The Problem

822,200 tonnes of plastic waste were produced in 2016. That's about 150kg per person every year!

Out of this, only 7 percent is recycled. The rest is incinerated and sent to the landfill.

Not really. Singapore has highly efficient incinerators that capture most of the toxic gases created when plastic is burned. However, these incinerators also generate large amounts of carbon dioxide - about as much as a coal power plant! Dumping all this carbon dioxide into the atmosphere accelerates global warming and climate change.

The ash that remains after the plastic is burned remains toxic. The only place we have to put it is the landfill on Pulau Semakau. At current rates, Semakau landfill will be completely full by 2035.

Nearly all plastic is made from fossil fuels. The process of extracting and transporting fossil fuels contaminates our air and water, and threatens the lives of plants and animals.

A pelican covered in oil after the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010.

Some plastic items can be recycled. These include drink bottles, shampoo bottles, plastic bags, bread wrappers, and some takeaway food containers. These items will be labelled with a "recycling" symbol (♻).

However, a lot of plastic waste cannot be recycled. The most common types of plastic trash in Singapore are takeaway containers, plates, straws, and utensils. These cannot be recycled because they are contaminated with food waste.

If these items are thrown into the recycling bin, the entire batch of recyclable items becomes contaminated and has to be incinerated. In Singapore, as much as 50 percent of recyclables are contaminated!

These items cannot be recycled!

Check for the "recycling" symbol (♻) before putting plastics in the recycling bin. Wash all plastics clean of food waste and residue before recycling.
In short, no.

Plant-based plastics, or bioplastics, are made from plants such as potatoes and corn. Once made, plant-based plastics behave just like ordinary plastics, meaning that they are just as hard to break down and generate just as much pollution.

Biodegradable plastics contain additives that supposedly help them break down completely in the environment. However, studies have shown that this only happens under controlled, high-temperature settings, such as industrial composting facilities. The additives also make biodegradable plastics impossible to recycle in standard recycling facilities.

Biodegradable plastics create even worse environmental impacts than ordinary plastics. Just like ordinary plastics, biodegradable plastics break down into smaller pieces when exposed to sunlight, except they do so much faster. Most of these tiny pieces, known as microplastics, eventually get carried by wind and rain into the ocean. There, they will continue breaking down into smaller and smaller pieces, but they will never go away.

The ocean covered in plastic pieces in the Caribbean.

Not all plastic waste gets incinerated. A lot of plastic, especially light items like straws and plastic bags, get blown or swept away into our drains and into the sea.

Plastic makes up 90 percent of marine litter. At current rates, there will be more plastic than fish in our oceans by 2050.

Plastic waste hurts and kills marine animals. Small animals are smothered in plastic bags, while large animals such as turtles and dolphins get trapped in plastic nets and plastic rings. Entangled animals die a slow death from starvation and suffocation.

Plastic is eaten by many marine animals that mistake it for food. These animals include turtles, birds, and whales. Eating plastic clogs up the animal's intestinal tract, causing death by starvation. 90 percent of all seabirds and 50 percent of turtles have eaten plastic.

Fish and shellfish consume tiny plastic pieces, which accumulate when they are eaten by larger fish. Plastic itself is toxic, but it also absorbs lots of poisonous chemicals from the ocean.

Many of these fish are caught and eaten by humans, along with the plastics and chemicals that they contain. Essentially, you are eating the plastic you put into the ocean.

We still don't fully understand what consuming plastics can do to the body. However, plastics contain chemicals that are known to cause cancer, birth defects, immune system suppression, reproductive problems, and developmental problems in children.


What You Can Do

  • Say no to straws.
  • Avoid disposable cups, plates, and cutlery.
  • Refuse plastic bags as much as possible, especially small bags that cannot be used as trash bags.
  • Avoid buying items with excessive plastic packaging.
  • Avoid disposable toiletries such as disposable razors and travel toothpaste tubes.
  • Avoid scrubs and body washes containing plastic microbeads.

  • Bring your own reusable grocery bag to the supermarket.
  • Bring your own drinking bottle. Use water coolers instead of buying bottled water.
  • When taking away food, bring your own reusable container and cutlery.
  • Bring your own reusable mug or tumbler to the cafe and coffeeshop.

  • Only put recyclable items into the recycling bin. Check that the item you are trying to recycle has a recyclable symbol.
  • Plastic items that can be recycled include drink bottles, shampoo bottles, plastic bags, bread wrappers, and some takeaway food containers.
  • Our friends at Zero Waste SG have created a useful chart of recyclable items, which includes metal, paper, and glass items as well!

  • All these plastics can be recycled.

  • Wash all plastic items thoroughly before recycling.

  • Many supermarkets and eateries are reluctant to phase out plastics because they believe their customers don't care. Prove them wrong!
  • Next time you visit, tell the staff that you would like them to reduce their plastic use.
  • Write to the establishment through Facebook/email and request them to stop giving out plastic bags, straws, and cutlery.

  • Ask your favourite cafes and eateries to stop giving out disposable plastics.
  • The International Coastal Cleanup is an effort overseen by the NGO, The Ocean Conservancy. It is active in 100 countries around the world, including Singapore.
  • Visit the International Coastal Cleanup, Singapore website to find out about upcoming marine cleanup activities. By participating, you are also helping researchers find out more about the types of plastic waste on Singapore's shores.

  • Encourage your friends and family to reduce their plastic consumption.
  • Like our Facebook page for regular updates and tips for going Plastic-Lite!

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Journey to Zero Waste in Singapore Zero Waste SG 2018: Singapore Year of Climate Action