What are disposables?
Disposables are items designed for single use before they are thrown away.
We can think of disposables in two broad groups:
They are usually made of plastic, paper, biodegradable materials, or a combination of these.
What’s the issue with using disposables?
Disposables can be useful – for instance, medical items such as syringes, bandages, and masks. However, in many cases, disposables are not essential because there are reusable options that could be used and reused many times!
In these cases, disposables often serve more to provide convenience to businesses and consumers. They are usually used briefly for only one time before they are discarded. Such usage can be very wasteful!
Do we create a lot of waste from using disposables?
In 2020, about 200,000 tonnes of domestic waste disposed of in Singapore were disposables. This comprised both packaging and non-packaging items such as carrier bags, food and beverage containers, and tableware and utensils.
At the rate that we currently create waste, our only landfill, Semakau Landfill, will be fully filled by 2035! Reducing our use of disposables will contribute toward our various efforts to reduce waste generation
, in order to achieve our target of reducing the amount of waste to landfill by 20% by 2026 and 30% by 2030
.Semakau Landfill. Source: National Environment Agency.Did you know that recycling right also helps to reduce the waste sent to Semakau Landfill? Pick up recycling tips from Bloobin at cgs.gov.sg/recycleright.
Will reducing our use of disposables help mitigate climate change?
Yes, it will. It also helps to conserve Earth’s precious resources.
Resources such as oil, plants, water, and energy are used to produce disposables, transport them to users, and process them at waste treatment facilities. Greenhouse gases are also emitted during the process of production, transportation, and disposal of disposables, especially if fossil fuels are burnt.
Why don’t we ban single-use plastics, since they contribute to marine litter?
The issue of marine litter has increased international attention on single-use plastics. Globally, land-based trash is the largest source of marine litter. Littering and lack of effective waste management systems are key reasons why such land-based waste, including plastics, end up in the ocean.
Singapore has several measures to prevent waste from land-based sources from ending up in our environment. Our measures include:
-- Integrated solid waste management system that ensures all waste is collected for disposal or recycling.
-- Proper treatment of waste that is not recycled, at our waste-to-energy incineration plants and disposal at Semakau Landfill.
-- Strict anti-littering regulations.
-- Waterway and coastal clean-up measures.
-- Controlling the discharge of pollutants into inland waters.
More information can be found in the National Action Strategy on Marine Litter.
Banning single-use plastics may also lead to a switch to disposables made from other materials such as paper or degradable plastics, which also create waste, have their own set of environmental impacts and are not necessarily better for the environment.
In view of the above, instead of advocating a switch to degradable materials, Singapore’s approach is to reduce the use of disposables regardless of material type, and promote the use of reusables.
What have we done to reduce our use of disposables?
There are wide-ranging efforts to reduce the use of disposables, from regulations to national campaigns and voluntary initiatives.
Click on the headers below to find out more.
What can I do to reduce my use of disposables?
Mandatory Packaging Reporting
From 2021, producers of packaged products, such as brand owners, manufacturers, and importers, as well as retailers such as supermarkets, with an annual turnover exceeding $10 million, have to collect data on packaging they supply to the market. They also have to develop plans to reduce, reuse or recycle (3R) packaging in Singapore, and submit these 3R plans together with their packaging data annually to NEA, from 2022. The Mandatory Packaging Reporting scheme aims to raise companies’ awareness on the amount of packaging used and spur them to better manage or reduce their use of packaging, including disposable packaging.
Extended Producer Responsibility for Packaging Waste Management
The Mandatory Packaging Reporting scheme lays the foundation to put in place an Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) framework to manage packaging waste eventually. Under the EPR, producers will be responsible for the collection and treatment of the packaging that they supply to the market. The first phase of the EPR approach to managing packaging waste will be a beverage container return scheme, which will commence on 1 April 2025 and be fully implemented on 1 July 2025. This scheme will improve the recycling of beverage containers, which are single-use containers.
Singapore Packaging Agreement and Packaging Partnership Programme
The Singapore Packaging Agreement (SPA), launched in 2007, was a joint initiative by government, industry, and non-governmental organisations to reduce packaging waste. Signatories of the SPA had cumulatively reduced about 62,000 tonnes of packaging waste and saved about S$150 million, through actions such as making improvements to their packaging designs or practices to reduce packaging material usage, switching from single-use to reusable containers, or eliminating unnecessary packaging.
With the expiry of the SPA on 30 June 2020 and to carry on its good work of spurring improvements and providing opportunities for the sharing of best practices in sustainable packaging waste management, NEA has partnered the Singapore Manufacturing Federation (SMF) to implement a joint Packaging Partnership Programme from 24 March 2021. Apart from facilitating access to experts who can provide technical assistance to the companies in identifying areas for improvement, workshops and training sessions will be conducted to support companies in tracking and reporting their packaging data, as well as developing their 3R plans for packaging, to comply with the new mandatory packaging reporting requirements.
Reducing Disposables at Community Spaces
NEA has been working with stakeholders to reduce the use of disposables at hawker centres managed by NEA. NEA has disallowed the usage of disposables for dine-in meals at all new hawker centres, and at existing hawker centres which have adopted the use of common crockery and centralised dishwashing services under the Productive Hawker Centres programme. In addition, NEA does not allow new cooked food stallholders at existing hawker centres to provide disposables to patrons for dine-in meals. To reduce the use of bottled water, water dispensers have been installed in most hawker centres, sport centres, and some bus and MRT stations.
“Say YES to Waste Less” Campaign
The NEA runs the nationwide “Say YES to Waste Less” campaign, to drive public awareness of the impact of excessive consumption of disposables and the need for action. Retailers, F&B outlets, supermarkets, hotels, grassroots organisations, schools, and NGOs partner the NEA in this effort to encourage action at points of consumption. This includes prompting customers to opt out of disposable cutlery for their online orders, providing incentives to customers who bring their reusables, and actively encouraging employees to reduce their use of disposables.
Campaigns and Voluntary Business Initiatives
NGOs such as the Singapore Environment Council, Zero Waste SG, and BYO Bottle Singapore have run campaigns to rally retailers and consumers around the Bring Your Own movement, where customers are encouraged to bring their own reusable bags, bottles, or containers.
Initiatives such as WWF-Singapore’s Plastic ACTion (PACT) commit businesses to phasing out disposables such as straws and cutlery, and to not provide disposable utensils by default for online food delivery. Some retailers have also started charging for the use of disposables such as carrier bags and take-away food containers.
New Business Models
Grocery stores that offer packaging-free products are available in Singapore. Examples include Unpackt Pte Ltd, The Source Bulk Foods, and Scoop Wholefoods Pty Ltd, and not to forget our market stalls where fresh and dried goods are often sold without pre-packaging. Reusable take-away container rental services such as Muuse have also entered the market and partnered with F&B outlets and food delivery companies to rent out reusable food containers or cups to customers, who return the containers after using them to collection points.
Citizens’ Workgroup on Reducing Excessive Consumption of Disposables
MSE and NEA convened a Citizens’ Workgroup to address the issue of excessive consumption of disposables in September 2020. Comprising 55 members of the public from diverse backgrounds, the Workgroup exchanged ideas and consulted stakeholders over seven sessions. The Workgroup submitted its recommendations in January 2021.
MSE and NEA supported the Workgroup’s recommendations on educating the public on environmental sustainability, shaping behavioural change through nudges, supporting companies to adopt solutions that reduce the need for packaging and disposables, developing and providing a “Reduction of Disposables” checklist for F&B establishments, as well as a disposable carrier bag charge at supermarkets.
More information on the Workgroup’s recommendations and MSE and NEA’s response can be found at https://www.cgs.gov.sg/citizensworkgroup/reports.
Disposable Carrier Bag Charge at Supermarkets
A disposable carrier bag charge will be implemented from 3 July 2023 at supermarket outlets operated by companies with an annual turnover of more than $100 million. A minimum of five cents will be charged for each disposable carrier bag provided at these SFA-licenced supermarket outlets. To uphold transparency and public accountability, the covered supermarket operators will be required to publish information on the number of disposable carrier bags provided, the amount of proceeds collected from the charge, and how the proceeds are used. More information can be found here.
There are various actions that you can take to reduce your use of disposables. Click on the headers below to find out.
- Leaving the house? Bring a bag or two with you. If you like to travel light, fold up a plastic carrier bag into a small triangle and slip it into your pocket. If you tend to forget, leave some bags near your house keys or front door so that you remember to take them.
- Think again at the cashier counter. Can you carry your purchases in your backpack/handbag, pockets, or hands? Refuse disposable carrier bags that you don’t need.
- Many people reuse disposable bags to bag their waste. You can reduce the bags you use for waste disposal, by practising the 3Rs. Find out how to Say YES to Waste Less here.
- Don’t throw product packaging away! You can reuse such packaging – like bread bags, cereal bags, flat-top bags for loose fruits and vegetables, zip-lock bags for dry foods, and many more – to bag your waste.
- You can take an old cookie or yogurt tub and line it with such bags, or poke a hole at the top of the bag and hang it from a hook.
- When the bag is full, you can use an overhand knot to tie it up, or use a rubber band or staples to close the top. If it’s a zip-lock bag, even better – just seal it!
Food and beverage containers/utensils
- Leaving the house to buy food and drinks? Bring along your clean reusable containers, cups, and a bag to carry them! Remember to refuse disposable utensils or straws too.
- Do you like to take-away lunch to eat in the comfort of your office? Leave a set of clean reusable container, cup, cutlery, and bag in the office, so that you can use these to take-away your food. You could avoid using up to 200 sets of disposables in a year!
- You can also bring your own mug to the office, to avoid using disposable cups. More tips on practising the 3Rs in office can be found here.
- Ordering food delivery? Put in a request for no cutlery (the major food delivery platforms provide no disposable cutlery by default). You can also consider signing up with providers of reusable take-away container services, which have partnered with some food delivery platforms to offer food delivery in reusable containers.
- Non-governmental organisation Zero Waste SG has more tips and information on Bring-Your-Own etiquette here.
- Are you heading out for a long day? Stay hydrated by bringing your own bottle of water!
Packaging in general
- Buying groceries or provisions? Consider bringing your own clean reusable containers to stores or stalls that offer goods in loose quantities for sale, to avoid the use of packaging.
- You could also buy toiletries and household items (e.g. detergent, shampoo) in larger sizes – this would generally reduce the amount of packaging used compared to buying the same amount in smaller sizes.
- You can also look out for products that feature the ‘Logo for Products with Reduced Packaging’, which indicates that the packaging has been improved to reduce the amount of packaging materials used.
Participants from the Citizens’ Workgroup on Reducing Excessive Consumption of Disposables and non-governmental organisation WWF-Singapore have also developed an educational resource for students and teachers. It provides information on the issue of disposables and actions to reduce usage, as well as activity ideas for students. The resource can be accessed here.
What can my business or organisation do to reduce disposables and waste?
You may refer to the resources listed below for more information and guidance. Click on the relevant headers for details.
F&Bs / Retailers
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: I would like to bring my own containers to take-away food, but I have heard of other people who have been rejected when they tried to do so. What should I do?
A: First of all, make sure that your containers are clean and dry! Second, some stalls may not be able to handle customers’ requests to use their own containers, especially during peak hours. Non-governmental organisation Zero Waste SG has more tips and information on Bring-Your-Own etiquette here.
Q: Can I bring my own container to take away food or drinks from Halal-certified establishments?
A: Yes, you may do so as long as your container is empty and clean. Refer to Muis’ advisory here.
Q: It’s so inconvenient to bring my own reusable container to take away food, and I still have to wash my container afterwards! What’s in it for me to bring my own container?
A: Everyone should do their part for the environment! Nevertheless, there are businesses that offer incentives for bringing your own reusables – refer to the list of Say YES to Waste Less partners here, as well as Supporters of the BYO Singapore movement here. You could also consider signing up with providers of reusable take-away container services, which work with F&B partners to provide reusable containers at the partners’ outlets for take-away.
Q: Are more resources wasted to wash my reusable containers, compared to using disposable containers?
A: NEA had previously commissioned a life-cycle assessment study on carrier bags and food packaging in Singapore’s context. The study found that reusable containers consume relatively more water than some other disposables during their life cycle due to washing needs. However, in other aspects such as greenhouse gas emissions and energy use, they were among the more environmentally friendly food packaging options.
Q: Are disposables recyclable?
A: Generally, most containers and packaging made from paper, plastic, metal, and glass can be recycled. You should ensure that the items are free from food and liquids, and rinse and remove such contamination if needed. Please do not recycle the items if the contamination cannot be removed – for instance, soiled pizza cardboard boxes. In addition, items which are made from degradable materials (for example, biodegradable bags), as well as Styrofoam cannot be recycled. You can refer to the Recycling Search Engine or this Recycling Guide to check what can or cannot be placed in the recycling bins.
Q: Are more resources wasted to wash the disposables for recycling, compared to just throwing them away?
A: Most items such as bottles, cans, containers, and cartons for packaging food and beverages would not need much washing. However, items that require too much washing, such as very oily containers, should be disposed of as general waste. For more information on how to recycle right, click here.
Q: Isn’t it okay to use disposables as long as I put them in the recycling bin afterwards?
A: Where possible, we should seek to reduce and reuse so as to use our resources efficiently and avoid creating waste in the first place. While recycling helps to recover resources from waste, the process of recycling does incur environmental impact such as energy use.
In addition, not all disposables can or should be put in the recycling bin. This includes disposables for which the contamination cannot be removed, as they could contaminate the clean recyclables in the recycling bin. There are disposables that cannot be recycled in Singapore, such as those made of degradable plastics or Styrofoam. Some disposables (e.g. disposable face masks, disposable medical syringes) are also meant to be discarded after use for hygiene reasons, and not sent for recycling. Visit https://www.cgs.gov.sg/recycleright/check-my-item to check if your items can or cannot be recycled in the blue recycling bins.
Q: Are reusable bags more environmentally friendly than plastic bags?
A: NEA had previously commissioned a life-cycle assessment study on carrier bags and food packaging in Singapore’s context. The study found that reusable bags are the most environmentally-friendly option for carrying groceries and similar items. The study also found that the use of 10 reusable bags (non-woven polypropylene or nylon bags) over a year is equivalent to the use of 1,248 plastic or degradable bags, or 520 paper bags. This is the number of bags needed for a family of four to buy items over a year.
Food icons created by Freepik - Flaticon
Q: Why will there be a disposable carrier bag charge at supermarkets? I already re-use those bags for bagging my waste. Isn’t that environmentally friendly? How are we supposed to bag our waste?
A: The intent of the bag charge is to spur sustainable consumption behaviour, like taking only what you need. We hope that it will encourage people to be more mindful of how they use disposable carrier bags and build environmentally friendly habits.
Everyone should continue with the responsible practice of bagging waste before disposal as disposable bags will still be available from supermarkets. We can also repurpose empty product packaging, like bread or cereal bags, to bag rubbish. In addition, we can look at reducing the waste we dispose of, for example, by reducing food waste and recycling more. You may refer to the section above on “What can I do to reduce my use of disposables?” for tips.
Shopping bag icons created by kmg design - Flaticon
Lunch box icons created by Freepik - Flaticon
All other icons courtesy of UXWING