Only 6 per cent of domestic e-waste ends up in recycling bins: NEA study

SIAU MING EN Today Online 20 Jan 18;

SINGAPORE — Most Singaporeans know nothing or little about how to recycle their unwanted electrical or electronic goods, resulting in only about 6 per cent of domestic e-waste recycled and one-quarter thrown out with food and other general waste.

Releasing key findings of an 18-month study on Friday (Jan 19), the National Environment Agency (NEA) found that three in five people in Singapore do not know, or are unsure of how to recycle e-waste.

Singapore generates more than 60,000 tonnes of e-waste each year – the weight of about 220 Airbus A380 superjumbo planes. Half of it is estimated to come from households. This means an individual here throws out about 11kg of e-waste each year.

The study – which surveyed 1,600 consumers and concluded in October last year – found that households recycle only 6 per cent of the estimated 30,000 tonnes of electrical and electronic goods thrown out every year.

Washing machines (32 per cent), refrigerators (27 per cent) and television sets (22 per cent) make up more than 80 per cent of the e-waste generated here. The remainder includes air-conditioners, computers, printers and mobile phones.

About one-quarter of household e-waste is thrown away with general waste or left at common areas. Another 24 per cent, usually the higher-value e-waste like mobile phones, are traded-in or sold.

More than one-third (35 per cent) — usually bulky items such as washing machines and refrigerators — are handed over to deliverymen by consumers collecting their new appliances.

But these items are not always properly disposed of. Some end up with “informal collectors” such as scrap traders and rag-and-bone men, said an NEA spokesperson.

The informal collectors would refurbish and resell the reusable items or trade in parts of the items with recyclers.

“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,” said the spokesperson.

They could endanger themselves and may discard potentially hazardous components with general waste. When e-waste is incinerated, the heavy metals also contaminate incineration ash.

There are only a handful of voluntary recycling programmes in Singapore, but they mostly collect portable e-waste. More than 400 bins are found islandwide under StarHub’s Renew programme and they collected about 93 tonnes of e-waste last year, for instance.

Singapore’s largest e-waste recycler TES-AMM collected about 12,200 tonnes of e-waste last year. About 20 to 30 per cent came from Singaporean consumers while the remainder was from its offices in other countries.

TES-AMM’s Benoi Sector facility can recycle different materials that are extracted from the e-waste, including copper, steel, plastic and even gold.

E-waste is a growing problem worldwide as new products are rapidly rolled out and demand for gadgets grows with increasing wealth and digitalisation. Yet, rare earth metals used to make tech gadgets are reportedly becoming scarcer.

A lot of energy and resources are used to make even small electronic devices and consumers should help in “preserving” them, said TES-AMM group chief operating officer Gary Steele.

Formal recyclers are also able to ensure personal data residing in the devices is not compromised while processing the e-waste, he said.

Most people do not know what to do with e-waste; only a fraction recycle: NEA study
Monica Kotwani Channel NewsAsia 19 Jan 18;

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.


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.


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."


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)

Source: CNA/ms

Steps to shrink mountain of e-waste through better recycling
Samantha Boh Straits Times 19 Jan 18;

SINGAPORE - There could soon be regulations here to ensure that discarded electrical and electronic items are recycled and reused, to help shrink the mountain of computers, laptops, refrigerators and other e-waste thrown away in Singapore.

The Republic's poor record in this area means not only that valuable materials in such items, such as gold and copper, are going up in smoke, but also that hazardous waste in some components, including mercury, is being incinerated and polluting the atmosphere.

"A regulated system is... needed to ensure that consumers are provided with convenient means to recycle their e-waste, and the e-waste collected is channelled to proper recycling facilities where safety and environmental standards are adhered to," said the National Environment Agency (NEA) yesterday.

Households here produce some 30,000 tonnes of e-waste a year - half of the total amount generated, equivalent to the weight of 110 Airbus A-380 planes.

But most people have no clue what to do with it. Auditor Rachel Lim, 24, for one, does not know what to do with old electronic goods. "I know it shouldn't go in the dustbin, so I just keep it," she said.

According to NEA's recent survey of 1,600 consumers, only a tiny portion of e-waste - just 6 per cent - is sent for recycling.

To turn things around, the Government is looking to countries like Sweden - which has a sterling 52 per cent recycling rate for e-waste, and Denmark, where the figure is 43 per cent.

Recycling initiative to turn electronic trash into cash for Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund
Both countries harness an "Extended Producer Responsibility" (EPR) strategy, where producers such as brand owners and manufacturers are responsible for ensuring that their products get recycled.

If applied to consumers here, this may mean they will have to mail smaller products to recyclers for free. Retailers might have to provide e-waste collection points in stores, and one-for-one take-back services for large items such as refrigerators.

The wheels have been set in motion, with the NEA announcing on Friday (Jan 19) that it is assessing the suitability of overseas practices with the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources through consultations with industry stakeholders. These discussions will be extended to the public next month.

The NEA said this will ensure that e-waste collected is recycled safely at proper recycling facilities.

The consumer survey had found that e-waste was generally given to deliverymen to cart away, or thrown in the garbage. Such items also end up with scrap traders and rag-and-bone men, who lack the skills to fully recycle these items, and could end up discharging harmful chemical compounds or disposing of them with general waste.

Worse - if e-waste is incinerated, it would add to carbon emissions and contaminate the ash at the Semakau landfill, NEA warned.

Recycling facility TES-AMM's group chief operating officer Gary Steele applauded the move towards regulation: "Enforcing legislation and having EPR schemes makes it more visible for people so they will want to deal with it properly."

And some consumers are keen for the changes to happen. Said Miss Lim: "If recycling e-waste is convenient, such as having the bins around my housing estate, I would of course consider doing it."