National Environment Agency (NEA) has revealed that each year, about 11kg of electrical and electronic waste (e-waste), equal in weight to 73 mobile phones, is disposed of per person in Singapore, which amounts to more than 60,000 tonnes of e-waste generated in Singapore a year.
A study commissioned by the National Environment Agency (NEA) showed that 60 percent of Singapore residents do not know or are unsure of how to recycle their e-waste.
NEA stated that the study, conducted from April 2016 to October 2017, was aimed at identifying the challenges in Singapore’s management of e-waste, and developing a comprehensive system to address these challenges.
“The study, which looked into the e-waste disposal patterns of consumers, found that consumers typically trade in or sell e-waste of high value (e.g. mobile phones), while they discard the rest with their general waste,” it said, adding that bulky e-waste (e.g. washing machines and refrigerators) is mostly carted away by the deliverymen when new appliances are delivered, however, it is sometimes discarded improperly (e.g. left at common areas).
The agency then said that the study also found that e-waste that is discarded or carted away by deliverymen could end up with informal collectors such as scrap traders and rag-and-bone men.
These collectors refurbish reusable electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) for sale, dismantle the rest and trade the parts extracted 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.
“In Singapore, e-waste that is not recycled is incinerated, which results in the loss of resources as well as in carbon emissions, contributing to global warming and climate change,” it added.
In addition, NEA noted that the processing of e-waste by these collectors can result in workplace hazards and poor environmental practices, which include the venting of harmful refrigerants from refrigerators and air-conditioners to the environment and discarding of potentially hazardous unwanted components with general waste.
Heavy metals in the e-waste incinerated also contaminate the incineration ash which is landfilled at Semakau Landfill. A regulated system is therefore 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.
NEA states that it has been working to raise public awareness of the need to recycle e-waste and to encourage participation in voluntary programmes where proper recycling and treatment processes are adopted.
The most extensive programme is StarHub’s RENEW, in which more than 400 e-waste bins have been placed across Singapore. While this is encouraging, there are limits to just having a voluntary approach. Such programmes typically only result in the collection of portable info-communication technology (ICT) equipment, and the amount of e-waste collected is only a fraction of the total amount of e-waste generated annually.
In order to develop a more comprehensive e-waste management system for Singapore, the agency noted that the study also looked at best practices in established e-waste management systems around the world. Many countries and cities, such as Germany, New York, Japan, Sweden and South Korea, have formal systems to manage e-waste.
“The study found that the active participation of stakeholders is necessary to ensure that e-waste can be managed effectively and efficiently. In particular, producers (e.g. brand owners and manufacturers) play a critical role in designing products with greater potential for resource recovery,” it noted.
It then stated that in view of this, a common feature in established e-waste management systems is the assignment of responsibilities to the key stakeholders in the e-waste value chain, known as the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) approach. Under the EPR approach, producers ensure that their products are properly recycled upon reaching their end of life, by fulfilling e-waste collection targets and channelling the e-waste collected to formal recyclers.
To study the best practices adopted by other countries and assess their suitability for Singapore through stakeholder consultations with the industry, the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources (MEWR) and NEA will be seeking public views on e-waste via a consultation session in February 2018.