Singapore’s Household Recycling Nightmare

By 2030, the Republic aims to recycle 70% of its waste and increase domestic recycling rates to 30%.

At present, 60% of Singapore’s waste is recycled and it is mostly accounted for by the industrial sector. Admirably, the non-domestic sector has a whooping 77% recycling rate. But in a sharp contrast, domestic recycling has been stagnant at 20% and shamefully, it even fell from 22% in 2010 to 19% in 2015.

As much as I love and call this ‘Little Red Dot’ my home, I am appalled by the poor recycling habits of Singaporeans. Although I am no saint, I am still saddened yet intrigued as to why recycling -especially household recycling- has such a low pick-up rate. Is there a need for a fine system to improve the situation? Or are there alternative methods to encourage domestic recycling?

Image courtesy of MEWR

Covering 350 ha of land, Semakau landfill is currently Singapore’s only operational landfill and it is expected to reach maximum capacity by around 2035. With no plans for a new man-made landfill site, can you see the importance of recycling?

Image courtesy of MEWR

Given that the non-domestic sector has actively contributed to recycling in Singapore, the only way forward is to change the terrible habits of domestic recycling and raise its figure to 30% by 2030. And since the rate is stagnant at 20%, there is a dire need to push for more household recycling practices.


However, the government may find it extremely challenging because:

  1. Rising affluence in Singapore
  2. Convenience of a single rubbish chute in HDB flats (multi-storey flats)
  3. Fast-paced lifestyle
  4. Lack of education
  5. Decline in the Karung Guni (rag-and-bone) network
  6. Confusion over use of recycling bins
  7. Limited storage place in homes

 1,260 tonnes per day in 1970 to 8,559 tonnes of waste per day in 2016!

Collectively, these factors possibly explains our ‘throw-away nation’ syndrome and perhaps the reason for the 5 fold increase in waste generated between 1970 and 2016.

Like many Singaporeans, I am also guilty for discarding recyclables in the general waste all for the sake of convenience. In addition, the lack of education about recycling is very apparent as well. It wasn’t until recently that I realised recyclables had to be rinsed before dumping it to prevent contamination!

21757288-e1516715695915.jpgIn a land scarce country, homes are bound to be space constrained. As such it wouldn’t surprise me if homeowners, though environmentally conscience, would discard recyclables in the general waste. This is because recycling collection is less frequent and homeowners would need to store these recyclables a home, which is unsightly and may attract pests.

However, not all is bleak! Time is changing and more people are getting onboard the idea of recycling. The government has rolled out numerous plans and while the take-up is slow, there is still hope for the future. Whether these initiatives meet the target of the Republic to recycle 70% of its waste and raise domestic recycling to 30% all depends on the receptivity of homeowners.

In 2016, the government conducted a pilot test for dual chute systems which found a threefold increase in recycling for household apartments with this facility than those without. Moreover, the pneumatic waste conveyance system (PWCS) was introduced to encourage household recycling.

The Pneumatic Waste Conveyance system (PWCS) is an enclosed system which reduce pest nuisance, odour and exposed waste.

Based on my observations, major changes such as increasing household recycling takes at least three generations before results are apparent. With my generation being in the middle, we are more environmental conscious than my parents’ generation. But with the generation after mine, it is evident that they are even more concerned about the environment and have taken steps to reduce their footprint. For example, my seven-year-old nephew always reminds us to recycle!

With an evolving society, I am optimistic that Singapore will achieve her targets by 2030. Are you?


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