NMP Anthea Ong pushes for more urgent measures taken to combat climate change and redistribute food waste to charity

On Wednesday (4 September), the Resource Sustainability Bill was passed in Parliament. The Bill entails regulations to reduce food, electronic waste as well as packaging, given that Singapore’s sole landfill at Pulau Semakau is expected to run out of space by 2030.

Under the Bill, it will be compulsory for large food waste generators to segregate and treat their food waste by 2021, said Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources Amy Khor in Parliament.

In addition, producers of regulated electrical and electronic products will also be required to collect and recycle e-waste like computers, large appliances and phones via an extended “producer responsibility” frame that will be introduced by 2021.

Another similar framework for packaging waste will also be launched. This means that companies like supermarkets and importers that use packaging, will be asked to submit an annual report on the amount of packaging in their products and their packaging waste reduction plans from 2021.

Following Dr Khor’s speech, Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) Anthea Ong said that she supports the Bill as it extremely necessary for the Zero Waste Masterplan, which was launched last Friday, to be a success.

Although she agrees that the Bill includes plans to ensure sustainability in the consumption of resources, but it has to do much more to reflect the urgency of the climate crisis.

As such, she urges the Government to “to take a bold and different perspective in solving food security for our vulnerable groups as a critical climate change action.”

Urgent measures

Singapore’s waste generation has not reduced substantially as the country generated 7.70 million tonnes of solid waste in 2018, a scant decrease of 0.1% from the year before. If that’s not bad enough, in 2018, the city-state generated 763,100 tonnes of food waste, which is equivalent to 10% of the country’s total waste. At this rate, Singapore’s landfill at Pulau Semakau will run out of space in 2035.

As such, Ms Ong proposed detailed measures that can be taken to acknowledge this urgency. The first is to have small targets and goals.

She opined that making companies to just submit report on their plans to reduce, reuse and recycle products in the Bill is not enough.

“Reporting obligations have no bite if it is not accompanied by waste production limits and recycling targets for producers. We must set smart goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound so the producers can plan and prepare accordingly,” Ms Ong explained.

She added, companies have to also let customers know about maintenance and repair services, materials and environmental impacts, whereas retailers must actively inform customers of sustainable products.

Besides that, Ms Ong also suggested that these reports must be made public in order to encourage “public accountability and corporate stewardship”.

“If we would like to see resource sustainability as a core part of doing business, it would seem sensible to stipulate the targets above as a standard reporting requirement or all listed companies,” she noted.

Ms Ong also recommended that producers and retailers be incentivise with tax rebates. This is so “these obligations do not merely end in increased costs for reporting and collection, and the possibility of penalty – all of which will ultimately be passed on to consumers,” she elaborated.

Finally, Ms Ong also proposed in her debate speech to broaden the notion of sustainability if Singapore is looking to reduce its resource footprint. This can be done by not only asking producers to reduce packaging and have mandatory take-back programmes, but also to make sure that electronics producers and retailers are properly incentivised in order to “extend product lifetimes, ensure maintenance and repair services availability.”

Based on all the urgent measures that Ms Ong suggested, Dr Khor said that the Ministry can “consider (them) moving forward” but need to be mindful of costs that will occur to businesses and consumers.

However, in reply to incentivising producers and retailers, Dr Khor explained that the ERP framework for e-waste will “drive resource sustainability by incentivising producers to redesign their products to last longer and for easier recycling.”

“This helps shift mind-sets towards the circular economy approach and sustainable consumption,” she added.

If that’s not all, Dr Khor also said that the Ministry “do not expect the cost that may be passed down to consumers to be significant.” This is because producers will most likely not increase the retail prices of products significantly as it will affect their price competitiveness.

“Moreover, as we aggregate such waste streams and extract value from them, there is potential to bring down costs at the systems level,” Dr Khor noted.

Resolve food security for vulnerable groups

Apart from the abovementioned suggestions, Ms Ong also urged the Government to look at the “tremendous opportunity to reduce and redistribute the phenomenal 763,100 tonnes of food waste generated every year”.

“Of the 763,000 tonnes of food loss a year, let’s assume conservatively that half of them or 382,000 tonnes can be salvaged and redistributed. One meal, conservatively, uses 1 kg and therefore we will get about 382 million meals from the redistributable food loss. Each person eats 1,095 daily meals a year, which is to say, we can safely feed about 390,000 people a year,” she said.

She added that this could mean food loss every year may provide food security for all vulnerable groups in the country.

Although there are different groups like SG Food Rescue to help save and redistribute food waste to the needy, Ms Ong said the country can do much more than that.

“We can shape food-loss-reducing behaviours by changing our food labelling policies and also enacting the Good Samaritan Laws,” she said. This is because products that past “use by”, “sell by”, “expiry date” and “best before” dates cannot be sold or distributed in Singapore, even if they are still edible.

Therefore, Ms Ong said that she is pleased that Singapore Food Agency is exploring Good Samaritan laws to ease business concerns over the donation of excess food, since food that past best before date can be still donated to charities as long as they’re within 6 months of the date.

In response to advocating Good Samaritan law to encourage the donation of excess food to charities, Dr Khor said that this is “a useful idea” and she had asked Singapore Food Agency (SFA) and National Environment Agency (NEA) to held industry and public consultations to study further on this.

“We should also learn from countries such as the US, Canada and Italy which have implemented such laws. Our approach will have to strike a balance between managing food waste and ensuring that any food donated is safe for consumption, particularly in our tropical climate,” she explained.

Separately, Ms Ong also pointed out that Singapore “could consider extending the underused Business-IPC Partnership Scheme or BIPs to include donation of edible food that would otherwise go to waste to charities.”

“Not only will such measures truly drive food resource sustainability, we could be relieving our financially strapped households of a huge burden. We would also be freeing up scarce resources dedicated for our social safety net for other essential needs such as healthcare,” Ms Ong stressed.