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‘Can you recycle that?’: The secondsguru Guide to Sorting it Right in Singapore

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Recycling in Singapore: Can? Or Cannot? From stuffed animals, to pizza boxes to Tetra Paks, here’s how to properly dispose of it, mama!

There is such a variety of waste we produce in our houses – holed out favourite tees, grubby shoes the kids outgrew, bottles and bottles of beauty products that have tried hard to disguise our age, that mountain of Frozen memorabilia that can finally be exiled… it’s an unending list out there! Most of us try to conscientiously donate and recycle where possible, and trash the rest.

But what if you knew that your efforts were – literally – going waste? More than one-third of the collection from Singapore household recycling bins ends up in the landfill – simply because some of us did not recycle properly!

Singapore separates paper/plastic/metal/glass at a sorting plant after collections. Sadly, a high proportion – between 30-50% of the haul from household recycle bins – is found to be unfit due to contamination by food waste, soiled materials and trash. We sat down with the NEA (National Environment Agency) to find out what can or cannot be recycled. Here’s our pick of the biggest offenders and most confusing items. So if you have ever been mystified when sorting your trash, read on!


Filled-up cosmetic or food/drink jars

Plastic, glass jars and metal containers are recyclable. But be sure empty them out, or if needed, lightly rinse them first. Leaking chemicals or even food/drink remains contaminate perfectly good materials around them, even making them unfit for recycling. This is especially true for Singapore where paper may nestle next to jars till it reaches the sorting plant.

Pizza Boxes

Pizzerias around the world uniformly use cardboard boxes – not because they have a secret pact against plastic – but simply because paper absorbs oil wonderfully. And that’s exactly why soiled pizza boxes cannot go for recycling. The oiliness works against the paper recycling process, plus the food debris attracts pests!


Stuffed Toys

Stuff toys, cushions, mattresses, pillows – these cannot be recycled in Singapore. The stray item that reaches the sorting machine creates a menace as machines rip the outer fabric out and the stuffing creates an elaborate mess! So please donate these if in usable condition. If not, (sigh!) trashing is the way to go.

Tetra Paks

Many countries cannot handle tetrapacks – but Singapore can (or at least, it knows where to pack and send them for afterlife!). Empty out the packs before you hand them in.


Plastic bags and straws

Yes you can! We wish these single-use plastics had never entered the consumer chain – but now that they are here, let’s ensure that they come back in a different avatar. Rinse used straws and empty the bags before depositing in the recycle bin.

Food waste

Absolutely no, but you know this already! From small used tea bags to mounds of cereal that confused you by tasting like cardboard  – please trash them down your chute! If you have some space in your balcony or backyard, you can compost at home. Raw food scraps, peels, old cardboard, tea leaves and coffee grounds can all be composted.

For the full list of what you can or cannot recycle – save or print our handy poster! Just click on the image to download, mama!


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