Why does Singapore not recycle batteries?
Singapore is proud of her political and economical achievement, although she is just a tiny dot in the world map. However, the effort of her people in environmental protection is not enough if we compare the lifestyle of most Singaporean with those in western countries.
Battery-recycling is a hot issue as battery itself is dangerous and it contains heavy metal such as Cadmium and Nickel. The leakage of these heavy metals into soil will spoil the ability of soil to grow crops in long term. The expose of these heavy metals into environment will affect human health and ecosystem through a process called Bio-accumulation.
However, the decision of not recycling batteries is quite unrelated to the green movement in Singapore. In Singapore’s context, the most suitable way to dispose batteries is by incineration. You may wonder why, let me explain slowly.
First, Singapore government has banned the dangerous batteries which contain high heavy metal since 1992. The government controls the potential threat posed by source control, which is more effective. Reduce always takes the higher priority than recycle.
Second, Singapore incinerates her municipal waste and disposes the incinerated bottom ash at Pulau Semakau landfill. The amount of batteries ash occupied less than 1% of the daily disposed amount in landfill. Hence, this amount is negligible in order to extend the lifespan of Pulau Semakau landfill.
Third, the four incineration plants in Singapore have good management as the concentration of hazardous waste in flying ash is less than 0.01% of original concentration. Both flying ash and incinerated bottom ash are stabilized well, after the TCLP (Toxic Characteristic Leaching Procedures) test(which is introduced by US Environmental Protection Agency), and before being dispose into Pulau Semakau landfill.
How about building a battery recycling plant in Singapore? This suggestion may be suitable in South Korea and Japan, which have strong local supply of unwanted batteries. A battery recycling plant in Singapore needs to import batteries from neighbouring countries. But importing these hazardous waste needs to go through several international legislation such as Basel Convention, which are very problematic.
Hong Kong and Taiwan practice battery-recycling, as their main waste disposal method is by landfill. The heavy metal may leak out and contaminate their ground and groundwater. So, they gather all those batteries into a large compartment and send them to South Korea or Japan. For a normal household batteries, several grams of metal will be recovered through recycling process.
Geographically, Hong Kong and Taiwan are nearer to South Korea and Japan. The carbon footprint produced through the transportation from Singapore may be another concern. Moreover, after storing those batteries inside a big compartment for several months, leaking problem may occur and pollute other clean batteries, even the container itself.
The last reason may be the main reason: cost. According to Final Year Report done by NUS undergraduate, the cost of disposing batteries by incineration is much cheaper, varies from 10 times to 100 times than recycling them oversea.
Another alternative may be proposed to start the battery-recycling programme in Singapore. May be we can find out how Hong Kong government solves the leaking problem during export, and recycle secondary (rechargeable) batteries only, as secondary batteries are more toxic than primary batteries.
Before that, we may have to put more effort in paper, plastics, cans and glass recycling, which is more meaningful. As I mentioned in the beginning of this article, our effort is simply not enough.