All hands to the pump in push for a zero-waste nation

The zero-waste challenge is stark given recycling rates remain low here at 22 per cent last year, significantly behind countries such as Germany, Austria and South Korea.
The zero-waste challenge is stark given recycling rates remain low here at 22 per cent last year, significantly behind countries such as Germany, Austria and South Korea.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - Stakeholders from across the board joined forces on Thursday (May 30) to devise ways to improve the low recycling rates that are failing to keep up with the escalating amounts of waste being produced here.

The strategy session took the form of a panel discussion involving government agencies, business owners and environmental organisations, with the overriding aim of finding ways to make Singapore a zero-waste nation.

Some of the key points included defining the role of manufacturers in waste management, social behaviour and policymaking.

The participants at the event held at the Ricoh Printing Innovation Centre in Penang Road included Mr Tan Meng Dui, the chief executive of the National Environment Agency (NEA), executives from firms such as Johnson & Johnson and Deloitte Singapore and representatives from non-profit Zero Waste Singapore and sustainability publication Eco-Business.

Mr Tan said that while the NEA will provide the policy, regulatory and legislative framework to support Singapore's adoption of a circular economy, individuals and businesses can play their part by building a strong 3R - Reduce, Reuse, Recycle - culture and "adopt a zero-waste mindset in all that they do".

Circular economy approaches consist of minimising waste and converting waste material into resources, thus creating a closed production loop.

The challenge is stark given domestic recycling rates remain low here at 22 per cent last year, significantly behind countries such as Germany, Austria and South Korea.

 
 
 

Meanwhile, the amount of waste generated annually has risen sevenfold over the past 40 years or so, with the nation's only landfill on Semakau Island projected to reach its maximum capacity by 2035, a decade earlier than expected.

Mr Tan cited the zero waste masterplan to be launched later this year.

It identifies electronic waste, or e-waste, food and packaging waste as three focus areas.

Mr Tan noted that e-waste can harm the environment if improperly disposed of while food and packaging waste were singled out for their high generation and low recycling rates.

He also mentioned the Extended Producer Responsibility programme that will come into effect by 2021.

This will compel producers of electrical and electronic equipment to collect their products for recycling or disposal at the end of their lifespans. This will include items like batteries, lamps and large household appliances, including electric scooters and power-assisted bicycles. Up to 90 per cent of e-waste will be covered in this scheme.

Mr Tan added that the notion of zero waste was "more feasible" if it includes ways to manage incinerated rubbish, such as using it for construction purposes like building roads instead of adding it to landfills.

Ms Jessica Cheam, managing editor of Eco-Business, said: "I think that this is a crucial conversation because if you look at global trends in waste generation in the world right now, there is no longer the luxury of exporting your waste or exporting the problem."

She added that every country had to look inward to come up with solutions to manage their waste responsibly, and that the pioneers of these solutions could generate business opportunities.

"I see this as a huge opportunity for Singapore," Ms Cheam noted.

"That we are not just here to tackle our existential waste threat, but also to look for business opportunities."

"Imagine if Singapore could come up with all the technologies and solutions for South-east Asia to be housed here - a way of recycling every single stream of waste."

The event was organised by Japanese multinational Ricoh Asia Pacific.

Correction note: This article has been edited for accuracy.