Parliament: MPs' worries and wishes on waste reduction efforts

Efforts to reduce the three big waste culprits - food, packaging and electronic waste - will be bolstered with the passing of the Resource Sustainability Bill in Parliament on Sept 4, 2019.
Efforts to reduce the three big waste culprits - food, packaging and electronic waste - will be bolstered with the passing of the Resource Sustainability Bill in Parliament on Sept 4, 2019.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Efforts to reduce the three big waste culprits - food, packaging and electronic waste (e-waste) - will be bolstered with the passing of the Resource Sustainability Bill in Parliament on Wednesday (Sept 4).

In all, 16 MPs spoke during the four-hour debate on the Bill, which they support, even as they offered suggestions on how Singapore could do even better in waste management.

On online shopping and karang guni men

Several MPs asked how the regulations will account for online retailers, especially those that ship their products from overseas.

In response, Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources Amy Khor said all Singapore-registered producers will be covered even if they sell their goods online.

Ms Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC) also asked how the new regulations will affect rag-and-bone men, or karang guni men.

Dr Khor said the informal recycling sector can continue to operate as the Bill does not cover individuals. She added that the National Environment Agency is looking to integrate them into the e-waste collection network by training karang guni men or engaging them as logistics providers.

On the true cost of convenience

Non-Constituency MP Daniel Goh said that Singapore's social norm of prioritising convenience is undermining efforts to encourage recycling. This is why Singapore has hit a "green ceiling", and why recycling rates have remained stagnant, he said.

"Single-use plastics represent the epitome of convenience. For example, single-use plastic water bottles; instead of drinking from a cup that has to be filled and washed, one just has to open, drink and throw."

He suggested that Singaporeans could be "nudged" to think more of the cost of convenience by, for example, mandating that households purchase and use government-certified bags for rubbish disposal.

 
 
 
 

Similarly, Nominated MP Walter Theseira said "throwaway culture" exists because it is cheap. The underlying issue is underpricing, he said.

Goods from consumer appliances and bottled drinks to food have no price attached to reflect the problems their disposal will create, he said, pointing out that even in countries where bottle deposits and other taxes are applied to encourage recycling, the prices seemed incorrect and too low.

He suggested that one possible solution could be to impose a prepaid disposal fee on new electronic products at the point of sale.

On an alternative 3Rs

Nominated MP Lim Sun Sun suggested that in addition to "reduce, reuse and recycle", Singapore should also strive to "reinvent, recalibrate and reward" to break wasteful habits.

She said requiring producers to collect and treat their products when they become waste will motivate them to reinvent them and minimise waste.

Recalibrating consumers' expectations of things like goody bags, toiletry bottles in hotels and individually-wrapped buns can break the cycle of wasteful practices, she said.

And rather than relying on punitive measures, more schemes to reward companies and consumers for their sustainability efforts could be introduced, Professor Lim added.

On 'nudity' in supermarkets

Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) urged for more measures to tackle unnecessary plastic waste generated by supermarkets.

"While it is often argued that plastic is required to protect fresh produce during shipping and storage, I have been told that some items do not arrive already packaged in the plastic packaging we see on the shelf," he said.

He suggested that Singapore's supermarkets can consider taking a cue from overseas supermarket chains like Waitrose in Britain that have "nude zones".

"I would love to one day walk into our supermarkets in Singapore and see 'nude' vegetables and fruits without any plastic packaging," he said.