E-Waste Management in Singapore: A Comprehensive Guide to Server Disposal and Recycling

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The term ‘e-waste’ encompasses all old electrical appliances either in a state of disrepair or simply obsolete. This includes everything from fridges and microwaves to televisions and mobile phones. It is the fastest growing waste stream in the world and Singapore is no exception to this trend. Indeed, NEA estimates that an average of 60,000 tonnes of e-waste is generated annually. This figure is compounded by the fact that only 6% of this waste is recycled. The low recycling rate can be attributed to the lack of proper e-waste management in Singapore. Picture 1: E-waste in Singapore The consequences of a high e-waste output are severe as e-waste is a particularly ‘dirty’ form of waste, containing many toxic substances and heavy metals such as lead, mercury, and cadmium. Much of the adverse impact on health and the environment arises out of improper handling of this e-waste. Frequently, electrical goods are dumped with household waste and end up in incineration plants or landfill, releasing toxins into the air, water, and soil. Even when e-waste is picked up by ‘karang guni’ men or sent to recycling companies, there is no guarantee that it will be disposed of in an environmentally friendly manner. At present, much of it is simply exported to other countries, notably those in Africa, in order to shift the pollution burden overseas.

Importance of E-Waste Management

According to an article released in the Straits Times on 17 March 2019, Singapore increased e-waste output by 11,400 tonnes from 2014-2017. The wide use of electronic gadgets can be seen as a reason for this increase, that is encouraged by the fast evolution of technology. In 2017 alone, each person in Singapore discarded 19kg of e-waste, and only 6% was recycled. This is startlingly low rate compared to the global standard of 20%. Contrary to popular belief, e-waste that is disposed of in incinerators or landfill do not get destroyed but release toxic chemicals into the air and earth, that can be detrimental to the environment and the health of surrounding populations. This is why proper e-waste management is crucial in the Singapore context. In Singapore, e-waste is regulated as a toxic waste and batteries are toxic due to their heavy metal content. Every regulated product including lithium-ion batteries need to be collected and sent for proper recycling or disposal. This is to prevent inadvertent pollution or harm caused by recycling on makeshift sites or disposal by untrained staff. One of the biggest success stories of e-waste management in Singapore was the introduction of the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) Scheme in 2011. Under this system, brands and electronics importers had to ensure that a certain percentage of the e-waste stemming from their products is recycled. This was to place the accountability of proper e-waste disposal on the producers and not just the general population. Failure to comply with the targets set would result in fines and penalties – the subsidized collection system was an indirect cost. This method was successful and cost effective, resulting in a 37,200 ton reduction in e-waste from 2011 to 2019, achieving the EPRII target of 38,300 ton of e-waste collected from 2021-2027 in just 6 years.

Overview of E-Waste Recycling in Singapore

Singapore has a national programme to tackle the e-waste problem, and already, a system known as Producer Responsibility Scheme (PRS) has been implemented to monitor and control the collection and proper treatment of e-wastes – particularly those of toxic nature. Under the PRS, brand owners of electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) are required to assume physical and financial responsibility of the proper treatment of the items that they put on the market when these items become waste. This is to prevent the irresponsible exporting of waste to countries with less stringent environmental regulations for unsupervised recycling or disposal. This exported waste may cause health and environmental problems in destination countries and add to global e-waste. And the National Environment Agency has awarded contracts to licensed General Waste Collectors to ensure the proper collection is done. These collectors would take the used EEE to the Producer’s doorsteps for storage in preparation of proper treatment and recycling. This system forms the backbone of our local e-waste recycling. Consideration is being made for a consumer return initiative for used EEE in the future.

Server Disposal in Singapore

Server units are relatively high in metal content and some can be considered for metal recycling. Enterprise systems might have some resale value for its parts and the newer systems can be refurbished and resold. Simplest method of course is to engage an IT disposal company to collect and dispose the servers. Servers should not be considered for incineration and must be disposed of in the same method as other e-waste.

Server disposal particularly is a niche market for e-waste. Server units are relatively compact and do not pose a space problem but improper disposal carries the same environmental hazards as compared to other IT equipment like PCs, monitors, and network devices. Server units have more hazardous materials like lead and mercury due to the soldering of components to PCBs (Printed Circuit Boards). Servers can vary from the plain x86 type servers to blade servers and to large enterprise systems like AS/400 and Sparc systems. Disposal methods also vary with the type of server.

Server disposal being part of the IT industry is an area of interest for many of the large and small enterprises in Singapore. Servers are generally the workhorse machines of any IT infrastructure. With an estimated life span of 3-5 years, large companies generally refresh or update their IT infrastructure, leaving them with a problem with what to do with the old servers. A lot of old servers are generally being disposed as e-waste; incinerated or dumped into landfills together with other forms of IT equipment. With environmental awareness increasing, companies are seeking better methods of server disposal. This is a guide for server disposal and recycling in Singapore Data Centres.

Being a small country, Singapore faces the horrifying problem of e-waste disposal. E-waste comprises 5% of all general waste found in Singapore landfills. The hazardous materials present in electronic items consist of lead, cadmium, mercury, and brominated flame-retardants. These substances are dangerous to human health and the environment. The disposal of such materials, incinerate or dumping into the landfills will create air, water, and land pollution. E-waste connected to landfills can be estimated at 60,000 tonnes over the next 10 years. This is a worrying trend for Singapore.

Regulations and Guidelines for Server Disposal

In Singapore, server disposal faces many regulations due to the sensitivity of data that servers might contain. Data protection is very vital in the rapid growing infocomm industry. This is because if sensitive data were to fall into wrong hands due to poor server disposal, this may result in damage in confidence in the organization or in severe cases, threat to national security. The Personal Data Protection Act which was passed in 2012, is designed to govern the collection, use and disclosure of personal data by organizations. They are obligated to protect personal data and retain that data during the data’s lifecycle. This affects server disposal as when servers reach their end of life, data still retained will have to be disposed and destroyed. This act is to ensure that organizations foster a culture of responsible data management. MediaCorp highly emphasized that companies should erase data before they dispose their old equipment. This is a practice that is commonly done but may not be done securely and efficiently. The Media Development Authority (MDA) conducted a study to show that many old hard disks and tapes contain confidential data when sold as second hand equipment from 10 companies in different sectors. MDA mentioned the effectiveness and level of security of data erasure can vary among the different methods. This study led to MediaCorp and 2 other companies breaching the Personal Data Protection Act and were fined by the Personal Data Protection Commission in 2015. This serves as a lesson to organizations that data destruction is serious and it must be done to comply.

Methods of Proper Server Disposal

A number of options are available for server disposal in Singapore, running the gamut from data destruction to redeployment for a different role. Although it is now illegal to dispose of computer equipment, including servers, in landfills with the introduction of the WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) Directive, it is likely that this practice still continues. There is a heavy metal content, particularly in older servers, so this practice is extremely damaging to the environment. Heavy metals can contaminate the surrounding land, causing damage to plant life and wildlife. They can also filter through the soil and end up in watercourses, causing toxicity to fish and animals that rely on the water source. Data destruction is a further option, although the disk destruction on a server can be a costly process if a specialist IT recycling company is used. Physically degaussing a hard disk is often not a satisfactory data destruction method. Server donation to charity is a good option for companies with equipment less than five years old that is still in working order. This can also benefit the company due to the fact that donations to charity in Singapore can provide tax deductions. However, there can be a potential risk to the donating company due to the duties of the WEEE directive transferring over to the new user. In this case, they can apply for an exemption of up to five years on certain equipment to bypass this obligation. Server redeployment within an organisation or a different role for equipment is self-explanatory and yet another method of bypassing server recycling. Any working equipment that is less than four years old and can still carry out its current tasks efficiently is eligible for redeployment.

Benefits of Responsible Server Disposal

A simple solution for this problem is to increase reusing and donation of old equipment. This must be supported with a sound retirement plan and inventory tracking system for the equipment. If possible, move the equipment that is still functional to lower priority tasks or testing environment and only when the equipment is no longer suitable, then decide whether to donate or dismantle and recycle the equipment. Donation is the preferable choice and when donating, ensure that the equipment is given to a worthy cause and the donee understands the equipment specification to prevent it from becoming e-waste in the future. This practice will extend the equipment life cycle and by only disposing non-functioning equipment, it will reduce the amount of e-waste in relation to the hardware replacement rate.

The second and most significant contribution that an IT manager must do is in policy making related to hardware life cycle management. A hardware life cycle is usually determined by a warranty period. When equipment fails after the warranty period, it’s usually declared as end of life and sent for disposal. The current trend in data center operation is a life cycle of three to five years with a high rate of hardware replacement due to technology obsolescence. Usually, the replaced equipment is still functioning but it’s considered no longer suitable due to higher operations cost and incompatibility with newer technology. At this point, the equipment is usually stockpiled as a spare until it’s no longer useful and then thrown away because there is no effective strategy for reusing or donating obsolete equipment. Stockpiling still contributes to the hardware life cycle and increases the amount of e-waste.

The first contribution is to consider choosing environmentally friendly products when purchasing IT equipment for a data center. These products are not only energy efficient, but usually they have a lesser impact when disposed compared to other similar products. Energy efficiency is becoming a factor in determining the total cost of ownership of hardware, but qualification of product as a green product is still debatable. We must ensure that the product is indeed environment friendly and also the vendor provides a take back program for the product at the end of its life. By taking back the old equipment, the vendor has essentially taken the IT manager’s e-waste problem as their own and solving the problem is part of providing value-added services for customers. Take back products are usually recycled and recycling is a much better alternative to the disposal of equipment. Easier deployment of green products, product energy and environmental compliance information, data center specific product assessment, and life cycle analysis. These features will make it easier for IT manager in making a decision when purchasing IT equipment to support an environmentally friendly data center and contribute to e-waste minimization.

As we know today, e-waste is a growing environmental and health concern with the developments of technology. To minimize the cost of managing e-wastes and preventing it from becoming an environmental and health threat that affects the quality of life, humans must take immediate actions. Although it’s not as serious as the global community, households, or individuals problem, but in the context of a data center, IT managers, IT personnel, or any professionals that are involved in managing data centers can contribute to the e-waste problem’s solution.

E-Waste Recycling and Disposal in Singapore

In Singapore, all e-waste, including e-waste collected from households, is treated as general waste and is incinerated at the four incineration plants. During the e-waste incineration process, the heat causes the release of toxic substances like dioxins and heavy metals from the plastics and lead-containing materials found in electronic items. These toxic substances are emitted into the air, and the remainders in the form of toxic incinerator ash are disposed of at the landfill. E-waste that reaches the landfill also has the potential to leach its toxic substances into the soil and groundwater, causing further pollution. This current mode of e-waste disposal is not sustainable and carries an increased risk of environmental pollution and damage to public health in the long run. As the lifespan of the landfill in Singapore is estimated to last only until 2045, it is crucial for Singapore to seek alternative e-waste management solutions as the amount of e-waste generated will continue to increase with the rising number of electronic products used. The implementation of proper e-waste recycling is a key solution. e-waste recycling and disposal in singapore is essential to mitigate the environmental and health risks. In order to achieve effective e-waste management, it is important to establish a comprehensive system that includes proper collection, transportation, and processing of electronic waste materials.

E-Waste Recycling Facilities in Singapore

To manage the growing problem of e-waste, Singapore has implemented several initiatives in recent years. With the opening of the first e-waste recycling plant in Tuas this year, and plans for two more over the next two years, the e-waste recycling infrastructure in Singapore is likely to expand. Other smaller facilities include those run by companies such as Cimelia Resource Recovery and TES-AMM. While e-waste recycling will likely increase resource recovery from e-waste, the public needs to play a part by delivering e-waste to these facilities. This will be greatly facilitated by e-waste recycling programs, some of which offer doorstep collection of e-waste. With greater accessibility to such facilities and the increased ease of e-waste disposal, it is hopeful that Singaporeans will begin to shift from the current e-waste disposal habits that include trash bin discarding and unapproved exporting.

Process of E-Waste Recycling

Incineration and smelting are widely used and major methods in e-waste recycling. The smelting process involves the use of furnaces, and the incineration process is done to combust gaseous substances. Japan furthers their smelting and uses plasma to recover materials such as copper and glass from the imported e-waste. These two processes can be harmful to both the environment and workers’ health. It is internationally known that e-waste imports to third-world countries for smelting have caused health and environmental issues. It is important for research and development to continue to find alternatives to smelting and incineration. An example is the WEEE directive, which has caused Japan to research into “mechanical separation” as a more environmentally friendly process.

Hydrometallurgical techniques use water-based chemical solutions to recover metals. In addition, it can be a cleaner process than the typical industrial incineration and smelting. However, it is not entirely environmentally friendly, as it still involves the use of toxic chemicals. Bio metallurgy is still in research and development phase and uses biological agents such as bacteria and fungi to isolate metals from e-waste. This could be an extremely efficient process if developed properly.

Precious metals recovery: E-waste has a variety of valuable metals and minerals to be recovered. The process of recovering these metals can be a simple “fire assay” e-waste type of operation or more complex systems (hydrometallurgical or bio metallurgy) dependent on the product. For precious metal recovery, aqua regia technique is widely used.

Environmental Impact of E-Waste Recycling

Whereas the management and recycling of e-waste can have an environmental impact, this paper concentrates on the effect of refurbishment and recycling. It is typically assumed that the disposal of e-waste to landfill creates the maximum environmental impact. Whilst it is without a doubt true that the loss of landfill space and the toxicity of substances for the duration of e-waste’s Massey University task assist request a detailed consideration of landfill disposal, it’s miles crucial that the relative environmental impact of disposal to landfill as opposed to the effect of refurbishment and recycling is examined. This is due to the fact, within the case of waste electrical and electronic equipment, huge quantities of materials are lost to landfill through the exporting of e-waste to countries with inexpensive labour and weaker environmental laws. This is in an effort to avoid the costs associated with compliant environmentally sound disposal within the UK, together with high costs to recover valuable materials and hazardous substances from electronic items. The export of e-waste has become the default method of disposal for many UK electronic manufacturers, with only a few manufacturers working take-back schemes for their old products. This not only represents a loss of valuable materials, but also an intensification of the potential environmental consequences, as materials might be exposed to open burning with the intention to recover valuable metals, as well as posing a danger to human health and the environment.

Proper Disposal of Non-Recyclable E-Waste

Non-recyclable e-waste is mainly meant for proper disposal in waste incinerators at Tuas and Senoko. This is outlined in the Singapore’s Inter-Ministry Committee on Sustainable Development (IMCSD) Report 2, which directed that “Toxics-Containing Waste” such as CRT Monitors, require secure landfill at Pulau Semakau; whereas other general waste can be incinerated. Pulau Semakau was the designated landfill to replace the current one at Lorong Halus, but is also a temporary landfill, and e-waste containing hazardous substances will still have the unfortunate fate of mixing with other forms of waste, to be incinerated ultimately. The lifespan of the landfill and waste-to-energy incinerators are unable to cater to the rapid rate in which technology advances and the build-up of e-waste. At present, Singapore’s thrust for e-waste is merely in recycling efforts, which does not sufficiently address the looming issue of proper disposal for e-waste and non-recyclable e-waste. Given the current rate and manner of disposal in waste incinerators and landfills, and the environmental hazards posed, it can, in fact, be said that eco-friendly as the environment conservation for the future. An improved system can be following the proposed European Union directive on WEEE (Waste from Electrical and Electronic Equipment). This directive calls for producer responsibility whereby manufacturers will be made to finance recovery, treatment, and disposal of e-waste, and to end the externalizing cost of e-waste disposal to the environment. As such, even waste that is incinerated does not burden the environment with its cost of disposal. A feasible strategic plan must be laid out for the reduction and eventual cessation of disposal of e-waste in waste incinerators and landfills. Step by step, waste incinerators and landfills can be phased out, in exchange for more advanced methods of waste disposal and maintenance of the environment and public health.

Best Practices for E-Waste Management

When considering the management of e-waste from a policy perspective, there are a number of potential options. Some of these will be more successful than others, depending on the extent of e-waste in a given country, and on the infrastructure available for e-waste management. In the Singapore case, a combination of producer responsibility programmes would likely be the most appropriate way forward, as this shifts the onus of responsibility onto the companies selling electronic goods, while also encouraging them to look into ways of minimizing the environmental impact of their products at every stage in the product lifecycle. The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directive in the European Union (EU) is a good example of such a programme, and has been somewhat successful in minimizing the environmental impact of electronic goods and encouraging their recycling, and could therefore act as a model for similar policy in Singapore (Pariatamby and Victor, 2012). However, this will only work if there is already in place an e-waste collection and recycling system, and it may be necessary for the government to support a system such as this through initial funding.

Raising Awareness and Education

Next, an interactive game can be conducted to attract more people to participate in our event. As a reward, we can give a small prize like a keychain or stationery. Through this activity, we will indirectly bring more awareness to the community about e-waste.

Then, a talk and demo session can be conducted at a certain time using a microphone and presentation slides. In this session, we can explain in more detail about e-waste and the negative impact of improper disposal of e-waste. We can also promote our company’s services to the public so they will know what we are offering.

Brochures are an effective way of delivering information to the public. They can be distributed randomly to the public around the road show area. The brochure should contain an explanation of what e-waste is, the negative impacts of improper disposal of e-waste, where and how to recycle e-waste, and contact information for the person in charge. Before that, permission should be obtained from the council and the place to do this activity.

Implementing the Recycle Logo promotional activities would be the best way to raise people’s awareness of e-waste. An effective promotion can be done by organizing a road show. Through the road show, we can bring more awareness and information to the public on e-waste. There are several methods that can be conducted during this road show, such as distributing brochures, giving a talk and demo, and creating an interactive game.

Collaboration with E-Waste Recycling Companies

E-waste recycling companies have been working towards an ideal solution in Singapore to address the problem of e-waste. While refurbished electronics are a low-maintenance and will definitely add a few years to the lifespan of your electrical, electronic and IT equipment, it is undeniable that refurbished electronics often use old technology and eventually still require disposal. For electronics that are too old to be reused, recycling is the next step solution that ensures environmental sustainability. At an industrial level, e-waste recycling usually involves the specific recovery of a material, for example, copper or the entire dismantling and separation of an electronic item. The rates of material recycling are very high and some materials such as steel and glass go directly back to the elemental state. Under a collaboration with e-waste recycling companies, an environmentally responsible e-waste solution may still incur a cost to ensure proper recycling. The cost of recycling can sometimes be offset by the retrieval of valuable secondary materials, and approved leaded glass exported for full lead recovery can meet the high costs of de-manufacturing and material recovery. Lead recovery is also a more sustainable solution in comparison to on-site landfill as it ensures that the toxic material is kept out of our ecosystem. Lead is a persistent bio-accumulative toxin that can have adverse effects on the environment if released to land or water, often leading to costly remediation at a later date.

Implementing Sustainable E-Waste Management Policies

There are several different elements that can be included in e-waste management policies. In order to ensure that they are sustainable, meaning that they meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs, several factors must be considered. According to the report “Economic Aspects of E-Waste Management – Taking a Closer Look at How E-Waste is Managed,” written by Ruediger Kuehr, it should take into consideration the eco-efficiency of recycling, the minimization of hazardous waste during the collection, recycling, and disposal of e-waste, and the maximum effectiveness in reducing e-waste and all of its hazardous constituents.

Sustainable e-waste management policies are important for every single country or state and play a crucial role in the effective management of e-waste. For a country as small as Singapore, with landmass being a constraint, this becomes all the more important. As stated by Wei-Tech Eng, a member of the Singapore IT Federation (ST Electronics), “Given that Singapore occupies a small land area, heavy metals from e-waste could seep into and contaminate our limited water resources.” Therefore, it is imperative that effective e-waste management policies are put in place to help overcome the problems e-waste poses in a sustainable and environmentally friendly manner.