How do we manage waste sustainably?
Living more sustainable lifestyles means
reducing how much we consume and reusing
our items where possible. When these are not
feasible, recycling comes in, helping us to turn
waste into resources.
Singapore has had some success, recycling
60% of its waste since 2012 by focusing on
individual waste streams. This has led to a
nearly 100% recycling rate for Construction
and Demolition (C&D) waste, ferrous and nonferrous
PUTTING C&D WASTE BACK INTO BUILDINGS
C&D waste is generated during the
construction, demolition and renovation of
To help demolition contractors plan their
demolition procedures to maximise C&D
waste recycling, the Demolition Protocol
was implemented by the Building and
Construction Authority (BCA).
Under the Demolition Protocol, reusable and
non-reusable parts of a building have to be
identified, then separately dismantled and
removed. Reusable parts include piping and
wiring, which are placed in separate bins and
sent to a recycling facility. Non-reusable parts
that contaminate the concrete debris, such as
ceiling boards and tiles, are discarded. Only
when the building has been stripped to its
bare frame can demolition start.
This protocol has led to the development of
several new materials, like recycled concrete
aggregate (RCA), which is made up of more
than 70% demolition waste, reclaimed
from waste concrete made with natural
RCA Process. Photo: Samwoh Corporation Pte Ltd
Recycling 99% of ferrous and non-ferrous
metals in Singapore is no mean feat, made
possible only with novel processes that can
detect even a speck of material.
At a metal recovery facility located at Tuas
Marine Transfer Station, 90% of the ferrous
metals and more than three quarters of
the non-ferrous metals are recovered from
incineration bottom ash (IBA) using special
magnets, micro-grain eddy current separators
and multi-stage sieving techniques.
The facility, built on a 1.4 ha plot, is capable of
processing up to 1,800 tonnes of IBA a day.
It has been in operation since July 2015 by
REMEX Minerals Singapore Pte Ltd (REMEX).
Incineration bottom ash (IBA) is processed at the REMEX metal recovery facility to recover ferrous and non-ferrous metals. Photo: REMEX
ENCOURAGING HOUSEHOLDS TO RECYCLE RIGHT
But we can do more in the area of household
recycling. In 2018, only 22% of Singapore’s
domestic waste was recycled, much lower
than the 74% recycling rate for non-domestic
The infrastructure is already in place. The
National Recycling Programme (NRP) was introduced under the Public Waste Collection
(PWC) scheme in 2001, originally providing
fortnightly door-to-door collection of
recyclables in recycling bags.
However, this form of collection posed
several issues – households did not like
keeping their recyclables for two weeks, new
recycling bags left outside the doors of flats
during delivery were stolen, and recyclables
were pilfered from the bags. In addition,
collection was labour-intensive.
This led to the enhancement of the NRP with
the provision of recycling bins in housing
estates. The recycling bins overcame
the earlier issues, providing residents the
convenience of depositing their recyclables
at any time. The number of recycling bins
gradually grew from one every five Housing
& Development Board (HDB) blocks to one
per block, and the frequency of collection
increased to at least three times a week.
Landed households were each provided with
a recycling bin, emptied once a week along
with weekly garden waste collection for
This enhanced NRP also complemented
other modes of recycling such as the sale
of recyclables to the karang guni for a small
price, cash-for-trash collection stations, and
recyclables collection at community events.
While the recyclables collected under the
NRP has increased between 2013 and 2018 (77,000 kg/day to 119,000 kg/day),
approximately 40% of what is thrown into the
blue recycling bins are contaminants. This
refers to items that cannot be recycled (e.g.
toys, clothes and shoes) or contaminated
recyclables (e.g. by remnants of food or
To tackle this high contamination rate, the
next phase for household recycling will focus
on improving Singaporeans’ knowledge
about our commingled recycling system and
MSE and the NEA embarked on a
#RecycleRight campaign in 2019, as part
of the Year Towards Zero Waste.
The key messages of the #RecycleRight campaign are:
- Only place the right recyclables into the blue bins, not general waste – follow the labels on the blue bins on what can be put inside
- Make sure recyclables are free from food and liquids
- No need to sort recyclables to be deposited into the blue bins – they will be sorted centrally before being recycled
- Clothes, shoes and stuffed toys are not recyclable. Donate them if they are in good condition
To support this messaging, the NEA has
redesigned the labels on the blue recycling
bins to make information clearer on what
can and cannot be deposited in the bins. The
replacement of the labels is expected to be
completed by mid-2020.
New blue recycling bin label helps residents #RecycleRight
We also recognise that it is important to
make recycling convenient and to make it a
habit in order to boost household recycling.
Surveys conducted by MSE and the NEA
in 2018 found that 60% of households
recycle regularly at home. Finding recycling
convenient and developing a habit of recycling
were factors that encouraged them to recycle.
Therefore, since August 2019, the NEA has
been in partnership with IKEA Singapore to
provide residents of Build-to-Order flats in new
HDB precincts with a free household recycling
bin. This bin, redeemable via a voucher at
IKEA Singapore stores, will make it easier for
residents to recycle in their own home.
As we move beyond household recycling to
encourage further conversion of waste into
resources, we will be turning to legislative
or economic measures. As recycling grows,
we will need the recycling industry to
grow in tandem. Hence, we are supporting
the development of the industry through
the Environmental Services Industry
Transformation Map. All these efforts will be
supported by research and development and
our crucial 3P partners.
Together, these will help close the loop on
more waste streams as we adopt a circular
Recycling receptacle for new HDB homeowners