Overview of waste management in Singapore

Waste management is one of the essential services of any company, city, or country. Proper waste management is required for safety, health, economic, or liveability reasons.

General overview

In Singapore, the National Environment Agency (NEA) is the regulatory body in charge of the enforcement of the law for waste management.

For public facilities such as Public Buildings, Public Areas, and HDB, the NEA awards contract to companies for the collection, transportation, and sorting of waste. Those companies are called Public Waste Collectors (PWCs):

  1. 800 Super Waste Management Pte Ltd
  2. ALBA W&H Smart City Pte Ltd
  3. SembWaste Pte Ltd
  4. Veolia ES Singapore Pte Ltd

Take a look at the PWCs map by districts.

All other facilities (Private companies, condominiums) can choose whichever licenced waste collector they want for the collection and transportation of waste. Those companies are called General Waste Collector (GWCs). The list of GWCs can be found here:

  1. All General Waste Collectors
  2. Used cooking oil collectors
  3. Companies that collect or process waste for recycling
  4. General Waste Collectors with waste weighing services

Recyclable or not?

When a facility generates waste, those discards can be classified according to the following:

  • Recyclable: materials that can be sent to a sorting and recycling facility to be transformed into a new commodity. This typically includes paper, plastic, glass, metal.
  • Organic waste: such as food waste and green waste. For smell, health, and safety reasons, those waste should be segregated at the source and handled by a suitable contractor. 
  • Hazardous: waste which represents health or safety risks (e.g. solvent-based paint, mobile phone batteries, motor oils…), and which must be handled by a suitable contractor.
  • General waste: non-hazardous waste with no or little recyclability which is considered as final waste.

Learn more about environmental claims.

In Singapore, any discards going into the General Waste bin will go straight to one of the Waste to Energy (WTE)  incineration plants. There, the waste will be burned. The heat will be used to generate electricity.

Discards going into the Recyclable bin will go first to a sorting facility where they will be segregated according to the material type and value. What can be recovered will then be sent to a recycling plant (most of them are located overseas) where it will be transformed into a new commodity. The materials which cannot be recovered will be sent to the WTE incineration plant.

Ashes from the incinerators are then sent to the offshore Semakau Landfill.

If you want to know more about the history of landfills and incinerators in Singapore, check out those articles:

Is it better to incinerate or recycle waste?

It is better to recycle waste. Recycling means transforming a used resource into another commodity which can be the same product as before or something else. At the opposite, incineration destroys the resource and brings it back into a mineral state. 

For instance, there is a continuous demand for paper. If you recycle 1 tonne of paper, you reduce the need for virgin paper which lead to the following savings:

  • Trees (virgin resource)
  • Energy and Water: it consumes less energy and water to recycle 1 tonne of paper than making 1 tonne of paper out of trees
  • Carbon emission: fewer resources are required for the transportation and transformation of recycled paper.

If you incinerate 1 tonne of paper, the combustion will generate heat which can be used for making electricity (efficiency <30%) and will transform the paper into ashes and CO2. The ashes have no biological value and are composed of basic molecules. The CO2 released by the incinerator contributes to global warming.

However, when recyclables are contaminated by other waste such as the food they cannot be properly recycled and end up in the WTE Incineration plants. This is why implementing proper waste systems in companies is important.

If unsure about the recyclability of a product, is it better to throw it into the recycling bin or the general waste bin?

General waste bin. Recycling materials require to have the cleanest and a most uniform stream of discards. If a batch of recyclable waste is contaminated with a non-recyclable product, it will result in a reduction of quality of the recycled materials. In some cases, contamination can result in the destruction of the entire batch. Therefore, when unsure, throw the product into the general waste bin.

Discover how to Implement a proper waste management system.

Written by
Rémi Cesaro
Resource Efficiency Consultant, Director of Zero Waste City