SINGAPORE: Six in 10 people in Singapore may be throwing out items such as old television sets, printers and computers because they do not know or are unsure of how to recycle these electronic waste (e-waste), the National Environment Agency (NEA) said on Friday (Jan 19).
This was among the findings of a study it commissioned in a bid to identify the challenges in Singapore’s management of e-waste and to guide the agency in creating an e-waste management system for the country.
The study was conducted between April 2016 and October last year.
ONLY A FRACTION OF E-WASTE RECYCLED
Singapore generates more than 60,000 tonnes of e-waste a year – the equivalent of 220 Airbus A380 planes.
Out of this, half is generated by households, NEA said. Each person disposes of around 11kg of e-waste, the equivalent of 73 mobile phones.
NEA said the study found that while people typically trade in or sell e-waste of high value such as mobile phones, they discard the rest with their general waste. In fact, only 6 per cent of e-waste from households ends up in e-waste recycling bins. More than a quarter is just thrown away.
Bulky items such as washing machines and refrigerators may be passed on to deliverymen upon receiving new appliances, but even this is sometimes discarded at common areas.
The study also found that this e-waste could end up with scrap traders and rag-and-bone men.
“Many of these collectors do not have the capability to maximise resource recovery from e-waste, and as a result, only components of significant value are recycled,” NEA said.
As a result, e-waste that is not recycled is incinerated, and results in not just the loss of resources that could have been recycled by proper recycling facilities, but also in the release of carbon emissions that contribute to global warming and climate change.
The agency has been working to raise awareness programmes among members of the public and in 2015, formed the National Voluntary Partnership for E-Waste Recycling, where proper recycling and treatment processes are adopted.
But it said there are limits to a voluntary approach.
“A regulated system is therefore needed to ensure that consumers are provided with convenient means to recycle their e-waste, and (that) the e-waste collected is channelled to proper recycling facilities where safety and environmental standards are adhered to,” NEA said.
MORE AWARENESS NEEDED TO IMPROVE E-WASTE RECYCLING FIGURES: STAKEHOLDERS
According to NEA, there are eight voluntary e-waste recycling programmes, including telco StarHub's Renew programme. Under the programme, e-waste such as modems, mobile phones and cables can be collected from some 400 bins around the island.
Still, StarHub's Chief Strategic Partnership Officer, Jeannie Ong said outreach efforts need to be intensified.
"I suppose because this is a society whereby we want instant gratification and we want everything to be quick and fast and convenient, the idea and the concept of recycling your electronic waste is not there, we definitely need to do more to educate, remind public," Ms Ong said.
“With Smart Nation, it means that there will be even more electronic devices around, so therefore, it's even more critical for us to expand the e-waste system in Singapore. We need to get more players in the sector to come together and play a part to tackle these issues."
Recycling facility TES-AMM's group chief operating officer, Gary Steele, said recycling one's mobile phone for example, will not just benefit the environment, but consumers also.
"If it's poorly disposed of, there can also be toxicity and leakage into the environment," Mr Steele said.
"But if you don't dispose of your mobile phones correctly, there are also numerous ways that the phone can be accessed to access your personal data."
MANUFACTURERS NEED TO HAVE A STAKE IN RECYCLING PROCESS
NEA said it looked to countries with an established e-waste management system in order to develop a comprehensive one for Singapore. They included Germany and South Korea as well as cities such as New York.
A common feature of formal systems in these countries is that stakeholders throughout the e-waste value chain have responsibilities assigned through the Extended Producer Responsibility approach, NEA said.
This means that when products reach their end-of-life, their producers have to ensure these products are properly recycled.
“For example, in New York, electronics manufacturers fund programmes where consumers can mail small e-waste to recyclers,” NEA said.
In European countries such as Germany and France, large retailers have to provide e-waste collection points in their stores, as well as cater for free take-back services for larger e-waste products.
E-waste recyclers in these countries are also regulated and have to meet high environmental standards, where they need to set recycling targets and provide information to authorities on e-waste flows.
The agency said these systems are being assessed for adoption in Singapore through various consultations.
NEA and the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources will seek public views on the matter through a consultation session next month.
(Additional reporting by Vanessa Lim)