During the Committee of Supply 2020 Debate in Parliament on Wednesday (4 March), several Members of Parliament (MP) raised their concerns and issues over the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources (MEWR)’s effort in managing waste in order to move towards to a Zero Waste nation.
As part of encouraging Singaporeans to work together toward being a zero-waste country, the government had earlier designated 2019 as the Year Towards Zero Waste and outlined the Zero Waste Masterplan for the citizens to be engaged in to “great effect”.
To this, Workers’ Party MP Chen Show Mao asked MEWR for a review and update on the results of the Zero Waste Masterplan during the parliament session.
In his speech, Tanjong Pagar Group Representation Constituency (GRC) MP Dr Chia Shi-Lu raised his concerns on packaging waste, which formed a significant portion of domestic waste.
He pointed out that the country is “totally potential” to develop more measures in reducing packaging and plastic waste when he cited the National Environment Agency (NEA)’s statistics showing that 55% of packaging waste is made up of plastic, and only 4% of plastic waste is recyclable.
Noting that MEWR implemented the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) framework to deal with packaging waste including plastic, Dr Chia requested the ministry to share the details of how NEA plans to enforce the EPR framework.
Other than the EPR framework, MEWR also introduced the mandatory reporting of packaging data and development of 3R plans framework for involved companies. The framework will commence on 1 July.
With the upcoming regulations, Nominated MP Mohamed Irshad asked if MEWR will provide any support and measures for the involved companies to ensure the accuracy of data that has been given.
During the Parliamentary session, Dr Chia also noted that the amount of e-waste generated in Singapore seems to increase every year.
Concerned about the growing amount of e-waste, Dr Chia and Mr Irshad posed the same question to MEWR, asking if the government has sufficient local recycling capability to process the expected volume of e-waste as well as provide other measures to ensure the proper treatment and responsible disposal of all collected e-waste.
Mr Irshad also asked about the progress of EPR framework, such as the number of operators who have applied or have been licensed to collect and treat e-waste, and if MEWR would consider expanding the framework beyond e-waste.
Additionally, it was noted that the owners and occupiers of commercial and industrial premises that generate a large amount of food waste will be required to segregate their food waste for treatment from 2024.
Speaking on this, Mr Irshad questioned whether MEWR has determined the scope of affected premises and taken any measures to help the industry comply with the following regulations.
Single-use bag charge
Nee Soon GRC MP Louis Ng suggested that MEWR introduce a single-use bag charge as it has been successful in reducing the usage of single-use plastic bags in countries that have adopted a plastic bag charge.
In this note, he cited the example of England, saying, “In England, there was a 90% reduction. It was estimated that every person is using 10 bags in the most recent year, compared with 140 bags in 2014 before the charge was introduced.”
He also proposed to make the single-use bag charge mandatory for large retailers and optional for smaller businesses while waiving the charge when it comes to plastic bags for fresh food and meat items.
Use of styrofoam products
Workers’ Party (WP) NCMP Dennis Tan Lip Fong mentioned that styrofoam products are still widely used for food crockery and packaging at hawker centres and food outlets in the country.
Highlighting that the government has opted to discourage hawkers from using disposable ware instead of banning styrofoam products outright, Mr Tan, therefore, said, “I would like to ask for an update of the rate of use of styrofoam products in food crockery and packaging vis-a-vis other materials since 2016.”
He also asked the government whether it will review the use of styrofoam products for food crockery and packaging, and set a target to ban the use of such products or take measures to reduce the usage.
In addition, he also suggested that the government consider using bamboo products as an alternative to single-use products.
Government’s effort in recycling
Moving on, WP NCMP Daniel Goh Pei Siong noted that Singapore fails in the effort of domestic recycling, where the recycling rate is stuck at a dismal 21 to 22%.
Mr Goh suggested that the government change the National Recycling Programme to community-led recycling as a new strategy to foster the domestic recycling rate.
Citing examples in Germany, South Korea, and Taiwan, he said that the recycling programmes, as well as culture and norms of recycling, become entrenched in their communities.
Therefore, he suggested the Singapore grassroots organisations to take ownership by monitoring the recycling trends of each HDB block, diagnosing problems such as the low rate of recycling and organising campaigns to educate block residents.
Speaking on recycling, MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC Joan Pereira raised the issue of recycling bins at HDB blocks which are often overfilled, causing the residents to end up leaving the items around the bins.
Considering some items do not fit into the bins, she requested MEWR to increase the size of recycling bins and improve its design to something more user-friendly, or allocate more bins to each HDB block.