E-waste a more pressing issue than plastics: Masagos

Toxicity of e-waste underestimated; solution to plastic use not levy, but reducing demand

Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli said that people underestimate the toxicity of electronic waste.
Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli said that people underestimate the toxicity of electronic waste.PHOTO: ST FILE

While there is plenty of focus on plastic waste, the more pressing issue facing Singapore is electronic waste, Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli said yesterday.

"E-waste is very toxic, people underestimate the toxicity of the e-waste that we dispose, and for the longest time, we weren't processing it," he said.

Plastics, on the other hand, were being collected properly and then incinerated, the minister said. "And we scrub all the toxic dioxins when we incinerate," he added, explaining that dioxins, which are highly pollutive chemicals that are released into the air by burning, are removed during the process.

He was responding to chief executive of real estate firm CBRE Pauline Goh during an on-stage discussion at the annual Singapore Green Building Council Leadership Conversations meeting.

This week, the Singapore Environment Council revealed that Singapore used at least 1.76 billion pieces of plastic a year, the majority of which is made up of bags from supermarkets. Referring to this figure, Ms Goh said: "Singapore's recycling efforts have yielded very limited results. For example, only 2 per cent of the 820 million plastic bags taken yearly from supermarkets is recycled by consumers. How do we ensure that our efforts go a longer way?"

Mr Masagos replied: "When you try to do everything, you will end up doing nothing, so do the most important things first - and right now, we are tackling e-waste."

He talked about the extended producer responsibility law, due to take effect by 2021, that would force producers of electrical and electronic equipment here to ensure their products are collected and recycled or disposed of at the end of their lifespans.

He also said that the authorities were focusing on tackling packaging waste. Last month, he announced that companies in Singapore would have to report on the packaging used in their products in 2021, a year earlier than the previous deadline.

Mr Masagos said that the issue with plastic waste here was not about improper disposal, which affects the waterways and seas, but about reducing the demand.

He said imposing a levy and fine for using plastic bags was not the solution, and said that it was everybody's responsibility to deal with the issue of plastic waste. "If you want me to charge for plastic bags, I can. But I don't think that is how we want to be as a society," he said.

He called instead for a revolution in how Singapore society addressed plastic waste, with everyone working together instead of waiting for someone else to take action.

Mr Masagos also recalled that plastic bags solved a problem the Republic used to face in the 1970s.

"Back when we didn't bag our trash, we just threw food into our rubbish chutes and caused pests to come, and at the same time it would corrode the linings of chutes, and we had to repair them so often. This problem got mitigated when we started bagging our trash."

He said: "The issue is to make sure we don't take more bags than we need, don't use more bags than we can, and dispose of them properly. And at the same time, how do we reduce our trash so that we don't have to bag more of it?"

"If we reduce our trash, we reduce our bags," the minister added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 03, 2018, with the headline 'E-waste a more pressing issue than plastics: Masagos'. Subscribe