Singapore aims to send one-third less waste to Semakau Landfill by 2030: Amy Khor

Currently, about 2,100 tonnes is sent to Semakau Landfill daily. PHOTO: NATIONAL ENVIRONMENT AGENCY

SINGAPORE - The lifespan of Singapore's one and only offshore landfill is shortening, and to help extend it, the Government has set new waste reduction targets for the nation and an action plan on how to achieve it.

By 2030, Singapore wants to send about one-third, or 30 per cent, less waste to Semakau Landfill in a bid to help it last longer than the projected 2035, said Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources Amy Khor on Friday (Aug 30).

Already, the Semakau Landfill has seen its lifespan shorten from the initial 2045 to the current projection of 2035.

Currently, about 2,100 tonnes is sent to the landfill daily. This comprises 600 tonnes of non-incinerable waste, and 1,500 tonnes of ash.

Achieving this "ambitious" target would require a revamp in how people, businesses and industry practise the 3Rs (reduce, reuse and recycle).

This requires regulatory teeth, new infrastructure, continued research and development, as well as nudges to encourage people to recycle more - solutions laid out in Singapore's first zero waste masterplan.

In explaining the importance of tackling waste during the launch of the masterplan, Dr Khor said reducing waste is one way of supporting climate mitigation efforts.

Scarce resources are depleted when people produce, consume and throw away, said Dr Khor.

"The associated activities - be it mining, manufacturing or shipping - also emits greenhouse gases. These gases trap heat in the atmosphere and contributes to climate change," she added.

Urgent action is needed, and the new masterplan would help guide Singapore as it strives to become a zero-waste nation, Dr Khor said.

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Singapore's first Zero Waste Masterplan provides steps on how the target of 30 per cent waste reduction by 2030 can be achieved.

In terms of legislation, Dr Khor said the Resource Sustainability Bill will be passed in Parliament next week.

The Bill will provide regulatory teeth for the Government to implement measures to reduce waste from three key streams: electronic waste (e-waste), food waste and packaging waste.

Food waste and packaging waste are generated in large quantities in Singapore, but the rates at which they are recycled are dismal.

Tackling e-waste is also important for Singapore so toxic substances do not leach into the landfill or into waterways, and so useful materials such as metals can be extracted from them.

On the Resource Sustainability Bill, Dr Khor said: "We have decided to enact a new Act, rather than amend existing ones, to demonstrate and emphasise the new paradigm to view waste as a resource."


In terms of infrastructure, Singapore is exploring the establishment of local recycling capabilities, as well as local e-waste recycling facilities for large household appliances, household batteries and lamps.

China's recent ban on plastic recyclables has shifted the trade patterns of this material, Dr Khor said.

"We believe that closing the plastics loop domestically, to extract treasure from trash, is an area where both economic and environmental opportunities lie," she said.

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

An industry consultation session will be conducted on Friday.

Research and development is also a key thrust of the masterplan.

To this end, the National Environment Agency is looking into solutions such as how incineration bottom ash can be turned into a construction material, and not landfill fodder.

Behavioural nudges

Highlighting the importance of individual action, Dr Khor on Friday unveiled new recycling bin labels, which is meant to nudge people into recycling right.

A spokesman for the National Environment Agency said the cost of the new labels was "a very small fraction of the value of the public waste collectors' contracts".

She added: "If residents follow the illustration... the domestic recycling rate will improve, and this will increase the ease and efficiency of the public waste collectors' work."

Singapore's domestic recycling rate has fared poorly, hovering in the region of 20 per cent over the past few years.

Among the reasons for this is the contamination of recyclables, which happens when food is thrown into recycling bins. These contaminate the recyclables.

The new labels prominently state how no food or liquids are allowed in the ubiquitous big blue recycling bins, and is meant to remind users to keep recyclables clean.

Chairman of the Waste Management and Recycling Association of Singapore Melissa Tan welcomed the introduction of the re-designed labels, and said that it could help boost domestic recycling rates.

She said: "It's not that the public is unaware about recycling. It's just that they are confused with what they can recycle and what they cannot. The new labels make that clear."

The Year 2019 has been designated as Singapore's Year toward Zero Waste.

Asked why the masterplan was launched so late in the year, a spokesman from the Ministry for the Environment and Water Resources said it had been carrying out consultations with stakeholders on the masterplan earlier this year.

Moreover, he emphasised that the masterplan is a constantly being reviewed to help Singapore meet its long-term waste reduction goals.

During Friday's event, Dr Khor urged people to step up.

She said: "Our Pioneer generation worked hard to leave us with the clean and liveable Singapore that we enjoy today. It is now our turn to take action together to ensure our children and grandchildren will inherit the shining jewel that is Singapore."

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