Speech by Ms Grace Fu, Minister for Sustainability and the Environment, at the Eco-Business Webinar: ‘Packaging waste: A circular future, or talking in circles?’, on 19 October 2020
Ms Jessica Cheam, Managing Director, Eco-Business
Mr Seah Kian Peng, Group CEO, FairPrice Group
Fellow guests and viewers
1 Good afternoon. I would like to first thank Eco-Business and Fairprice Group for bringing us together for today’s webinar. The management and reduction of packaging waste is an issue of growing salience.
Optimising the use of packaging
2 With rising consumption, packaging waste, food waste and e-waste are becoming increasingly challenging to deal with. These are the three key waste streams that Singapore is targeting under our Zero Waste Masterplan. Packaging and food waste are generated in large quantities and have low recycling rates. E-waste, while a smaller proportion of the waste generated, could be detrimental to the environment if not properly treated. Managing these waste streams well will be our focus as we strive towards zero waste, and in extending the lifespan of Semakau Landfill beyond 2035.
3 Today our focus is packaging waste, which accounted for a third of our domestic waste. But let me first say that packaging has many useful functions. It helps reduce food spoilage, extend the shelf life of food, and protect our products as they move through the logistics chain. Important information is also printed on product packaging, such as nutritional value, best-by and expiry dates, and safety instructions.
4 Therefore, our approach should not be to eliminate packaging, but to see how we can optimise the use of packaging and ensure a sustainable end-of-life management of packaging waste.
5 We made good headway on this since the establishment of the Singapore Packaging Agreement (SPA) in 2007. This is a voluntary joint initiative by the Government, industry, and non-governmental organisations to reduce packaging waste. Through improvements to packaging design and optimising the use of packaging materials, a cumulative reduction of about 54,000 tonnes of packaging waste and S$130 million in savings was achieved between 2007 and 2020. This bears testimony to the fact that making environmentally-friendly changes can benefit the bottom-line.
6 But we need to do more. Our recycling rate for plastics, which make up a large component of our packaging waste, stood at just 4 per cent in 2019. We need a serious, concerted effort by all parties - the Government, industry, and consumers - to make bigger strides. And how?
Government and industries’ role
7 First, the Resource Sustainability Act introduced last year gave us the regulatory framework to target the three waste streams. For packaging waste, we will start with the Mandatory Packaging Reporting (MPR) framework from 2021. This will be followed by the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) framework.
8 Under the MPR framework, businesses with an annual turnover of more than S$10 million will be required to report the types and amount of packaging materials they place on the market annually. They include producers of packaged products, and retailers such as supermarkets. They will also submit their plans to reduce, reuse or recycle packaging to NEA. This will lead companies to look at the potential for waste reduction within their business operations.
9 To help companies fulfil these obligations, NEA has partnered the Singapore Manufacturing Federation (SMF) to introduce the Packaging Partnership Programme. This industry-led programme will help to build industry capability in packaging 3Rs, exchange best practices, and move companies towards sustainable packaging waste management.
10 NEA is also working on the framework for a Deposit Refund Scheme (DRS) for beverage containers. Under the DRS, producers such as soft drink companies will be required to fund the collection of used beverage containers. Consumers receive a refund when they return their empty beverage containers.
11 The DRS will serve as the first phase of the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) framework. Under the EPR, producers will be responsible for the collection and treatment of their end-of-life products. This will increase recycling rates downstream, and encourage innovation upstream, spurring the design of products that require less packaging or material, and are more easily recycled.
12 These regulations will create economic opportunities and capture new areas of growth in the area of sustainability. For example, the DRS will aggregate post-consumer plastic waste such as PET beverage bottles - providing a steady supply of feedstock for local recycling capacity. We are actively engaging companies that are interested to set up mechanical recycling capabilities in Singapore. We are also pursuing chemical recycling solutions to treat plastics that are not suitable for mechanical recycling. These efforts will close the plastic loop, create higher-value products from our waste, and create jobs for Singaporeans.
13 Even as the Government works with the industries, consumers have an important role to play. Consumer expectation and demand for sustainable products and packaging will drive and influence product design. For instance, when purchasing a product, look for its quality and not its packaging as a proxy, and support businesses that make an effort in optimising packaging resources. More sustainable packaging reduces the amount of resources used and carbon emissions generated in its production.
14 Another way for consumers is to reduce the use of disposables such as single-use carrier bags. The NEA launched the second run of the “Say ‘YES’ to Waste Less” campaign last month to encourage this. It is working with close to 100 commercial partners, covering more than 2,100 premises, to encourage consumers to take simple, positive actions such as bringing reusables and declining disposables for takeaways and online food orders. Fairprice is one such partner. They have taken a proactive stance by initiating a month-long “No Plastic Bag” trial in September 2019. The initiative sought to reduce the use of single-use plastic carrier bags, by requiring customers to pay for them. This initiative was subsequently extended for a year from November 2019, and the number of participating stores increased from seven to 25. I commend Fairprice for taking a lead in the supermarket sector and urge other players to follow suit.
15 Will this work, what more can we do? We are encouraging public conversations and action through a Citizens’ Workgroup on Reducing Excessive Consumption of Disposables. The Workgroup convened last month, and we hope to partner citizens to co-create and co-deliver practical and inclusive solutions to deal with this issue.
16 Our individual actions as consumers, businesses and communities contribute towards the bigger vision of a Green and Sustainable Singapore. How we come together to reduce and recycle packaging waste will be one substantive way to realise this vision. By working together, pushing boundaries, and exploring opportunities and innovative solutions, we can transform Singapore’s environment for the better, with new and exciting green jobs. Together, let us build a vibrant and sustainable Singapore!
17 Thank you.