Photo credit: Zile

Six myths about recycling in Singapore

Are 'Plastic', 'Paper' and 'Cans' all you know about recycling? We uncover unhealthy recycling habits that are not helpful for the environment.

Chua Zile

Published: 23 July 2019, 9:54 AM

Recycling bins are a common sight along the streets, in our schools, and in the office.

Recycling also helps to reduce waste and save energy that is otherwise required to make a new product. However, it only works if we understand how to do it the right way.

Here are six myths about recycling that will make you rethink your current recycling habits.

1. “I can throw my dirty food containers into the recycling bin.” 

If you often toss your dirty plastic food containers straight into the recycling bin, you may be making things worse.

Food residue on your food containers contaminates other items in the recycling bin. Photo Credit: Zile

During the recycling process, containers with food residue may end up being thrown away as trash. If it contaminates too many of the other recyclables in the bin, the whole load could end up in the landfill. What a waste.

What you can do: Rinse your dirty food containers before tossing them into the recycling bin.

2. “Coffee cups can be recycled.” 

Did you know that your takeaway coffee cups cannot be recycled? Photo Credit: Zile

Most coffee cups are lined with a thin layer of plastic. This makes coffee cups difficult to recycle as only certain recycling facilities are able to recycle the coffee cup by separating the paper from its plastic lining.

What you can do: Check if your items are made from a single material. If your item is made of two or more materials, it cannot be recycled.

You can also refer to the National Environment Agency’s list of what can and cannot be recycled in Singapore to be sure.

Surprisingly, plastic bags and plastic packaging like sliced bread bags, magazine wrappers, and film packaging for plastic drinks can be recycled in Singapore. Photo Credit: Zile


Potato chips packaging, drinking straws, coffee stirrers and styrofoam takeaway boxes should be disposed into the trash. Photo Credit: Chua Zile

3. “Biodegradable plastics are good for the earth!” 

In Singapore, “biodegradable plastics” are not as good for the environment as their names would suggest.

In fact, these plastics cannot be recycled. They have to be treated industrially under specific conditions in order to decompose effectively.

Unfortunately, we do not have the facilities to treat biodegradable plastics in Singapore, so they should be thrown away as general waste. Biodegradable plastics are incinerated and sent to the landfill, where they act like any normal plastic.

In Singapore, biodegradable plastics remain intact for as long as any regular plastic. Photo Credit: Zile

What you can do: Use biodegradable plastics sparingly, and do not recycle them!

4. “Recycling my used items is the only recycling I know…” 

While it is good to make a conscious effort in recycling your used items, most of us tend to forget that the choices we make when purchasing these items makes a difference too.

When you buy products made of recycled material, you help to close the loop on recycling by giving materials a place to go after they have been recycled.

You can tell if a product is made out of recycled material from indication on its packaging, or through labels. ‘FSC’ logos (‘100%’, ‘Recycled’, or ‘Mix’) are common labels you can look out for to find out where your product comes from.

What you can do: Choose recycled products over new products. Keep an eye out for labels indicating that the product is made with recycled material.

By buying products with ‘FSC’ logos, you are helping the world’s forests. “FSC Mix” indicates that the wood within the product comes from recycled material, certified forests, or controlled wood. Photo Credit: Zile

5. “Throwing ONE disposable away doesn’t make a difference.” 

A plastic bottle will take 450 years to break down, which is the timespan of about 15 generations.

In that time, your plastic bottle will be broken down into smaller and smaller plastics that will flow into the ocean and end up in fish that you eat!

By sending your one plastic bottle to the recycling bin, you are saving 15 generations (think about your children, your grandchildren…) from experiencing that amount of plastic in their environment.

What you can do: Make that difference by recycling even one single plastic bottle.

6. “Just use, later then recycle lah!”

Using as much as you want and recycling after does not minimise the negative impact on the environment.

Every time you recycle a piece of plastic, it gets reduced into a lower quality plastic—your plastic bottle cannot be recycled into another plastic bottle, but it could be converted into clothing fibre or a park bench.

You can only recycle your plastic bottle a limited number of times before it becomes another piece of waste on our planet.

Plastic bottles do not get recycled into plastic bottles. They can be recycled to become fibre for sweaters. Photo Credit: Zile

What you can do: Reduce, reuse, then recycle! You should find ways to reuse what you already own, and take only what you need.


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