How many times have you wondered if the plastic trash you hold in your hand is recyclable? You don’t want to simply throw it away and contribute to microplastic waste, so you toss it in the recycling bin just in case it could be recycled.
Recyclers call this aspirational recycling, or wish-cycling. This is because, contrary to what you hear, not everything – even those with a triangle recycle logo – can really be recycled.
Coffee cups & bubble tea cups aren’t recyclable
Billions of disposable coffee cups are discarded each year, and they can’t be recycled because they’re composed of different materials. The thin plastic coating on the inside prevents leakage, but it’s very difficult to separate it from the paper cup – so it can’t be recycled as paper, or as plastic. It goes in the landfill.
Coffee cup lids aren’t that much easier to recycle due to the low quality of the plastic. Same goes for most bubble tea plastic cups. Recyclers don’t buy secondhand plastic because they tend to fragment in to tiny, unusable pieces (ie. microplastics). The only place for it is in the trash. If you drink enough coffee, you may want to invest in those portable coffee cups – there are plenty of designs out there.
And bubble tea cups? Definitely not recyclable, so don’t throw them in the plastic recycling bin. Since we drink a lot of it, the best option is to get a reusable BBT cup.
Toothpaste and toothbrushes need special treatment
Toothpaste tubes present a challenge because while they may be plastic, they contain different grades of plastic as well as other materials like aluminum. Even toothbrushes contain different kinds of plastic, like the hard handle and the soft bristles. This makes recycling them challenging.
Metal tubes, glass jars, and tins of toothpaste (if you can find them) are more recyclable. If you want to make your morning routine more eco-friendly, why not switch to bamboo toothbrushes (which are biodegradable)?
Not all containers with a recycling logo can be recycled
You often find fruits as well as takeout containers that come packaged in flimsy, clear clamshell packaging – these are often very low quality and made of different types of plastic (harder plastics for tops, softer ones for hinges). This means they’re poor candidates for recycling and should be tossed in the trash bin.
In general, check the triangle plastic code (known as the “chasing arrows”), which range from 1 to 7, on the products to see if they’re recyclable. Not every number is recyclable. Hard plastics (numbers 1 and 2) are consistently recyclable.
In general, PET (polyethylene terephthalate), commonly used in plastic drink bottles, and PP (polypropylene) – used for bottle caps, margarine tubs, and meal trays – are recyclable in Singapore. If in doubt, 1 is for PET and 5 is for PP.
The types of plastic that aren’t recyclable in Singapore are styrofoam and PS (polystyrene) – or number 6 – typically used in plastic cutlery.
If you have plastic bags – like those from supermarkets – chances are they’re oxo or bio-degradable. Despite being ‘bio-degradable’, these can only go in the trash as they quickly break down over time, creating microplastic waste. Flimsy plastic bags can clog up expensive sorting equipment, causing delays and endangering workers at recycling plants. This is why we should bring our own bags when we go shopping in the first place.
Yes, you have to wash your recyclables
Before chucking them in the recycling bin, however, they have to be emptied and washed. Plastic waste with leftover food, drinks, or shampoo can contaminate an entire batch of perfectly good recyclables, rendering everything junk. Recycling facilities typically don’t clean before they process, so you may create a bigger problem if you don’t wash your plastic containers.
Plastic can’t be recycled forever
One of the biggest misconceptions about plastic is assuming that it can be recycled into the same kind of object. However, beverage companies use only a small amount of recycled plastic because 100% recycled plastic isn’t translucent. More likely, recycled plastic is used in items like carpets, fleece, or plastic flooring.
As plastic degrades upon recycling, experts estimate that it may only be recyclable once or twice – after that, it’s chucked in the landfill or end up becoming microplastics.
For a simple guide to what can and can’t be recycled in Singapore, here’s a guide. If you’re looking to reduce your carbon footprint, the only real solution to recycling is to consume less waste in the first place. Bring your own containers and cups for food and drinks, and always leave the home with a reusable bag (there are plenty that fold down to a tiny size) because you never know what you’ll want to buy when you’re out.