SINGAPORE - As Asia's urban growth outpaces that elsewhere, so will the growth of its waste, said Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan at the CleanEnviro Summit Singapore at Marina Bay Sands on Monday.
If cities do not manage their waste, they could "stifle themselves under the load of their own pollution", he warned.
Dr Balakrishnan was speaking at the Clean Environment Leaders plenary session, held as part of the summit.
How a city manages its environment determines the trajectory of its growth, he said, as "people vote with their feet" and will flock to a city that is "attractive, sustainable, vibrant, as opposed to stifled, polluted, dangerous".
"In Singapore, we've had the advantage of being so small that we had no choice but to be environmentally conscious from the moment of our conception," he said.
For example, it converted its mainland landfill to a park next to a freshwater reservoir, Dr Balakrishnan said.
Singapore closed its Lorong Halus landfill, which contained raw waste, in 1999, and used plants to filter and treat its polluted liquid. Today the site is a wetland park.
Dr Balakrishnan also offered Singapore as a test-bed to the audience of environment leaders and professionals from around the world. "If your ideas work you can offer them to cities all over the world."
The panel discussion that followed examined how Asia's cities could continue to grow economically but remain environmentally sustainable. The environment ministers of Denmark and the United Arab Emirates, and experts from the United Nations, think-tank World Resources Institute and waste-management firm Remondis, shared their views.
Asked how Singapore would minimise its waste, Dr Balakrishnan suggested fish farms take the place of the pig farms that once mopped up household food waste here.
Earlier this year (2014), the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority and Ngee Ann Polytechnic tested the use of fish-processing and soy manufacturing byproducts as fish feed at three local fish farms.