Inconvenience and ignorance key obstacles to recycling

Environment Council spells out six proposals to boost Singapore's plastic recycling rate

Lack of knowledge about recycling is why the bulk of plastic products are disposed of as general waste.
Lack of knowledge about recycling is why the bulk of plastic products are disposed of as general waste. PHOTO: ST FILE

Non-polystyrene takeaway containers can be recycled after being emptied and rinsed, but styrofoam ones should not be thrown into the blue recycling bins in Singapore.

However, most Singaporeans are not fully aware of such guidelines and which kinds of plastics can and cannot be recycled. This lack of knowledge is why the bulk of plastic products are disposed of as general waste, a report by the Singapore Environment Council (SEC) shows.

The Consumer Plastic and Plastic Resource Ecosystem in Singapore report, released yesterday at the SEC Annual Conference, showed four in 10 cited inconvenience as a reason for not recycling. This is in addition to seven in 10 who indicated they did not fully understand what plastics to recycle. About 20 per cent said they were not aware of the location of the nearest recycling bins.

To tackle the issues, SEC, a non-governmental organisation, has spelt out six recommendations to boost Singapore's plastic recycling rate, which is only at 6 per cent, poorer than for other materials like paper and cardboard, at 50 per cent.

They include giving firms that specialise in recycling technology the opportunity to operate in Singapore.

The council also suggested that public-sector and non-governmental organisations partner major packaging-waste industries, such as food and beverage, to reduce the use of plastic packaging. Another recommendation is to build a market for recycled plastic through innovation, like using recycled plastic to support manufacturing segments such as the electronics sectors. Council executive director Jen Teo said: "In Singapore, our plastic eco-system is mostly linear, which means that plastic goes from producers to consumers, to the waste bin. This places a strain on our waste management systems as well as uses up an enormous amount of natural resources."

For the report commissioned jointly with Deloitte & Touche Enterprise Risk Services, 1,003 people were surveyed from December to May. Despite the lack of awareness on which plastics can be recycled, 45 per cent wanted to learn more.


Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli said the council's efforts to fight plastic waste, and its call for individuals to use one less plastic item a day, are commendable, and he hopes the public will rise to the challenge.

Mr Emmanual Tay, who runs Eco Innovative, which helps clients monitor and analyse their waste data, said that when recyclable plastic is contaminated by food waste, it is hard to recycle. Recyclable plastic is usually collected, baled and sent overseas, which takes weeks. But if it is contaminated, there may be decomposition and health issues.

During the SEC Annual Conference held at the One Farrer Hotel and Spa, 14 firms and organisations were recognised for their sustainable business practices, as part of the 21st annual Singapore Environmental Achievement Awards.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 31, 2018, with the headline 'Inconvenience and ignorance key obstacles to recycling'. Subscribe