GRI Standards 2020 update: Waste

In this article:

  • Introduction
  • Waste-related impacts
  • Circularity Measures
  • Reporting on quantitative data using revised Waste Standards
  • Circularity tools


The Global Sustainability Standards Board (GSSB), GRI’s independent standard-setting body, released a revised Waste standard in May 2020. It is effective for reports published on or after 1 Jan 2022, although earlier adoption is encouraged.

The revision of GRI Standards is done on an ongoing basis to reflect the most recent trends and developments of environmental and social issues in the Standards. In 2018, GSSB revised the standards for Water and Effluents and Occupational Health and Safety. In 2019, a new standard for Tax transparency was released.

In particular, the revised waste standard replaces the older version which was based on an older paradigm in which waste was assumed to have no economic value. The revised standard also encourages disclosure relating to circularity. Organisation are now required to report, among others:

  • significant actual and potential waste-related impacts (GRI 306-1),
  • actions, including circularity measures, taken to prevent waste generation in the organisation’s own activities and upstream and downstream in its value chain, and to manage significant impacts from waste generated (GRI 306-2)

In this article, we discuss two key terms used in the standard in more detail: “waste-related impacts” and “circularity measures”. For more experienced GRI users, we have also summed up the changes in quantitative information required in the revised Standard.


Waste-related Impacts

Waste-related ‘impact’ refers to the effect of the waste generated by an organisation on the economy, the environment, and/or society.

Typically, organisations consider their waste generated in their operations and sometimes in their supply chain. In life cycle thinking, organisations also take into account the end-of-life of their products and services, and as a result their (waste) responsibility and impact do not end at the point of sale, but the point in time when the customer no longer finds value in the product. They would think about the amount of waste they pass on to their customers.

Waste-related impacts on people and the environment would depend on how the waste is transported, where it ends up and how it is treated (or not). GRI for instance gave the example of threat of marine pollution resulting from leakage of discarded plastic packaging into waterbodies. In Singapore, for example, many organisations do not know what happens to their waste or recyclables after they are being collected by third-party waste collectors, and therefore have little visibility on their waste impact at the disposal stage. GRI now requires organisations that engage a third party to manage its waste to describe “the processes used to determine whether the third party manages the waste in line with contractual or legislative obligations”.

To start understanding your waste-related impacts, you could start collecting data on the amount of materials used and waste generated in your value chain, as well as the properties of these inputs and outputs that limit or enable their recovery (e.g. reuse, recycle) or durability.


Circularity measures

To understand the concept of circularity, first consider a typical production process: raw materials are taken from the environment, produced into goods and services, used by consumers, before it is thrown away as waste. In this linear model, the value of the materials becomes lost at the end of its use. In a circular model, on the other hand, the value of the materials gets retained as long as possible, through measures such as reusing, remaking or recycling. These circularity measures are better for the environment because by keeping materials in use as long as possible, they prevent waste accumulation and resource depletion.


Source: Paia Consulting, adapted from Catherine Weetman (2016)


Tracking material flow(s) forces an organisation to examine its value chain – activities that convert input into output by adding value. Typically this gives better clarity on the life cycle of your products and services, including your inputs and suppliers upstream, and your outputs and customers downstream. Such life cycle thinking not only helps organisations identify causes of waste generation but is also an opportunity to improve process efficiencies and rethink business models.


Reporting on quantitative data using revised Waste Standards

For experienced GRI users, here are the key changes:


1. Effluents are no longer reported under “waste”
For organisations reporting on water discharge or effluents (2016 GRI 306-1 or 306-5), to report them under the 2018 GRI 303: Water instead of the 2016 GRI 306: Waste and Effluents.

For organisations reporting on spills, to continue reporting under the 2016 standard, but to look out for the upcoming Spills and Leaks standard that will be developed in the next few years. The indicator (2016 GRI 306-3) will be withdrawn on 1 Jan 2022.


2. Waste data is to be broken down into generation (306-3), diverted from disposal (306-4) and directed to disposal (306-5), reflecting the waste management hierarchy
GRI introduces the waste management hierarchy in this standard. Waste prevention, or waste reduction, is the most preferable option in the hierarchy, as it prevents the resulting impacts on the environment and human health. It is then followed by followed by recovery operations that divert waste from being sent to landfill or incineration, such as preparation for reuse, recycling. Disposal is the least preferable option in the waste management hierarchy as it is associated with the most negative impacts on the environment.


Source: EPA

Under each waste management option, the revised standard has a few broad categories for disposal methods:

  • Diverted from disposal, by recovery operations such as:
    • Preparation for reuse
    • Recycling (includes downcycling, upcycling, composting, or anaerobic digestion)
  • Directed to disposal, by operations such as:
    • Incineration (with energy recovery)
    • Incineration (without energy recovery)
    • Landfilling

To note, the definition of recovery is slightly different from that of the previous standard.

There is also requirement for additional disclosure of whether the waste is diverted on-site of off-site, to show the extent to which the organisation knows how its waste is managed.


3. Transportation of hazardous waste is no longer a standalone metric

In the revised Standards, transportation is to be disclosed under “waste management by third parties” (GRI306-2).


Circularity tools

For companies interested in waste reduction and circularity, here are some tools that may be helpful:


Circulytics by Ellen MacArthur Foundation

This company-level measuring tool reveals the extent to which a company has achieved circularity across its entire operations. It does this by using the widest set of indicators currently available: enablers and outcomes.


Circular Transition Indicators (CTI) by World Business Council for Sustainable Development

A framework to measure circularity, the Circular Transition Indicators (CTI) is a simple, objective and quantitative framework that can be applied to businesses of all industries, sizes, value chain positions and geographies.


Paia Consulting can support you in your waste reporting and management strategy.


We have extensive experience working with NEA and Singapore companies on their sustainability, waste and recycling. Our waste services include data measurement and reporting, conducting waste audits, and creating waste reduction plans. If you are interested in further discussion of this topic, contact us at


Living in the Plastic Age

Located at 11,034 meters below the ocean surface in the Pacific Ocean, the Mariana Trench is the deepest part of the world. The third and most recent dive on May 13, 2019 by a businessman-turned-explorer Victor Vescovo, broke the previous record by 11 meter to become the deepest human dive in history (Morelle, 2019). These expeditions were crucial for humans to understand the oceans a little more – since it is widely believed that we have only explored 5 percent of our oceans. Unsurprisingly, there were amazing discoveries of new wildlife and microbes in the abyss. But when BBC reported on Vescovo’s dive, the headline simply read: “Mariana Trench: Deepest-ever sub finds plastic bag”. Several other news outlets like the Independent and CNN reported in similar fashion (Baynes, 2019; Street, 2019). A milestone in human exploration was overwhelmed by a sombre undertone invoked by the discovery of a plastic bag and candy wrappers at such depth (Wilkin, 2019).Worst, this was not the deepest known piece of plastic. The record goes to a flimsy plastic shopping bag found at based on the Deep-Sea Debris database – a collection of dive photos and videos recently made public (Gibbens, 2019).

Humans have produced 8.3 billion tonnes of plastics since its industrial-scale production thrived in the 1950s (Siegel, 2018). However, with only nine percent of these plastics recycled, 79 percent went into dumpsites and the wider environment (ibid). Consequently, this plastic trash was leaked into waterways and into the oceans. As of 2010, it is estimated that 4 to 13 million metric tonnes of plastic waste is dumped into the oceans annually (Gibbens, 2019; Babayemi, et al., 2018; Xanthos & Walker, 2017; Groden, 2015). And in less than a century, plastic accounts for 60 to 80 percent of marine litter (Raubenheimer & McIlgorm, 2018). As a result, plastic trash has been found in even the remotest coastal areas in the world. Uninhabited remote islands such as Henderson Island in the South Pacific, is estimated to have more than 38 million pieces of plastic washed ashore – with 13,000 pieces coming in every day, making the coral atoll one of the most densely polluted places on Earth (Dauvergne, 2018a). Elsewhere, there are currently five plastic gyres circling in the world’s oceans.  (Siegel, 2018). At the current pace of consumption, ocean plastics could treble in a decade and it is estimated that plastics will outweigh fish by 2050 (Dauvergne, 2018a; Harrabin, 2018).

Much of this litter is hazardous to wildlife in the marine ecosystem where 700 marine species have been found to interact with marine debris (Vince & Hardesty, 2017). Macro plastics in the forms of ghost nets, plastic bags, plastic straws, cigarette butts and etc. have caused entanglement, starvation, suffocation, laceration, infection, indigestion, reduced reproductive success and mortality (Xanthos & Walker, 2017; Lytle, 2017). Midway Atoll, also a small group of islands in the South Pacific, is labelled as an “albatross graveyard” for the mass deaths of Laysan Albatrosses from plastic ingestion. 1.5 million of these birds have plastic traces in their digestive systems (Walsh, et al., 2016). Moreover, it is found that most microplastics ingested by marine lifeforms have transferred up the food chain. Statistically, an average European seafood eater would ingest an average of 11,000 pieces of microplastics annually. . Unfortunately, humans do not understand fully the health effects of ingesting microplastics (WHO, 2019).

Even so, responses to this massive problem remain lacklustre. This shortcoming is worsened by the sudden waste crisis instigated by China’s waste import ban. This turning point showed the fragility of a global dependence on a single importer as the waste management order (Brooks, et al., 2018). The constant push for market mechanisms to address environmental issues have complicated governance and bottlenecking any substantial efforts to curb the problem.

One Man’s Trash is Another’s Treasure?

Trading recyclable waste was viewed as a sustainable solution of waste management. In fact, this method was noted by the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal (Basel Convention) (elaborated below). Wastes of one country such as metal scraps, papers and plastics can be reused, recycled or regenerated as second hand, functional resources or secondary raw materials for another (Siegel, 2018). Unsurprisingly, this solution stimulated a new market –recycling trade market. The world traded more than 191 million tons of waste in 2007, a staggering 67 percent increase over a five years period from 2002 (Kellenberg, 2012). The market currently possesses a net worth of USD 200 billion according to the Bureau of International Recycling (Blood, et al., 2018). However, recent studies have found recycling appears more as a smokescreen for Northern countries to dump their waste in other countries. In many cases, more stringent waste regulations at home have driven Northern countries to export their wastes to countries with cheaper disposal costs, lax environmental laws and inadequate handling capabilities (D’Amato, et al., 2018; Liu, et al., 2018). Kellenberg (2012) found a positive correlation between trading countries, where for every one percent that a home country’s environmental regulations deteriorate in relation to a foreign bilateral trading partner, the home country experiences a 0.32 percent increase in waste imports from the trading counterpart.

Plastic wastes are also seen as recyclable or reusable to become second-round raw materials for many developing countries. Global import and export of plastic waste grew 723 and 817 percent from 1993 to 2016 respectively and trading became even more lucrative in this past decade, raking in USD$5 billion annually (Earley, 2013; Brooks, et al., 2018). Coinciding with the country’s rapid industrialization, China also saw economic incentives in recycling plastics. The country collectively with Hong Kong, imported over 70% of these wastes (Earley, 2013). For a while, the world had a rubbish bin that is China. 43 out of 123 plastic exporting countries sent their plastic wastes to China (Brooks, et al., 2018). However, gradual economic development and rampant exploitations of China’s lax environmental regulations degraded the country’s natural environment. This prompted the central government to declare “Operation Green Fence” in 2013 to curb illegal imports of dirty, hazardous and useless wastes (including plastics) – often mislabelled as recyclables, through intense custom monitoring and inspections, while also reducing illegal foreign smuggling and trading of the materials (Sun, 2019; Brooks, et al., 2018). A permanent policy that banned almost all plastic waste imports – the National Sword was implemented in 2017.

China’s sudden rejection of plastic wastes had Northern countries scrambling to look for new buyers of their rapidly towering waste at home (Margolis, 2018). They started eyeing other Asian (predominantly Southeast and South Asian) countries like Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, India and Sri Lanka to be their next dumpsites (Tan, et al., 2018; Siegel, 2018). In Southeast Asia, the massive influx of plastic wastes coincided with the region’s economic boom, worsening the region’s existing plastic waste crises. This is because waste infrastructures, incineration facilities and landfill sites are inadequate to handle 80 percent of plastic waste that is not commercially viable for recycling (Dauvergne, 2018b). Consequently, plastic wastes often leaked into water systems and into the oceans. Together with China, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines account for 60 percent of plastic waste in the oceans (Chow, 2015). Another Southeast Asian country – Malaysia is also among the top 10 polluters globally.

However, the plastic problem is merely a national issue for these countries. Rather it is a systemic problem that transcends boundaries, geographies and jurisdictions. Actors from the local level to international level are intricately connected through vast and complicated networks shaped by power relations and knowledge that revolved around fundamental discourses of today in economics, ecology and sustainability. Plastic waste trading is perhaps not a viable solution in the long-term. Therefore, it is imperative to foster positive dynamics of and between current international relations, national governances, private corporations and local grassroot movements, and attempts to initiate more meaningful conversation on the efforts to deal with this compounding environmental issue.

The Current Discourse around Plastic Waste Management

At present, there are increasing policies, strategies, good intentions and actions to address the issue of ocean plastic pollution. The United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) is the flagship intergovernmental environmental organization that has been a leading voice in international efforts to deal with this issue. International guidelines and policies like the Basel Convention governs international movements of hazardous waste (Alter, 1997; Lepawsky, 2015). Its creation was necessitated after a series of international hazardous waste trade controversies that resulted from (and highlighted) inequitable waste trade relationships between developed and developing countries where hazardous waste trades have caused untold harms to receiving countries – usually developing countries’ environment and public health. (Choksi, 2001). Fortunately, the introduction of BC in 1987 was able to curb egregious dumping of hazardous waste in poor developing countries (Alter, 1997). Plastic waste trade was subsequently included in the provisions of the Basel Convention and has leapfrogged conventional hazardous waste trade to become one of, if not the most pressing issue in recent years.

On national fronts, countries worldwide have taken various actions to address this mounting environmental issue within their borders. Costa Rica, Kenya along with many African countries Bangladesh, and China have taken the significant steps to ban single use, disposable plastic bags. Whereas many other countries have implemented monetary or incentive driven policies or regulations to address the issue. The most notable example is the plastic bag levy that is increasingly popular in many countries (Rivers et al. 2016; Jakovcevic et al. 2014; Poortinga et al. 2013; Ohtomo and Ohnuma 2014; Martinho et al. 2017; Thomas et al. 2016). In Singapore, the National Environmental Agency is a leading figure in guiding the country towards using less plastics through its consistent and comprehensive studies on the matter.

Plastic waste reduction constitutes a significant part of the country’s Sustainable Singapore Blueprint 2015. Singapore aspires to be a Zero-Waste Nation and as such, is focusing on “reducing consumption of materials as well as to reuse and recycle materials to give them a second lease of life” (Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources, et al., 2015). The country has also set targets for the national domestic and non-domestic recycling rates to increase 11% and 4% respectively by 2030. The Singapore Environmental Council (SEC) has conducted a study on the country’s plastic waste ecosystem and concluded with several recommendations to overhaul the country’s plastic waste management capacity (Singapore Environmental Council, 2018).

Corporations and Organisations as Leaders

Several recommendations, namely innovation to reduce plastic packaging waste, building a financial market for recycled plastic through innovation, replace single-use plastic bags / rolls with alternatives and legislation and policy measures are hugely relevant for corporations and organisations to adopt and pursue. Cue the circular economy. A circular economy is an economic system that aims to gradually decouple economic activity of non-renewable, finite resources by promoting the reuse, recycling or regeneration of used materials to give them new leases of life. In so doing, the potential to reduce as well as avoid unnecessary resource extractions and wastage from the planet is immense. As of 2012, plastic production accounted for about 4% of global oil production which is possibly much higher today (Slav, 2019). A reduction to this figure through lower production and consumption of plastic products would still contribute to significant reductions of carbon emissions annually. From a financial perspective, adopting a circular model to plastic consumption can also reduce operational cost through the reduction of raw materials procurement and processing. A major study by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation in 2015 concluded that adopting a circular economy generally could enhance Europe’s productivity by 3% by 2030, generating cost savings of €600 billion a year and €1.8 trillion more in other economic benefits (McKinsey & Company, 2017). Therefore, private entities should capitalise on their potentials and capacity to make significant strides in plastic waste consumption and management. The several recommendations by SEC are precisely components that can enable this to happen. From production to consumption, companies should innovate new methods, technology and practices to not only reduce their own plastic consumption but also to be role models in encouraging the public to adopt these essential habits, measures and practices. Moreover, investments in new innovations and technologies to improve plastic waste management will lower further their costs and expenditure in the medium to long term. In a nutshell, corporations and organisations of any sector should actively seek for ways to transform their supply chain and services to adhere to the principles and practices of a plastic circular economy. Internally, entities should also implement guidelines and instil habits and values among employees around the consumption of plastic products to reduce unnecessary plastic waste. They should, through coordinated efforts, aim to be leaders in driving the transition of plastic lifecycle in Singapore from a linear to a circular economy.

Let Us Join in the Fight against Plastic Waste Disaster

These approaches to reduce plastic consumption can have trickle-down effects on the grassroot levels and the public. That leads to you and me, the daily consumers and individuals. We should each play our part to be conscious consumers. Afterall, any plans or strategies would falter if the individuals and public do not subscribe to it. In 2019, Singapore generated 930,000 tonnes of plastic waste (National Environmental Agency, 2019). That is the equivalent of 165kg of plastic waste per person annually or the equivalent of four dead whales like the one that washed up on one of the Philippines’ shores with 40kg of plastic bags in its stomach (Vaughan, 2019). Therefore, it is important to remember that one person CAN make a difference. So, let us do our part, bring a reusable tote bag to the market, avoid double layering the plastic bags and bring your own tumbler and containers when we order takeout while companies and governments continue to make significant progress to prevent the world from sinking further in plastic waste.


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Regulations on packaging, food and e-waste

Paia Consulting hosted our very first online breakfast briefing together with guest speaker and environmental lawyer Joseph Chun on 15th April 2020, introducing the new waste regulations under Singapore’s Resource Sustainability Act.

Singapore’s only landfill, the Semakau landfill, is predicted to run out of space by 2035 at current waste generation rates. To reduce the amount of waste generated in Singapore, the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources published a Zero Waste Masterplan in 2019, Singapore’s designated Year of Zero Waste. The plan outlines a series of measures that the Singapore government will take in order to reduce waste (per capita) sent to landfill by 30% by 2030.

As part of the masterplan, the Resource Sustainability Act was introduced to accelerate the reduction of waste in three priority waste streams: electronic, packaging and food waste. The Act partially came into force on 1st January 2020 and will first require producers of regulated electrical and electronic products to be responsible for the collection and treatment of their products when they become waste, from July 2021. Companies that introduce packaging material into the Singapore market will eventually be required to do something similar by 2025, but as a first step, they are required to collect and report information on the type and amount of packaging material that they place on the Singapore market, as well as plans to reduce packaging waste, from 2022*[1].

The Act also requires commercial and industrial premises generating large amounts of food waste to properly segregate and treat food waste from 2021. New buildings will be required to allow for on-site treatment of food waste from 2024.

On the day of our breakfast briefing, figures released by the National Environment Agency (NEA) showed that about 7.23 million tonnes of solid waste was generated last year compared to about 7.7 million tonnes in 2018, making this the third yearly reduction since 2017. Will the Singapore Resource Sustainability Act see a continued decrease of waste generated in Singapore?

Paia Consulting has experience working with companies on materials and waste reporting and strategy. Whether you are affected by the new regulations or would simply like strategic support in helping your company reduce waste, we can help you. Contact us to find out more.

[1] Original timeline of 2021 has been revised due to COVID-19

The public and private sector, to increase focus on waste reduction

On World Environment Day this year, both the public and private sectors in Singapore upped up their efforts for environmental protection with a series of plans and initiatives. These include:

  • the unveiling of the Public Sector Sustainability Plan 2017-2020 by Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean,
  • the introduction of mandatory reporting of packaging data and packaging waste reduction plans and the Logo for Products with Reduced Packaging by National Environment Agency,
  • the launch of ReCYCLE, a nationwide electronic waste recycling programme by Singapore Post and Singtel
  • the official opening of the Singapore Sustainability Academy by CDL and Sustainability Energy Association ofSingapore.

Under the Public Sector Sustainability Plan, environmental targets are set with regards to the use of electricity, water, building, waste and solar energy for FY2020 and achieve them through better resource management. Transparency and Disclosure is one of the main components guiding the Plan [1]; we can expect progress against targets to be communicated. The Plan reinforces Singapore’s commitment to the Paris Agreement of reducing emissions intensity by 36 per cent by 2030 from 2005 levels [2].

The Public Sector Sustainability Plan is published by the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources (MEWR), under the Sustainable Singapore campaign.

The National Environment Agency, an agency under MEWR, also introduced initiatives to reduce packaging waste. The launch of the Logo for Products with Reduced Packaging (LPRP) will help inform consumers of products that has reduced packaging and hence generate less waste. Mandatory reporting of packaging data and packaging waste reduction plans will also be introduced by 2021, for businesses that uses packaging on consumer goods [3].

The announcement of mandatory reporting of packaging data and Waste Reduction Plans by 2021 was made by Mr Masagos Zulkifli, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, during the 10th Anniversary celebrations of the Singapore Packaging Agreement (SPA) [1]. Reduction of packaging waste makes business sense for winners of the 10th SPA awards.  Greenpac for example avoids 4.13 tonnes of packaging material and reaps about $17,200 a year in material cost savings after redesigning a microscope packaging to use lighter polypropylene (PP) corrugated sheets instead of wood [4]. Sunfresh Singapore has estimated annual cost savings of $1,320 with a reduction of 0.28 tonne of plastic packaging waste by eliminating plastic liners in their deliveries of aluminium cups [4].

Given that one-third of about 1.66 million tonnes of waste disposed in 2016 by Singapore was packaging waste [1], these initiatives are appropriate and timely.

Waste reduction was the theme of some initiatives by the private sector as well.

Singapore Post and Singtel for instance launched ReCYCLE, a nationwide electronic waste recycling programme. Consumers can now drop unwanted electronic devices into the ReCYCLE bins at selected Singtel outlets and Post Offices at no charge. Valuable metals and components in the devices would be recovered [5].

At the official opening of the Singapore Sustainability Academy (SSA), winners of the 6th CDL Singapore Sculpture Awards presented artwork that utilised the SSA’s residual building materials, in line with this year’s theme of ‘Towards Zero-Waste!’ [6].

The SSA is a training and networking facility on sustainability jointly created by City Developments Limited (CDL) and the Sustainable Energy Association of Singapore (SEAS), a non-profit organisation. Among other sustainability-related events, the SSA will be a platform for CDL’s Women4Green initiative, the first sustainability network for women in Singapore. The SSA will also partner Eco-Business to set up a Sustainability Studio for the production of sustainability-related films [6].

The ReCYCLE programme and the Singapore Sustainability Academy are great examples of how partnerships between sectors can work together to achieve better environmental outcome. Indeed, that collective effort by all sectors in the economy are required to make progress, and it is heartening to see initiatives by both the public and public sector this World Environment Day.

World Environment Day started in 1974 by the United Nations, and is celebrated on 5 June by over 100 countries every year [7].






[4] Singapore Packaging Agreement, ‘3R Packaging Awards 2016’