Improving last-minute delivery key to boosting Singapore’s recycling rates

Singapore’s domestic recycling rate fell to 12 per cent in 2022, the lowest in over a decade.

In 2021, the recycling rate stood at 13 per cent. Between 2012 and 2018, Singapore’s domestic recycling rate was between 19 per cent and 22 per cent.

There was a six per cent or 0.04 million tonnes increase in domestic waste in 2022 ­­­compared to 2021.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) said the higher shipping costs associated with transporting materials overseas for recycling were the reason for the low domestic recycling rate.

Singapore aims to boost its domestic recycling, including household and industrial waste, to 70 per cent by 2030 as part of its Zero Waste Masterplan.

Singapore also intends to reduce its waste to landfill per capita per day by 20 per cent by 2026 and 30 per cent by 2030 as part of its Green Plan.

Based on current progress, Singapore must more than double its domestic recycling rates to meet its target by 2030.

The supply chain complexities and associated cost increases around transboundary waste transportation for recycling are issues for recyclers globally post Covid-19. The situation should ease in the coming years ahead.

Investing in recycling plants will eradicate associated freight costs for exports of recyclables to regional markets.

Recycling operations need large spaces for storage, sorting, baling, and shredding.

It is timely that NEA has called for a tender to study the proposed redevelopment of Sarimbun Recycling Park to improve land use and recycling productivity. The 30-hectare park handles a fifth of Singapore’s recycling.

The operation of Singapore’s first glass recycling facility is a testament to local recycling facilities boosting domestic glass recycling rates by one per cent in 2022.

NEA also seeks to set up a plastic recovery facility that sieves through general waste to gather plastics for chemical recycling. The facility should be ready by 2027 and potentially recycle about 240,000 tonnes of domestic waste annually.

It should give plastic recycling rates in Singapore a significant boost, which stands at six per cent currently.

Singapore needs to formalise jobs within the recycling sector to alleviate human resources shortages.

Salaries and benefits should be more attractive, and skills required for the sector should be promoted actively by the government, academic institutions and businesses alike.

More disincentives against consumer waste that will potentially increase domestic recycling rates are to come.

Next month, supermarkets will start charging a minimum fee of five cents for plastic bags.

From 2025, under the Beverage Container Return Scheme as part of a broader Extended Producer Responsibility scheme, bottled and canned drinks will cost 10 cents more, with consumers only able to obtain the deposit if they return their used plastic bottles and cans at designated beverage return vending machines.

Producers and manufacturers of these containers can then recycle them. This approach has been tried and tested in various parts of the world, especially in Europe, with resounding success and high domestic recycling rates of more than 90 per cent in many countries.

To further boost recycling rates, there must be demand for products to include recycled content.

Manufacturers can voluntarily incorporate small incremental percentages of recycled content into their products.

Regulators can potentially explore mandating a baseline recycled content percentage incorporated into products to encourage recycling as part of broader eco-design principles.

In the European Union (EU), the single-use plastic directive stipulates that 25 per cent of bottles should come from recycled plastic by 2025, increasing to 30 per cent by 2030.

Together with other impending measures and implementations, this will unquestionably create a genuinely circular ecosystem.

Singaporeans also need to play their part in boosting domestic recycling rates.

NEA’s ubiquitous blue bins near HDB blocks collect household recyclables, but 40 per cent are unrecyclable due to contamination by food and liquid items.

The Recycle Right campaign, initiated in 2019, was to create knowledge on correctly recycling.

Bins and chutes featured new recycling labels as part of the programme. In 2022, the Bloobin mascot was introduced to raise awareness.

This year, every Singaporean household can collect a ‘Bloobox’ at designated vending machines to contain their recyclables, with a compartment separating their recyclable waste from electronic waste.

Some 530,000 ‘Blooboxes’, of 93 per cent available, were collected when they were made available to the public from March 19 to April 30.

These practices in Japan and Taiwan have significantly boosted domestic recycling rates.

But last-mile delivery for recycling is still a problem because it is up to families to separate at the source and bring down the ‘Blooboxes’ to the recycling bins and chutes to be collectors by waste management companies.

Without incentives, it is hard to comprehend what would spur an individual to do this.

Efforts around domestic household recycling must be on incentivisation, convenience and more efforts to reduce source contamination as much as possible.

For now, the success of the Recycle Right and ‘Bloobin’ campaigns remains unclear.

More must be done to maximise its prospects for Singapore to reverse the decline in recycling rate, meet its long-term recycling targets and enable a more circular economy. @Green

Kavickumar Muruganathan is a sustainability and supply chain professional in the renewable energy sector.