You may have seen blue bins around Singapore where you can deposit recyclables – glass, paper, plastic and metal items. But do you know exactly what should go into them?
Based on a recent National Environment Agency (NEA) household recycling survey conducted among approximately 2,300 households in Singapore, 72 per cent of them were not aware that recyclables do not have to be sorted by type before they are placed in the blue recycling bins or recycling chutes.
Starting in 2014, all new public housing blocks are fitted with dual chutes. General and wet waste can be disposed of in the normal waste chute whereas clean recyclables like newspapers, glass bottles, metal cans and plastic containers can go directly into the separate recycling chute known as the Centralised Chute for Recyclables. With this system, recyclables need not be sorted as they will be collected and sorted later at a materials recovery facility.
A significant proportion of the households surveyed was also not aware that certain items like lightbulbs, reusables (e.g. old clothing and soft toys) and styrofoam items cannot be recycled through the blue recycling bins or recycling chutes.
In recent years, NEA found that 40 per cent of the contents collected in blue recycling bins could not be recycled. They were not recyclable in the blue recycling bins and chutes or had been contaminated by food and liquid stains.
Here’s what to know if you want to play your part in recycling to recycle right, or at least not let others’ efforts go to waste.
Can I put used tissue paper and used food packaging in the blue recycling bins?
No. Used tissues should be discarded in general waste bins or chutes. As for your food packaging, it depends on its material and how soiled they are. If your used food boxes are made of plastic, empty and rinse them before recycling. If they are too oily and dirty, such as pizza boxes or pastry bags with oil stains and food debris, discard them in the general waste bins or chutes instead.
Remember: food and liquid waste can attract pests. If they are wrongly thrown into the blue bin, they contaminate other recyclables in the bin. When recyclables have been contaminated, they have to be sent to the general waste pile where they are incinerated and added to the Semakau Landfill instead of being recycled.
At the current rate of disposal, Singapore's only operating landfill, the Semakau Landfill is expected to be full by 2035.
Do I have to rinse empty shampoo bottles before throwing them? Won’t this waste water?
You don't need too much water to rinse an empty shampoo bottle. The reason for rinsing the bottles is to make sure they are free of any product remnants that may contaminate other items and make both the shampoo bottles and the other items unrecyclable.
What about old cassette tapes and stationery made of plastic or biodegradable plastic bags?
Unlike plastic bags or plastic hangers and containers, these are usually not made from one single material, so they are harder to recycle. For instance, a pen may be made of rubber and metal parts too. Biodegradable plastics are not suitable for recycling alongside conventional plastics, as their chemical composition is different from that of conventional plastics. These bags contaminate the recycling process and should be discarded as general waste.
I have several glass bottles that I have no use for. Can I drop them into my HDB unit's recycling chute?
Yes. Glass bottles such as wine bottles, beer bottles, condiment bottles and even skincare product bottles and jars can go into the blue recycling bin or chute. But empty and rinse the bottles first before disposing of them. This also applies to canned drinks and beverage cartons. Items that require too much washing like oil bottles, however, can be discarded as general waste.
To prevent glass breakage, bag the glass bottles with other recyclables to cushion the landing when the glass items are placed in the recycling chute. This way, any breakage stays within the bag. Broken glass can still be collected by recyclers and processed into new bottles again!
Can I leave metal cans and caps in the blue recycling bins?
Yes. Most packaging made of metal can be recycled, including food and beverage cans, metal bottle caps and even aluminium trays and foil. But empty and rinse them first so they do not contaminate the rest of the recyclables in the blue bin.
I don’t need my old furniture, clothing, toys and shoes anymore. Can they be recycled?
No, these items should not be disposed of in the blue recycling bins or chutes.
If they are still in relatively good and wearable or usable condition, consider donating them to charity organisations like the Salvation Army Thrift Stores.
For bulky items such as mattresses and wardrobes, call your town council for complimentary collection and disposal of bulk waste if you live in a HDB flat.
If you live in a private property, contact the public waste collector serving your estate but you will be charged for bulky item removal and disposal. You can also engage the services of licensed waste collectors from a list here.
Can I recycle large household appliances like washing machines, refrigerators and TVs?
These household appliances should not go into the blue recycling bins or even be placed beside them. There are separate collection avenues for large household appliances under the National E-waste Recycling Scheme implemented by the NEA on 1 July 2021. Information on electrical and electronic products which can be disposed of responsibly under the scheme, as well as the various disposal avenues and locations can be obtained from the NEA website.
These appliances are also available for complimentary one-for-one takeback of the same type upon delivery by retailers (e.g. free takeback of unwanted washing machine upon delivery of a new one by the retailer).
What about e-waste like computers, batteries and lamps?
E-waste should not go into the blue recycling bins or even be placed beside them but should be placed in e-waste bins.
These are now available at separate e-waste collection venues islandwide. For more information on e-waste disposal, go here.
So, remember, it’s not only about recycling but also about recycling right.
To find out more about whether your items can be recycled, visit www.go.gov.sg/recycleright. Next, ensure your items are clean and free of food and liquid waste and other contaminants. Lastly, recycle your items by placing them in the blue recycling bins or chutes.