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In 2022, Singapore generated an alarming one million metric tons of plastic waste, accounting for approximately 15 percent of the country's total waste. Shockingly, only 6 percent of this plastic waste was recycled. This is despite the fact that 60% of Singaporean households recycle regularly, according to surveys.
So why is the domestic recycling rate so low in Singapore? According to experts, some key contributors include the lack of recycling knowledge amongst consumers in Singapore, and the contamination of recyclables. Since 2018, 40 percent of the recyclables cannot be recycled due to contamination.
To address this issue and promote a more sustainable future, it is crucial to understand and identify the different types of plastics, whether they are recyclable and how to ensure that they are recycled at their highest value.
How to identify plastics
There are 7 categories of plastics in general, and they each have a resin identification code, which helps facilitiate the sorting process during recycling. You can easily identify the plastic type by checking the triangle plastic code usually found at the bottom of the plastic.
However, note that the triangle recycling symbol on the plastic does not mean that the product is recyclable nor recycled. Not all plastics are made equal, and only some can be recycled. Read on to find out about the different types of plastics, and what can be recycled.
Image from The Eco Hub
#1 PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate)
Characteristics: Lightweight, strong and usually transparent and single-use.
Commonly used for: Beverage bottles, and home, personal care and food containers.
Recyclable: Yes. Also accepted at reverse vending machines.
Things to note: rinse containers (with used dishwashing water – as we live in a water-scarce world) and squash them (to make more space in your recycling bin).
#2 HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene)
Characteristics: Strong, durable and resistant to chemicals, UV light and moisture.
Commonly used for: Milk bottles, detergent bottles, shampoo bottles, bottle caps.
Things to note: Clear HDPE (like milk bottles) are more easily recycled coloured HDPE (like shampoo or detergent bottles). Always rinse containers to remove any residue or food waste.
#3 PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride)
Characteristics: Cheap, hard and rigid, resistant to chemicals and weathering. Versatile and widely used. One of the most dangerous plastics to human health.
Commonly used for: Pipes, cables, construction materials, packaging, cling wrap, toys.
Recyclable: No. Hard to recycle and should be avoided if possible
Things to note: PVS is a dangerous plastic. When incinerated, it produces toxic chemicals that stay in the ash. This plastic also looks very similar to PET and can therefore contaminate the PET recycling value chain. In Singapore, PVC items should be disposed of with general waste instead of being placed in recycling bins.
#4 LDPE (Low-Density Polyethylene)
Characteristics: A softer, thinner and more flexible version of HDPE.
Commonly used for: Plastic bags, shrink wraps, and squeeze bottles.
Recyclable: Yes. However, it can be challenging to recycle due to their low density.
Things to note: Refuse LDPE plastic bags when you can, or if you have it, reuse them as liners for trash bins.
#5 PP (Polypropylene)
Characteristics: Strong, with high melting point. One of the most durable types of plastic.
Commonly used for: Yoghurt containers, food containers, car parts.
Things to note: A low percentage of PP from households is actually recycled. Refuse single-use food containers whenever possible, and reuse them if you have it.
#6 PS (Polystyrene)
Characteristics: Cheap, rigid, insulates very well. One of the most dangerous plastics to human health.
Commonly used for: Plastic utensils, cups, plates, Styrofoam, packaging materials
Recyclable: No. Styrofoam is lightweight and bulky (made of 95% air) with low market value, so recycling it is not efficient.
Things to note: Styrofoam contains styrene, a synthetic chemical that has been linked to cancer and other health risks. When burned, it releases styrene gas and a slew of other toxic chemical compounds. Avoid using polystyrene products whenever possible.
Characteristics: Includes all other plastics that do not fit into the first 6 categories, such as PLA, PC.
Commonly used for: Baby milk bottles, reusable bottles, CDs, biodegradable packaging
Things to note: Addictives are usually found in biodegradable plastic, making it unsuitable for recycling. If mixed with regular plastics, they become contaminated and cannot be recycled anymore.
Are biodegradable plastic bags better for Singapore?
The answer is no. As biodegradable plastic bags are currently not recyclable, they ultimately end up in the same place as other waste – the incinerator. They are not as durable as traditional plastic, require more resources (and money) to produce, thereby incurring a large carbon footprint.
Hence, there is no advantage of using biodegradable plastic bags, as compared to traditional plastic bags. It is still better to use your own reusable bags.
Recycling Rules in Singapore:
To ensure the successful recycling of plastics in Singapore, it is essential to follow these key recycling guidelines:
- Know what can be recycled in the blue bins: Do not simply toss things in the blue recycling bin thinking they can be recycled. Reusables like clothes, stuffed toys, or e-waste like your batteries and electronics are not suitable for recycling. Not sure what can be recycled? Check here.
- Rinse and Clean: Before recycling any plastic item, make sure to rinse and clean it thoroughly to remove food residue or contaminants. This helps prevent contamination of other recyclables and ensures a higher quality of recycled products. If it is too dirty or oily, discard them in the waste bins instead.
- 3 Rs: Refuse plastics if possible, Reuse if you have it, and remember to Recycle right.
Recycling plastics is a collective effort that requires active participation from individuals, businesses, and the community as a whole. By understanding the different types of recyclable plastics and following the recycling guidelines established by Singapore's regulations, we can significantly reduce plastic waste and move towards a more sustainable future.
Let's work together to protect our environment and create a cleaner, greener Singapore.