Parliament: Cross-border movement of certain categories of plastic waste to be regulated under new law

Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources Amy Khor said packaging waste, which includes plastic, is a priority waste stream for Singapore. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The movement of certain categories of plastic waste across Singapore's borders will come under stricter regulation, under a new law passed in Parliament on Monday (Feb 3).

The changes to the legislation require those seeking to export contaminated, mixed or non-recyclable plastic to obtain consent from the countries receiving them.

Before, they did not have to under the Hazardous Waste (Control of Export, Import and Transit) Act.

The new law will also update the National Environment Agency's (NEA) regulatory powers for more effective administration and enforcement, said Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources Amy Khor.

For instance, the NEA's enforcement powers will be expanded to cover vehicles suspected of carrying hazardous or other waste into or out of Singapore via land checkpoints, she added.

This is on top of the NEA's powers to control the movement of vessels or aircraft if there are reasonable grounds for suspecting they are carrying hazardous waste that will transit in Singapore, or will be exported from or imported into Singapore.

If found guilty, the Act states the companies can be fined up to $300,000, while individuals may be fined a maximum of $100,000 or jailed up to two years, or both.

International movement

The new Act is in line with changes to an international waste treaty that Singapore is party to.

More than 180 parties to the United Nations-backed Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal had agreed in 2019 to better regulate the movement of certain categories of plastic waste that are harder to recycle among countries.

"Improper disposal of plastic waste has caused severe environmental pollution, adverse health effects and contributed to climate change," said Dr Khor.

"As a responsible global citizen, Singapore joins the international community in supporting the amendments to the Basel Convention which will strengthen control of the transboundary movement of plastic waste."

Singapore fulfils its obligations to the Basel Convention through the amended Hazardous Waste (Control of Export, Import and Transit) Act.

The Convention controls the international movement of hazardous and certain categories of non-hazardous waste - like household waste or residue from the incineration of household waste - via the Prior Informed Consent procedure.

This procedure requires exporters of waste covered by the Convention to obtain prior consent from the countries or states receiving the waste, as well as the countries or states through which the waste transits.

Last year, the Convention was expanded to include contaminated, mixed or non-recyclable plastics. The changes will take effect on Jan 1, 2021.

Currently, countries can send such lower-quality plastic waste to private entities in developing countries without getting their government's approval, reported The Guardian.

How Singapore deals with plastic

On Monday, all five MPs who spoke during the debate, including Dr Chia Shi-Lu (Tanjong Pagar GRC) and Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC), called for Singapore to do more to reduce the amount of plastic it was generating.

They pointed to the country's low plastic recycling rate (only 4 per cent of plastic waste generated was recycled in 2018) and the decreasing lifespan of its only landfill on offshore Semakau Island.The landfill, initially projected to be full in 2045, is now expected to last till 2035.

Dr Khor said packaging waste, which includes plastic, is a priority waste stream for Singapore. Efforts are under way to see how this waste stream can be recycled, so resources can be extracted from plastic waste, she said, pointing to the Resource Sustainability Act.

This could include mechanical recycling to turn waste plastic into plastic pellets for manufacturing new products, or chemical recycling to turn plastic waste into chemical feedstock or fuel.

Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) also wanted to know what if the amendments would have any impact on companies in Singapore.

Dr Khor said the NEA had consulted the industry prior before introducing the changes.

"We do not expect these amendments to disrupt the operations of our plastic recyclers and traders. There will not be additional regulations on the movement of most clean and homogeneous plastic recyclables, as these are not subjected to prior informed consent under the Basel Convention," she added.

She also said Singapore did not contribute significantly to the global ocean plastic problem, but is investing in plastic recycling capability to create new economic opportunities for local companies, she added.

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