Singapore’s e-waste maybe causing hellish conditions elsewhere

Our addiction to electronic devices is causing an environmental nightmare around the globe

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Singapore, a country that likes to do well in international rankings, can now add another feather to its cap. The city-state of 5.5 million people is the second-biggest producer of electronic waste per capita in Asia after Hong Kong.

The study by UN’s research unit, the United Nations University said Singaporeans’ throw out a hefty 20kg per capita in e-waste.

This, and other ‘trash’ were brought to light in the new documentary series Trash Trail that debuted on January 30.

National Environment Agency statistics show that Singapore generated a total of 7.67 million tonnes of solid waste in 2015, a whopping 159,000 tonnes more than the previous year.

Based on the information unearthed by Trash Trail, Singapore may still have some way to go.

The programme highlighted the difficulties companies and consumers face in dumping “white goods”, a term for large household appliances including refrigerators and washing machines, in a responsible way due to the lack of expertise and awareness in Singapore.

In one scene workers at a bin centre are seen dismantling an unwanted refrigerator and releasing toxic refrigerants without wearing respirators. It’s also noted that the amount of refrigerant gases in a single compressor, 180g, has the same climate impact as driving a car all the way to Thailand, according to a source on the series.

In Singapore, infocomm companies Dell, Starhub and Panasonic run their own e-waste recycling programmes for personal devices such as mobile phones and laptops, but there are virtually no takers for larger household appliances.

The same could be said of the ubiquitous coffee cup. Although the plastic lids and the outer paper sleeves of the cups can be recycled, the main bodies of coffee cups have a waterproof lining on the inside that makes them impossible to be broken down easily or affordably as people have become too used to the convenience of efficient waste disposal in Singapore.

And it was the sight of towering, giant reams of virgin paper shipped from northern Europe just sitting in the factory warehouse “waiting to be turned into paper cups” that left the deepest impact on the environment according to presenter Godfrey during filming.

“All those resources going into a product that has a lifespan of 15 minutes,” he lamented to Eco-Business. “It’s something we all know – that packaging is wasteful. But seeing that switched something on for me. Now I bring my own tumbler to get coffee, or don’t buy coffee at all.”

Here’s a video of the magnitude of this problem.