Circular Plastic Economy

Singapore set to establish circular plastic model

Singapore is set to invest in cutting edge plastic recycling technologies and infrastructure in a bid to move towards a more circular economy.

Internationally, Singapore is known for its exceptional standards when it comes to cleanliness.

The South East Asian commercial hub is universally prized for its streets and parks that are generally free of plastic waste, a state of affairs partly due to the city’s ‘zero-waste’ pledge.

Yet the current waste management model employed in Singapore follows linear rather than circular thinking, as most of the municipal waste produced is incinerated.

In 2019, more than 40% of 7,23 million tonnes of solid waste was incinerated in Singapore. Reliance on waste-to-energy initiatives have led to an explosion in refuse production, as the belief is prevalent that waste generation without check can be beneficial due to its potential for conversion into green electricity.

This is also one of the reasons why recycling rates have been consistently low in Singapore, having dropped from 22% in 2018 to 17% in 2019.

Considering that the city’s only landfill-which is where incinerated ash and non-incinerable waste are usually sent-will reach full capacity by 2035, the development of alternative, sustainable waste treatment methods grow ever more important.

In the wake of these issues, Grace Fu, Malaysian Minister for Sustainability and Environment, inaugurated the new Plastic Recycling Association of Singapore (PRAS) to tackle the city’s growing waste problem.

The organisation means to bring together companies and institutions interested in developing Singapore’s sustainable future by means of knowledge exchange as well as by recycling pilot schemes.

One of the projects planned by PRAS relates to the establishment of a PET bottle recycling plant. Upon completion in 2022, the facility will let scientists determine to what extent recycling solutions should be adjusted to the region. The initiative is meant to stimulate local recycling capabilities.

This is important in so far as Singapore has traditionally exported most of its waste to countries such as India, China, Indonesia, Thailand and South Korea. Recent import bans introduced by the likes of China and Indonesia, however, led to the generation of more incinerated waste, a practically untenable solution now, as pandemic related refuse places extra strain on the Semakau landfill.

PRAS also intends to introduce a bottle deposit scheme that will task producers with collecting and recycling their products as part of their EPR commitments.

In 2019, the Singapore government passed the first EPR law within a Southeast Asian context. It entails mandatory reporting for companies that produce or use packaging. EPR is set to extend to e-waste this year, food waste by 2024 and packaging by 2025.

In the long term, the organisation plans to build several more recycling plants in Singapore as well as in the overall region. Chemical recycling projects are set to follow at an unspecified date.

Developing upcycling innovations through collaboration with Singapore’s research and development system are also on the agenda. Possible joint ventures with regards to plastic waste recycling, for instance pertaining to a possible way to recover PE and PET layers in multi-layered films or the potential conversion of mixed plastic waste into construction materials are some issues being investigated in tandem currently.

PRAS is set to be aided in its quest for cutting edge solutions for plastic pollution by its very own Plastics Recycling Centre for Excellence. Said centre will focus on providing operational expertise on subjects such as PET bottles and PVC recycling, the recycling of general plastics, the reuse of recycled plastics as well as on new applications for these recycled plastics but will also provide services in the form of skills training.

Only 4% of 868,000 tonnes of plastic was recycled in Singapore last year, rendering plastic waste the city’s largest waste stream.