: sorted into ferrous, non-ferrous and compacted metal, before being cut into smaller pieces and melted down to become new once again.
Recycling electronic waste
Singaporeans are also a pretty gadget crazy bunch, with many of us upgrading to the latest iPhones, Samsung phones or laptops every couple of years. If you don’t trade in or sell your old gadgets, you can also recycle them and various hardware through various e-waste recycling programmes.
Here are some of them:
StarHub’s REcycling Nation’s Electronic Waste (RENEW) programme
Accepts electronics such as mobile phones and mobile batteries to laptops, computer peripherals, DVD players, remote controls and telephones. Check StarHub’s website to find a bin near you.
Singtel x SingPost E-Waste recycling programme
Accepts electronics such as mobile phones and chargers, laptops, tablets, modems, routers, lithium batteries and cables. Check the ReCYCLE website to find a bin near you.
M1 E-waste Drop-Off Point Programme
Accepts most electronic items such as mobile phones, chargers, cables, SIM and memory cards. Check for bin locations near you.
Project Homecoming - Ink & Toner Cartridge recycling programme
Accepts all brands of ink and toner cartridges. Check the Project Homecoming website for location of boxes.
Shopping for an eco-friendly home? Here are some to consider:
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This article was written by Audrey A.. She can’t wait to move into her own place so she can finally get a cat (or two) and an espresso machine to fuel her love for flat whites. For now, she’s saving up and dreaming of her next trip.