SINGAPORE - The fight against Singapore's growing mountain of trash will soon pack a bigger punch, with the passing of the Resource Sustainability Bill in Parliament on Wednesday (Sept 4).
It will make recycling mandatory for some major manufacturers and retailers, as well as squeeze more value out of every bit of waste.
This could happen through turning incineration ash into construction material, extracting gold and precious metals from discarded electronics, for instance, and producing energy from food waste.
The new Act will, for the first time, "put in place a systems-level approach that mandates key responsibilities to enable re-use and recycling nation-wide", said Dr Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources in Parliament.
All 16 MPs who took part in the debate supported the Bill, with many offering suggestions on how Singapore can go even further to achieve its zero-waste ambition.
Earlier, in presenting the Bill for debate, Dr Khor said turning trash to treasure will not only ensure a ready supply of resources for Singapore, buffering the country against global supply shocks, but it will also create new economic and job opportunities.
"Preliminary studies have estimated that if Singapore recovers and reuses materials from electronic waste, we can reap a net benefit of $40 million. This includes indirect benefits such as helping our companies export overseas and creating jobs."
She added: "Figuratively speaking, we can look at Semakau not as a landfill for trash but as a treasure island right in our very own backyard."
Tackling waste would also help Singapore in its fight against climate change. Planet-warming gases are produced whenever goods and products are manufactured.
In her opening speech on Wednesday, Dr Khor said a paradigm shift is needed if Singapore wants to achieve climate, resource and economic resilience, from the "take-make-throw" linear model to the circular economy where resources are used over and over again.
She said: "Efficient waste disposal is necessary, but our goal must first and foremost be to reduce, reuse and recycle; in other words, zero waste. This is the core of the Resource Sustainability Bill."
If passed, the Bill will give regulatory teeth to waste-reducing measures in three priority streams - electronic waste (e-waste), food waste and packaging waste including plastics.
These waste streams have relatively high generation and low recycling rates.
The Bill will focuses on dealing with waste at source, with measures that target manufacturers and importers.
To tackle e-waste, for example, the passing of the Bill will see the introduction of a regulated e-waste management system by 2021.
Under this, companies that manufacture or import regulated products for the local market will be made responsible for the collection and proper treatment of their e-waste. E-waste collected under this scheme will be channelled to licensed e-waste recyclers for proper treatment.
To reduce packaging waste, the Bill also entails a mandatory packaging reporting framework, which is meant to raise corporate awareness of the benefits of reducing packaging and to encourage firms to reduce the amount of packaging used in their products.
Food waste will be tackled with measures including new regulations that will make it mandatory for the owners and operators of commercial premises where large amounts of food waste are generated, such as malls and large hotels, to segregate their food waste for treatment.
Dr Khor said the Bill sends economic signals to producers to take into account the cost of environmental damage.
"It also encourages innovation and the redesigning of products that require less materials, last longer and are more easily recycled. The regulatory framework will also fund the recovery and aggregation of useful materials such as metals from e-waste, which makes recycling more viable," she said.
Business-as-usual in the way people produce and consume is no longer viable, said Dr Khor.
"The impacts of climate change and the carbon and resource constraints we face respect no geographical or national boundaries," she added.
The Bill will help to close resource loops via a circular economy approach - where the aim is to use resources again and again - to mitigate and adapt to climate change.
Dr Khor said that not only will it contribute to environmental sustainability, it will also help to build up resilience in three key areas - the climate, the economic and resource use.
"Only by doing so can we create a sustainable Singapore of tomorrow and secure our collective future for our children."