Parliament: S'pore looks to create Newoil by transforming waste plastic into alternative fuel

In 2018, about 949,300 tonnes of plastic waste was generated by Singapore, with only 4 per cent recycled. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - First, there was Newater, then there was Newsand, a promising new construction material culled from incineration waste.

Now, Singapore wants to create Newoil, by perfecting a process to give discarded plastic new life in the form of pyrolysis oil - a potential replacement for the fossil fuel petroleum.

To harness this new source of oil from plastic waste, the country will need to develop its chemical recycling industry, including establishing a pilot plant that will help "anchor the chemical recycling value chain" here within the new few years, said Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources Amy Khor said in Parliament on Wednesday (March 4).

"If successful, this will move us closer to both our goals of being a zero-waste nation and a low-carbon economy," she said.

Singapore has struggled to manage its mountain of plastic waste.

In 2018, about 949,300 tonnes of such trash was generated by the nation. Only 4 per cent was recycled.

There are two broad ways to recycle plastic - by cutting it into plastic pellets, a process known as mechanical recycling, or by using heat and chemical processes to break it down in chemical recycling. Both industries are in their infancy in Singapore.

Certain types of plastics that are not suited for mechanical recycling can be processed only using chemical recycling. These include single-use plastics and contaminated plastics.

The investment in new recycling technology and development of the industry is also expected to create economic opportunities for Singapore and jobs for Singaporeans in the fields of mechanical, chemical and process engineering.

Dr Khor, who was in a houndstooth blouse with a matching bag made from discarded cassette tapes during the debate over her ministry's budget, outlined a slew of schemes that aim to turn waste into useful products, while creating opportunities from challenges.

"By planning ahead and working together as SG United, we can turn the challenges from climate change into opportunities for our companies to innovate and internationalise, and create better jobs for Singaporeans," she said.

"That's really turning trash into treasure!"

Deposit Refund Scheme for beverage containers

Packaging waste is one of Singapore's priority waste streams due to its high generation and low recycling rate. In 2018, about one-third of 1.56 million tonnes of waste that came from domestic sources consisted of packaging waste.

"The amount disposed of will only grow as Singaporeans embrace new trends in online shopping and food delivery," said Dr Khor.

"We need to find ways to manage packaging waste more sustainably."

To that end, the National Environment Agency will implement a deposit refund scheme for beverage containers such as PET bottles by 2022. Under the scheme, consumers get a refund when they return used beverage containers to producers via designated return points.

The NEA said that it would start industry consultations early this year and gather industry feedback of the proposed deposit refund scheme framework for implementation by 2022.

Dr Khor also said that the ministry has been working with the economic agencies to engage companies to set up mechanical recycling plants here, which can process post-consumer plastic waste such as PET bottles into plastic pellets, that can in turn be used to make new products.

The new deposit refund scheme is part of the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) scheme which targets the management of electronic waste and packaging waste.

Producers to submit packaging data

From July this year, producers of packaged products, as well as retailers such as supermarkets, will be required to record the amount of packaging that they put into the market alongside their products each year. This data will be submitted to the NEA in 2021. The firms will also need to develop plans to reduce, reuse and recycle packaging.

The packaging data reporting will be mandatory for companies with an annual turnover of more than $10 million.

The new measures come as Singapore strives to lengthen the lifespan of its only landfill, which could be full by 2035.

Last year, Singapore rolled out its Zero Waste Masterplan in an effort to reduce the amount of waste sent to Semakau Landfill.

It details a list of initiatives that the Republic has to squeeze every drop out of the waste it produces and to turn its waste problem into one of opportunity.

Field trials for Newsand to begin in mid-2020

To produce Newsand, incinerated bottom ash and slag is processed into construction material that can be used to build roads.

Incinerated bottom ash is the thicker and heavier component of incinerated ash, while slag is the by-product of the gasification of solid waste.

Last November, a 105m-long footpath at Our Tampines Hub and a 3D-printed concrete bench made with Newsand was unveiled by Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli.

Later this year, the NEA will test out potential Newsand materials in road construction along Tanah Merah Coast Road.

If successful, Newsand will go some way torwards using up incineration waste filling up the landfill while producing a useful construction material.

The NEA will also launch a Request for Information by the middle of this year for a commercial scale facility to produce Newsand.

Developing e-waste recycling capabilities

Dr Khor said that a new lithium-ion battery recycling facility, TES-B, will also be completed in the coming months to drive local e-waste recycling facilities. Two other recycling facilities dedicated to large household appliances, information and communication technology equipment, and batteries, are also in the pipeline, and are slated to be completed by the middle of 2020 and 2022.

Together, the three new facilities will be able to process more than 50,000 tonnes of e-waste per year when fully operational.

Large food waste generators to separate food waste for treatment

Come 2024, premises that generate large amounts of food waste will be required by law to segregate the waste for treatment, either on or off-site.

About 360 shopping malls, hotels as well as facilities housing food manufacturers and caterers involved in food preparation and processing will be affected by the new legislation under the Resource Sustainability Act.

The Act passed last year compels businesses to tackle three key waste streams: electronic (e-waste), food and packaging.

Shopping malls with a food and beverage (F&B) area of more than 3,000 sq m, as well as hotels with F&B and function areas of more than 3000 sq m will be affected by the new law.

In 2018, only 17 per cent of the 763,100 tonnes of food waste that was generated here was recycled.

Commercial and industrial premises are responsible for generating 40 per cent of the food waste in Singapore each year, according to figures from the NEA.

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