Singapore’s Zero Waste Initiative

Singapore’s Zero Waste Initiative
13 Jul 2021

On 1 July, Singapore took a further step on the way to becoming a zero waste society. Used electronic devices can now be dropped off at over three hundred collection points. This low-threshold service is supported by a voucher system designed to incentivise consumers to recycle by offering them rewards.

But why is Singapore investing so much in its Zero Waste Initiative? Up until a few years ago, no priority was given to sustainability and ecology in Singapore. The main reason for the change of heart has to do with Singapore’s geography. Space in the island state is limited. Even though almost all of Singapore’s waste is incinerated, it is estimated that the island state’s only landfill site, Semakau Island, will run out of capacity by 2035 at the latest if things continue at the same rate.

But climate change also represents an existential threat to the island state that can no longer be ignored. Rising sea levels will have a direct impact on the country. It is estimated that levels could rise by up to one metre in Singapore by 2100. This would lead to large parts of the island state being submerged by the sea.

The government has now decided to counter this threat with a wide range of measures. The handling of waste is just one piece in the puzzle. In order to achieve the goal of becoming a zero waste nation, a wide range of measures have been announced aimed at reconciling climate protection with economic development to make Singapore fit for the future. The measures demonstrate that, far from being mutually exclusive, the two goals complement one another very well.

Singapore’s number one aim is to achieve a 30% reduction by 2030 in both non-combustible waste and the incineration residue taken to Semakau every day from the waste incineration plants. This aim can only be achieved if considerably less waste is produced. The declared aim is therefore to avoid waste by using resources for as long as possible and not initiating recycling – which should be as complete as possible – until the resource can no longer be used.

In addition to a campaign to raise awareness for correct recycling among the population, there are other promising campaigns that also involve industry. These include, for example, the Mandatory Packaging Reporting (MRP) framework and the Packaging Partnership Programme (PPP), which was launched this year to reduce packaging waste. With packaging accounting for one third of Singapore’s household waste, the idea behind these measures is that a significant reduction can be achieved through greater awareness among both retailers and customers. In future, companies will not only have to report their quantity of packaging but also how it can be reduced, reused or recycled.

Why is avoidance particularly important with regard to packaging? The reason is that it frequently uses plastics, and in Singapore too, they are usually not recycled but incinerated. Here it makes sense to question their use in the first place. Materials often contain different types of plastic or they are so contaminated with leftover food that recycling is not worthwhile. There is therefore a lot to be gained by forgoing plastics are using them more intelligently.

The collection bins for electronic scrap mentioned at the beginning of the article work with a reward principle to increase citizens‘ motivation. Disposal bins for electronics have been in place everywhere on the island since 2021. What is new in 2021 is that manufacturers and importers are responsible for the disposal of old electronic equipment.

The bins that have now been installed offer more than the mere disposal of electronic equipment. Consumers also benefit from the fact that the disposal concept also includes the erasure of data from the devices. This makes it easier for many people to take their devices to the disposal point instead of storing them at home or destroying them. The new concept has an additional benefit: one declared aim is to refurbish as much hardware as possible and to use it again rather than recycle it. This saves a large amount of resources compared to recycling and therefore eases the strain on the environment. Find out more in our blog article „Reuse instead of recycle“.

Could the Singapore approach also be worthwhile for Germany? Many of our recycling processes are already similar and many of our recycling rates are higher than in Singapore. In Germany too, retailers are obliged to take back used electronic equipment. The main difference is that Singapore is an island state facing a direct threat from climate change and has understood the need for action. Singapore’s declared aim is to stop producing waste and use raw materials as efficiently as possible. This means the population has to be properly informed and the business world has to be involved, because, in order to remain strong and successful in future, economies will have to think sustainably. Singapore is getting ready for the future – and we in Germany should follow the city-state’s example.


Katharina Hupe