The fight against Singapore's mountain of trash will soon pack a bigger punch, with new zero-waste legislation to compel big companies to do something about their waste.
The Resource Sustainability Bill, which was passed in Parliament yesterday, will make it mandatory for some large producers of waste to re-use and recycle more. This will allow Singapore to treat waste the way it treats water - by wringing value from every last drop.
Calling the Act a "big stride" that the Government has taken to catalyse waste reduction, Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources Amy Khor told Parliament that tackling climate change in a resource-constrained future is a massive challenge that calls for bigger weapons.
"The shift from a voluntary to mandatory approach in ensuring resource sustainability is not something the Government takes lightly, but only after careful consideration and consultation," she said.
The law will, for the first time, put in place a "systems-level approach that mandates key responsibilities to enable reuse and recycling nationwide", said Dr Khor.
It will also help Singapore squeeze more value from waste. This could be done through turning incineration ash into construction material, extracting gold and precious metals from discarded electronics, and producing energy from food waste, she pointed out.
All 16 MPs who took part in yesterday's debate supported the Bill, with many offering suggestions on how Singapore can go even further to achieve its zero-waste ambition.
Dr Khor said that turning trash into 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," she said. "Figuratively speaking, we can look at Semakau not as a landfill for trash, but as a treasure island right in our very own backyard."
The new Act gives regulatory teeth to waste-reducing measures in three streams - electronic waste (e-waste), food waste and packaging waste, including plastics. These waste streams have relatively high generation and low recycling rates.
To tackle e-waste, for example, the Act introduces a regulated e-waste management system, under which 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.
It also entails a mandatory packaging reporting framework, which is meant to raise corporate awareness of the benefits of reducing packaging and to encourage companies to do so.
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.
Telco StarHub operates the Renew programme, a company-led e-waste recycling network for customers to safely dispose of e-waste.
StarHub chief corporate officer Veronica Lai said: "Having more retailers, manufacturers and importers join the journey to reduce, reuse and recycle will amplify the efforts towards a circular economy to mitigate against climate change."