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Reduction In Overall Waste Generation In 2020, With Less Waste Sent To Semakau Landfill

23 Apr 2021

Recycling rates improved for some waste streams despite difficult COVID-19 situation

Singapore, 23 April 2021 – The National Environment Agency’s (NEA) 2020 waste and recycling statistics revealed that in 2020, waste generation and recyclables collection were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Waste generated at office, commercial and industrial premises fell in tandem with the pause in non-essential economic activities during the Circuit Breaker and the reduction in the demand for goods and restriction in the movement of people last year. There was also less waste recycled by the non-domestic sector. The aggregate recycling volumes were therefore lower.

2          About 5.88 million tonnes of solid waste was generated, which was 19 per cent less than the 7.23 million tonnes generated [1] in 2019. Of the waste amount generated in 2020, 3.04 million tonnes was recycled. Waste generation by the non-domestic[2] and domestic sectors[3] both saw a reduction in 2020 – from 5.37 million tonnes and 1.87 million tonnes respectively in 2019, to 4.12 million tonnes and 1.76 million tonnes respectively in 2020. The recycling rate in the non-domestic sector fell to 68 per cent in 2020 from 73 per cent in 2019, while that in the domestic sector fell to 13 per cent from 17 per cent. Overall, the recycling rate[4] fell to 52 per cent in 2020 from 59 per cent in 2019.

3          The 2020 waste and recycling statistics released today can be accessed at (refer to Annex A for the full 2020 statistics).

Key findings and observations

4          In 2020, overall waste generated decreased for a fourth consecutive year since 2017 resulting in less waste being sent to Semakau Landfill. The amount of waste recycled and disposed of in 2020 fell by 28 per cent and five percent respectively compared to 2019.

5          Households disposed of more packaging waste, as online shopping and home-delivered food gained market share during the Circuit Breaker. However, recyclables collections from the domestic sector were put on hold at the peak of the pandemic in 2020 and only restarted gradually from 3Q 2020. As the impact of COVID-19 gradually eases, the waste generation and recycling patterns of 2020 are unlikely to be repeated in 2021.

6          Presented below are some topline findings from the 2020 waste statistics and recycling rates:

a.  Drop in the overall recycling rate in 2020 due to reduction in waste generated of two key industrial waste streams – Construction and Demolition[5] (C&D) waste and Ferrous Metals.

The overall recycling rate decreased from 59 percent in 2019 to 52 percent in 2020. The recycling rates of each of the 14 waste streams were either consistent with those of 2019 or better, except for Paper/Cardboard waste. The drop in the overall recycling rate in 2020 is largely due to the substantially smaller amounts of Ferrous Metal scrap and Construction & Demolition (C&D) waste generated and recycled. Both of these waste streams have traditionally high recycling rates. C&D waste has been one of the largest waste streams in the last decade. The smaller amount of C&D waste generated in 2020 was due to the slowdown of the construction industry, particularly the halt in construction activities during the Circuit Breaker period.

Ferrous metals, another major waste stream, saw large falls in both the amount of waste generated and recycled. This was mainly due to the slowdown in industrial activities due to COVID-19 measures.

While the recycling rates for these two waste streams did not change and remained high, a drop in the quantities of these waste streams affected the overall recycling rates because they made up a significant portion of the waste mix.

b.  Drop in waste generation for plastic and food waste in 2020. Food waste recycling rate increased in non-domestic sector.

Compared to 2019, the overall amount of plastic waste generated fell by about seven per cent. The overall recycling rate of plastic waste was four per cent in 2020, similar to 2019.

The plastic waste generated in 2020 in the non-domestic sector fell to 463,000 tonnes compared to 504,000 tonnes in 2019.  Less plastic waste was disposed of by industry due to the slowdown in activities during the Circuit Breaker.

For the domestic and trade sector, the amount of plastic waste generated fell from 426,000 tonnes in 2019 to 405,000 tonnes in 2020. Less plastic waste was disposed of at shophouses, places of worship and hawker centres. The amount of plastic recyclables collected under the National Recycling Programme (NRP) in 2020 was 2,300 tonnes compared to 2,800 tonnes in 2019. The Cash-for-Trash scheme and door-to-door activities were halted during the Circuit Breaker, which led to a drop in collection of plastic recyclables.

The overall amount of food waste generated in 2020 was 665,000 tonnes, which was 11 per cent less than the 744,000 tonnes in 2019. There was a slight increase in the recycling rate for food waste from 18 per cent in 2019 to 19 per cent in 2020.

The amount of food waste generated in the non-domestic sector in 2020 was 223,000 tonnes compared to 258,000 tonnes in 2019. In the domestic sector, the amount of food waste generated in 2020 fell to 442,000 tonnes from 486,000 tonnes in 2019.

c.   Paper/cardboard waste was the largest waste stream in 2020.

The amount of paper/cardboard waste generated increased by 13 per cent from 1.01 million tonnes in 2019 to 1.14 million tonnes in 2020. The overall recycling rate of paper/cardboard fell from 44 per cent in 2019 to 38 per cent in 2020. The drop in the recycling rate of paper also contributed to the lower overall recycling rate. Less paper recyclables were collected during the Circuit Breaker period when the Cash-for-Trash scheme, ad-hoc collection drives by schools and Residents’ Committee centres and door-to-door recyclables collection programmes by the Public Waste Collectors (PWCs) were halted. The continued low overseas demand for paper recyclables and COVID-19-related trade restrictions also contributed to the low recycling rate of paper. More packaging waste from online shopping and home-delivered food being disposed of by households also led to higher paper/cardboard waste generation.

7          While the COVID-19 situation has disrupted 3R (Reduce, Reuse and Recycle) efforts, environmental sustainability remains important. Our national goals are to achieve a 70 per cent overall recycling rate and to reduce the amount of waste sent to Semakau Landfill by 30 per cent per capita per day by 2030. Under the Singapore Green Plan 2030, we are frontloading this to achieve a 20 per cent reduction in waste-to-landfill per capita per day by 2026.

8          It will take a whole-of-nation effort to achieve Singapore’s vision of a Zero Waste Nation.  To this end, NEA will continue to engage businesses and consumers to be more sustainable. We will achieve this through the various campaigns and engagements, and our waste reduction efforts to close the waste loop (refer to Annex B for more information on our waste reduction efforts to close the waste loop). This is a long-term effort that requires all of us – from the people, private and public sector – to work together.


[1] Waste generation is made up the total waste disposed of and total waste recycled.

[2] Non-domestic waste is waste collected from industries and commercial premises.

[3] Domestic waste is waste collected from households and trade premises (e.g. shophouses, educational institutions, petrol stations, hawker centres and places of worship).

[4] The recycling rate is derived from the amount of waste recycled divided by the total amount of waste recycled and waste disposed of.

[5] C&D waste and ferrous metal/non-ferrous metal together typically accounts for 60 per cent of waste generated and waste recycled quantities.

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2020 Waste Statistics and Overall Recycling Rate Table

Total Generated

Total Recycled

Recycling Rate

Total Disposed

Waste type

('000 tonnes)

('000 tonnes)

('000 tonnes)






Ferrous metal










Construction & Demolition




















Ash & sludge










Used slag





Non-ferrous metal










Scrap tyres





Others (stones, ceramics, etc.)











Figures are rounded to the nearest thousand and percentage point.
Metal recovered from incineration bottom ash for recycling is excluded from waste disposed of.
Wood and horticultural wastes recycled include 406,000 tonnes sent to facilities (e.g. biomass power plants and Sembcorp’s Energy from Waste plant) for use as fuel.



Waste Reduction Efforts To Close the Waste Loop

1          NEA’s efforts to close the waste loop of our three priority waste streams - electrical and electronic waste (e-waste), packaging waste including plastics, and food waste, will be regulated under the Resource Sustainability Act (RSA). They are as follows:

  • The generation of e-waste is expected to increase in tandem with greater adoption of technology and use of electrical and electronic equipment. NEA has appointed Alba Group PLC & Co. KG (Alba) as the Producer Responsibility Scheme (PRS) Operator for e-waste from 1 July 2021 to 30 June 2026. This is to manage the collection and proper treatment of consumer e-waste, and to improve our e-waste recycling rate.
  • For food waste, commercial and industrial establishments that generate large amounts of food waste will be required to segregate their food waste for treatment from 2024 onwards.
  • For packaging waste, producers of packaged products and retailers such as supermarkets with an annual turnover of more than $10 million will be required to collect packaging data and develop plans to reduce, reuse or recycle packaging under the Mandatory Packaging Reporting requirements. The first reports are to be submitted in 1Q 2022. This is a step towards making companies aware of the environmental impact of packaging that they supply to the market, and spur them to reduce packaging and packaging waste. These Mandatory Packaging Reporting requirements set the foundation for an upcoming Extended Producer Responsibility framework for packaging waste.
  • To increase the recycling of beverage containers, NEA will introduce a legislative framework for the take-back of beverage containers by 2022. NEA has been engaging the community and industry to develop the framework through channels such as surveys and Requests-for-Information. There will be a transition period for industry before implementation of the system in 2023, to allow consumers and industry to adjust and make the necessary preparations, such as the setting up of the collection and recycling infrastructure for beverage containers. NEA will continue to consult stakeholders, including the public and industry, in the coming months. This will be part of the overall Extended Producer Responsibility framework for packaging waste which will also extend beyond beverage containers to cover other types of packaging.
  • To support companies in their journey towards more sustainable management of packaging waste, NEA has partnered the Singapore Manufacturing Federation (SMF) to develop the Packaging Partnership Programme. This is a capability development programme and a key platform to bring companies and organisations together to share best practices in the sustainable management of packaging waste.
  • To improve our recycling capabilities and plastic recycling rates, NEA is developing local mechanical recycling capabilities to process clean post-consumer plastic waste. As part of our plans, NEA is evaluating chemical recycling to treat contaminated plastics that cannot be mechanically recycled, into higher-value products e.g. pyrolysis oil, which can then be used to manufacture new plastic products.
  • To further turn our waste into resources, NEA is pushing ahead with research and development (R&D) to go even further, so as to close the waste loop for a range of end-of-life waste streams and residues that end up at Semakau Landfill. Last year, NEA issued a Request For Proposals to study the technical feasibility of recovering mixed landfilled materials. These comprise incineration bottom ash (IBA) and incineration fly ash (IFA) from waste-to-energy (WtE) plants and non-incinerable waste (NIW) from industries, which have been landfilled at Semakau Landfill. The findings from the resultant R&D project(s) would enable us to better understand how we can put these mixed landfilled materials to use and extend the lifespan of Semakau Landfill.

2          Our collective individual efforts count. To nudge behavioural change, NEA has been raising awareness about the excessive consumption of disposables, as well as food wastage.  In our campaigns, such as the Say YES to Waste Less Campaign, we encourage everyone, including businesses to act. In 2020, the campaign involved 95 partners, such as DBS, LiHO, Starbucks, Greendot, UglyFood and Prime Supermarket, covering more than 2,100 premises. These partners encouraged their customers to reduce the use of disposables and/or food wastage through initiatives such as doing away with disposables for takeaways, and offering perks to customers who bring their own reusables or dine in the final hours before closing. We are encouraged by the growing number of partners who have come onboard to support the campaign with their various initiatives.

3          To further address the excessive consumption of disposables, Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment (MSE) and NEA convened a Citizens’ Workgroup on Reducing the Excessive Consumption of Disposables in September 2020. MSE and NEA have supported and will be working with stakeholders to implement in some form, eight out of 14 recommendations from the Workgroup. These include recommendations pertaining to enhancing education, use of nudges, financial incentives and a disposable carrier bag charge at supermarkets. MSE and NEA will consult relevant stakeholders and members of the public on the bag charge recommendation, to develop an appropriate charging model for Singapore.