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Less waste generated in Singapore in 2020, recycling rates drop due to impact of COVID-19

Less waste generated in Singapore in 2020, recycling rates drop due to impact of COVID-19

Workers sort through trashed plastic at a recycling plant in Singapore. (File photo: TODAY/Jason Quah)

SINGAPORE: Overall waste generation in Singapore declined in 2020 for the fourth consecutive year, with less waste being sent to the Semakau Landfill, but overall recycling rates also dropped as the COVID-19 pandemic impact industries and collection process.

About 5.88 million tonnes of solid waste was generated last year, 19 per cent less than the 7.23 million tonnes generated the year before, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said in a media release on Friday (Apr 23).

Of this, 3.04 million tonnes of waste was recycled. The overall recycling rate falling to 52 per cent from 59 per cent in 2019, as both the non-domestic – which includes industries and commercial premises – and domestic sectors saw a decline in recycling rates.

The non-domestic sector dropped from 73 per cent in 2019 to 68 per cent in 2020, while the domestic sector fell to 13 per cent from 17 per cent.

Statistics showed that waste generation and recyclables collection in 2020 were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, NEA said.

“Waste generated at office, commercial and industrial premises fell in tandem with the pause in non-essential economic activities during the ‘circuit breaker’ and the reduction in the demand for goods and restriction in the movement of people last year,” the agency said.

READ: Commentary: Why does Singapore still lack a recycling ethos?

It added that the non-domestic sector also recycled less waste. “The aggregate recycling volumes were therefore lower,” it said.

Overall recycling rates were also largely impacted by the substantial decrease in ferrous metal scrap and construction and demolition waste generated and recycled in 2020 due to slowdown in their respective industries due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Both waste streams have traditionally high recycling rates, with construction and demolition being one of the largest waste streams in the last 10 years, NEA said.

“While the recycling rates for these two waste streams did not change and remained high, a drop in the quantities of these waste streams affected the overall recycling rates because they made up a significant portion of the waste mix,” it added.

READ: More refuse collected from HDB estates during circuit breaker period: Town councils

LESS PLASTIC, FOOD WASTE IN 2020

With online shopping and home-delivery gaining popularity during the circuit breaker period, households disposed of more packaging waste, NEA said.

However, collection of recyclables from the domestic sector were put on hold at the peak of the pandemic in 2020 and only started gradually from the third quarter of the year.

“As the impact of COVID-19 gradually eases, the waste generation and recycling patterns of 2020 are unlikely to be repeated in 2021,” the agency said.

The amount of plastic waste generated in 2020 fell by about 7 per cent, while overall recycling rate remained similar to the previous year at 4 per cent.

Plastic waste generated in the non-domestic sector fell to 463,000 tonnes compared to 504,000 tonnes in 2019, with less plastic waste disposed of by industries as activities slowed down during the circuit breaker period.

The domestic and trade sector also generated less plastic waste, falling from 426,000 tonnes in 2019 to 405,000 tonnes in 2020, NEA said, adding that less plastic waste were disposed of at shophouses, places of worship and hawker centres.

However, less plastic recyclables were collected under the National Recycling Programme in 2020 – 2,300 tonnes as compared to 2,800 tonnes the year before.

“The Cash-for-Trash scheme and door-to-door activities were halted during circuit breaker, which led to a drop in collection of plastic recyclables,” NEA said.

Last year also saw less food waste generated overall, falling 11 per cent to 665,000 tonnes in 2020 from 744,000 tonnes in 2019.

Food waste in the non-domestic sector dropped to 223,000 tonnes, from 258,000 tonnes in 2019, while that in the domestic sector fell to 442,000 tonnes from 286,000 tonnes.

Additionally, the recycling rate for food waste inched up slightly to 19 per cent from 18 per cent the previous year.

READ: When more than 7 tonnes of chicken is discarded daily — the alarming scale of food waste in Asia

READ: Why our food supply chain is flawed, and these champions’ efforts to stop the waste

PAPER AND CARDBOARD WASTE GO UP

Paper and cardboard waste was the largest waste stream in 2020, increasing by 13 per cent to 1.14 million tonnes, NEA statistics showed.

“More packaging waste from online shopping and home-delivered food being disposed of by households also led to higher paper/cardboard waste generation,” the agency said.

Overall recycling rate for such waste also fell, from 44 per cent in 2019 to 38 per cent in 2020.

“The drop in the recycling rate of paper also contributed to the lower overall recycling rate,” NEA said.

“Less paper recyclables were collected during the circuit breaker period when the Cash-for-Trash scheme, ad-hoc collection drives by schools and Residents’ Committee centres and door-to-door recyclables collection programmes by the public waste collectors were halted.”

The agency added that continued low overseas demand for paper recyclables and travel restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to the low recycling rate of paper.

READ: Budget 2021: Government to issue green bonds to help enable sustainability efforts

READ: How businesses are responding to sustainability-conscious millennials

ENVIRONMENTAL SUSTAINABILITY ‘REMAINS IMPROTANT’ DESPITE DISRUPTIONS FROM COVID-19

NEA said that while the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted efforts to reduce, reuse and recycle, “environmental sustainability remains important”.

“Our national goals are to achieve a 70 per cent overall recycling rate and to reduce the amount of waste sent to Semakau Landfill by 30 per cent per capita per day by 2030.

“Under the Singapore Green Plan 2030, we are frontloading this to achieve a 20 per cent reduction in waste-to-landfill per capita per day by 2026.”

It added that Singapore’s vision of becoming a “zero waste nation” will take the efforts of the whole country.

“To this end, NEA will continue to engage businesses and consumers to be more sustainable. We will achieve this through the various campaigns and engagements, and our waste reduction efforts to close the waste loop,” it said.

“This is a long-term effort that requires all of us – from the people, private and public sector – to work together.”

Source: CNA/ga(rw)

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