Singapore’s plastic recycling rate drops to 5 per cent

Although Singapore generated less waste per person in 2023, the convenience-oriented city-state also recycled less of its biggest waste stream – plastic. The data casts doubt over Singapore’s ambition to boost its overall recycling rate.

Singapore's blue recycling bins
Singapore's overall recycling rate dropped from 52 per cent in 2022 to 57 per cent in 2023, which the government attributes to a decline in construction waste from the buildings sector. Less of the country's biggest waste stream – plastic – was recycled in 2023 than in 2022. Image: Robin Hicks / Eco-Business

Singapore’s recycling rate for its biggest waste stream – plastic – dropped to just 5 per cent in 2023, according to the latest data from the country’s environment agency.

The city-state’s plastic recycling rate is already low for a developed country – the global recycling rate for plastic is 9 per cent – as most plastic in the country is incinerated. The latest plastic recycling rate figure marks a one percentage point year-on-year decline, and the lowest point since the 20-year low of 4 per cent in 2019. 

However, the volume of plastic waste disposed of in the wealthy city-state also fell, from 945,000 tonnes in 2022 to 909,000 tonnes in 2023, the year in which the country introduced a charge on plastic bags.

Singapore's overall recycling rate over the last 10 years

Singapore’s overall recycling rate over the last decade. Source: National Environment Agency

The domestic waste generated per person, which includes waste collected from households and trade premises, was also down fractionally, to 0.88 kilogrammes (kg) per day, from 0.90 kg per day in 2022. This compares to 1.08 kg of trash generated per person per day in 2013.

“This indicates that households and companies have taken positive steps to reduce and reuse,” Singapore’s National Environment Agency (NEA) said in a statement.

Singapore’s domestic recycling rate remains flat year-on-year – at 12 per cent, its lowest point in over a decade. By comparison, the domestic recycling rate in the United States is 32 per cent, in the European Union it is 49 per cent on average, and is 61 per cent in Taiwan, Asia’s circular economy pin-up.

The recycling rate for paper and cardboard, Singapore’s second biggest waste stream, dropped from 37 per cent in 2022 to 31 per cent in 2023, and the recycling rate for food, the third biggest waste steam, was flat at 18 per cent.

NEA pointed to an improvement in Singaporean households saying they recycle, according to survey of citizens; 72 per cent of households indicated that they recycle in 2023 compared to 64 per cent in 2021. 

Singapore's domestic waste per capita since 2013

Singapore’s domestic waste per person since 2013. Source: NEA

Singapore’s recycling rate is low, partially because citizens are not obliged to segregate recyclables, as they are in countries with high recycling rates such as Taiwan and Germany. An estimated 40 per cent of recyclables deposited in Singapore’s blue recycling bins cannot be recycled, because it is contaminated with wet waste.

Overall, Singapore’s recycling rate plunged in 2023 – down from 57 per cent in 2022 to 52 per cent, which is the lowest for more a decade, with the exception of 2020, the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, when waste recovery services were disrupted.

The drop in overall recycling rate has been attributed to a fall in the amount of construction and demolition waste, which is classified as highly recyclable as it is used for land reclamation.

Excluding construction and demolition waste, the fall in overall recycling rate in 2023 was less steep, dropping from 46 per cent in 2022 to 45 per cent in 2023.

Speaking at the joint opening of the 2024 Singapore International Water Week and the CleanEnviro Summit Singapore, Singapore’s sustainability and environment minister Grace Fu said that the city-state’s domestic recycling market is small and it is reliant on other countries offtaking its recyclables, and recycling rates can be affected by freight costs and commodity prices.

But Singapore will enhance efforts in recycling its priority waste streams, including by studying how to expand the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) approach to other types of packaging, as well as “actively seek ways to extract more value out of all the waste”, she said. 

2030 waste target “not doable”

Commenting on the statistics, Gin Keat Ong, director of sustainability and business development at waste management firm Envcares, said that Singapore’s waste management target of increasing the overall recycling rate to 70 per cent by 2030 is “not doable”, given current trends. Singapore is also aiming to reduce the volume of trash sent to a purpose-built trash island by 30 per cent per person by 2030.

Ong added that Singapore’s recycling rate is already misleadingly high, because of the very high recycling rates of construction and demolition materials.

Singapore’s household recycling rate could be increased by the introduction of an Extended Producer Scheme (EPR), which obliges producers to take responsibility for the waste generated by the use of their products. However, the introduction of a deposit return scheme for beverage containers, slated for launch this year and first mooted more than two decades ago, has been delayed until at least 2026. An e-waste EPR scheme has been operational in Singapore since 2021.

The latest statistics emerge the month after news of a delay to the launch of a state-of-the-art integrated waste and water treatment facility. The multi-billion dollar Tuas Nexus plant, which has been promoted as a solution to cut the carbon footprint of waste management and boost recycling rates, was scheduled for launch in 2025 but construction issues have held up the project.


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