Recycling in Singapore

Posted on January 11, 2010 by derek


As most people may (or may not) be aware of, the current recycling rate in Singapore is 56%, and our target as a nation is 60% by 2012. Now 56% may seem like a very very large numberinflatable waterslides, so we as common citizens seem to be doing very well in terms of recycling in Singapore right?



56% is a macro figure that includes waste from the industrial sector such as:

If you take a closer look at the numbers, you’ll see that:

  • Glass (18%)
  • Food (12%)
  • Plastic (8%)
  • Others (e-waste, ceramic, silt etc) (3%)

So from this little analysis, I think we can conclude to a reasonable degree of certainty that recycling in the household sector seems to be extremely low, as glass, food and plastic and e-waste are the typical things that most households dispose of. Now I can’t back this up with any statistics because I am not aware if they are publically available, but if you compare the state of Victoria, Australia’s statistics, you will see that 94% of glass recyclables come from municipal (Australian for household) sources, and 6% from the commercial and industrial sectors. I may be wrong to compare oranges to apples, but you get my drift.

So is the NEA’s pilot project a good thing?

I think it is:

There is academic evidence to suggest that “individuals are generally willing to participate in such (recycling) programmes if they are provided with the means to do so (Barr, Gilg & Ford, 2005)” and that recycling provision increases levels of recycling (Derksen and Gartell, 1993). But isn’t that common sense? If recycling was made more convenient in your neighbourhood, would you at least think about doing it?

Maybe not.

From my personal survey of recycling bins in Singapore (yes, I take a look at every one I come across), my observation is that people tend to abuse them by indiscriminately throwing their stuff away in the wrong bins, and this was reported about the ones in City Square Mall in the local newspapers a few weeks back. So why are we not recycling as much as we should? A not so recent survey done by NUS in Singapore (Foo, 1997) suggested that the core reasons for low recycling participation are inconvenience, lack of incentives and unfamiliarity.

So perhaps NEA’s pilot project deals with one of those factors, inconvenience, because if we see recycling bins everywhere, people won’t be able to give the excuses that Singaporeans tend to cite. However, I should add that a lot of Singaporeans do not seem to know what can be recycled or even how to recycle. Some academics, including Ho (2002), suggest that recycling is a skill, and that “possession of knowledge on how to recycle may be important for recycling behaviour to be exhibited“. This suggests that on top of making it easier to recycle, we need to do a lot more to educate people, and this of course, deals with the second core reason, unfamiliarity, as previously cited.

So what about “incentives”? What would you tell someone who says “I do not gain anything from recycling”? Let me illustrate how this can be dealt with from my experience living in Australia for 4 years:

I must admit that I recycled a lot more in Australia. Firstly because there were recycling bins everywhere, and secondly, because I did feel that I needed to. In Australia, it is almost a social expectation that one has to be responsible for recycling, and to me, it was “anti-social” to not do my part. Hence I recycled almost every single glass or plastic bottle that I consumed, and most of my waste paper.

In other words, I did have an incentive to recycle in Australia (albeit a negative one): If I was found to be not recycling, I would be seen as someone who does not care about society. Although I would admit that cultural differences may prevent such a state of mind developing in Singapore, the premise to me is clear: we have to somehow make recycling a social norm here; we have to get whistle blowers to report anti-recyclers on STOMP!

To conclude, here are the methods that I think we ought to use to encourage recycling in Singapore:

1) More bins please!

2) Give people recycling knowledge and skills.

3) Make it a social norm.

It’s encouraging to see the government taking the initiative in providing better infrastructure for us to recycle, but in order for any recycling initiative to work, we need to do our part as well.

Here are some links to get you started:

Recycling Bin Locations in Singapore

Planet Green’s Top recycling tips

Green Nature’s Home recyling tips

Planet Ark’s Top recycling tips


UPDATE: Part 2 of this post can be found here.


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