Forum: NEA pushing for less use of disposables

Plastic bottles in a bin at the Marina Bay area on Sep 24, 2019.
Plastic bottles in a bin at the Marina Bay area on Sep 24, 2019.ST PHOTO: KELLY HUI

We thank Mr Paul Chan Poh Hoi for his views (No excuse for not switching to biodegradable alternatives, Oct 24).

In Singapore, we incinerate almost all of our waste at a few waste-to-energy plants, which are operated efficiently and where the incineration process produces net energy, which is sold back to the grid.

Incineration also reduces waste volume by about 90 per cent, which is critical given our land constraint. As we do not directly landfill our wastes, switching to biodegradable products may not necessarily improve environmental outcomes.

To better assess the overall impact to the environment from the manufacture, use and the disposal of packaging made of different types of materials, the National Environment Agency (NEA) commissioned a life-cycle assessment study on carrier bags and food packaging in Singapore.

The study found that every type of material, including biodegradables, has an impact on the environment, such as global warming, high water consumption and destruction of forest land for farmland and raw materials.

For example, plant-based degradable bags, such as polylactic acid bags and corn-starch bags, require large tracts of forest land to be converted into farmland and large amounts of water to grow the raw materials.

In the study, reusable bags and food containers emerged as the most environmentally-friendly option for carrying groceries and food.

The most sustainable approach for Singapore is to avoid excessive consumption of all types of disposables. This has been the central and consistent message we have been putting out to nudge the public towards more sustainable behaviour and lifestyle choices.

Plastic waste is one of the key priority waste streams outlined in our Zero Waste Masterplan.

As part of the comprehensive approach towards waste management, a key strategy is the development of local recycling capabilities and industry.

NEA is currently actively exploring options for the sustainable recycling of used plastics and assessing their suitability for adoption in Singapore.

Desmond Tan

Director, Waste and Resource Management

National Environment Agency

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 01, 2019, with the headline 'NEA pushing for less use of disposables'. Print Edition | Subscribe