SPEECH BY MS GRACE FU, MINISTER FOR SUSTAINABILITY AND THE ENVIRONMENT, AT COMMITTEE OF SUPPLY (COS) DEBATE, 7 MARCH 2022
A Resilient Singapore, For A Sustainable Future
1 Mr Chairman, I thank the Members for their questions.
2 COVID-19, climate change and income inequality. These are among the biggest threats confronting the world today.
3 The pandemic has laid bare the fragilities of global supply chains, the vulnerabilities of healthcare systems, and the cost of being underprepared.
4 The effects of climate change could be far worse. The latest IPCC report underlines how climate change has resulted in the increased frequency and severity of extreme weather events, especially heat waves, droughts, and floods. Climate change will adversely impact economies and livelihoods, as well as security of essential resources such as water, food, and energy.
5 COVID-19 has taught us the importance of resilience and this has relevance in the way we deal with climate change. Whether a disruption is brought about by extreme weather events, or a global pandemic, we must take action today to assess our risk exposure, prepare our people, and put in measures that will enable us to bounce back from disruption.
6 In this COS, Senior Minister of State (SMS) Dr Amy Khor, Minister of State (MOS) Desmond Tan and I will share how the Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment (MSE) is strengthening our resilience across three areas: a) resource resilience; b) climate resilience; and c) public health resilience.
7 First, resource resilience.
8 As a globally connected economy with no natural resources, we are vulnerable to external shocks and supply disruptions. This has been made abundantly clear by the COVID-19 pandemic. As our demand for resources continues to grow, so will our exposure to such fluctuations. Excessive consumption of resources also generates waste and emissions, worsening the climate crisis.
9 We must reduce waste and maximise resource efficiency. We also need to diversify our supply sources and promote circularity to reuse and recycle resources.
10 This is no mean feat, but we have shown that it can be done. We have closed the water loop by reclaiming used water to become NEWater, allowing us to reuse every drop of water endlessly.
11 MOS Desmond will share how we are strengthening the resilience of our food and water supply.
Towards a Zero Waste Nation
12 Ms Nadia Samdin and Ms Cheryl Chan have asked for an update on our waste reduction efforts. Our Zero Waste Masterplan was driven by the need to reduce carbon emissions, boost resource resilience and conserve landfill space. We set a target to reduce waste-to-landfill per capita by 30 per cent by 2030. Under the Singapore Green Plan, we will frontload efforts to achieve a 20 per cent reduction per day by 2026. In an increasingly resource-constrained world, we need to shift to a circular economy, where trash is turned into treasure and reused endlessly.
13 As we strive to become a Zero Waste Nation, we need to encourage sustainable production, build capabilities to maximise resource recovery, and collectively adopt sustainability as a way of life.
14 Let me elaborate.
Encouraging Sustainable Production
15 One key upstream measure to encourage sustainable production is the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) scheme. EPR requires producers, such as manufacturers and importers, to be responsible for the collection and proper treatment of their products at end-of-life.
(i) EPR for e-waste
16 We implemented the e-waste EPR last year to ensure the proper handling and treatment of e-waste. This reduces our waste to landfill, and allows us to recover valuable resources like gold and copper from e-waste, for use in manufacturing new products.
17 Ms Yeo Wan Ling asked for a progress update.
18 Since the scheme started in July last year, ALBA, the appointed scheme operator, has collected around 3,500 tonnes of consumer e-waste, which is three times the amount collected annually under the National Environment Agency (NEA)'s previous National Voluntary Partnership programme. This accounts for approximately 8.5 per cent of the consumer electronic and electrical equipment supplied in 2020. The e-waste collected includes large home appliances like refrigerators and air-conditioners, and information and communications technology (ICT) equipment like mobile phones and laptops.
19 Members of the public can drop off e-waste at more than 500 e-waste recycling bins nationwide, at convenient locations such as community centres, supermarkets and electronics stores.ALBA also works with town councils to organise quarterly collection drives at housing estates and collection of bulky e-waste. For a fee, members of the public may contact ALBA to arrange for doorstep collection of e-waste.
(ii) Beverage Container Return Scheme
20 Efforts are also ongoing to develop an EPR for packaging waste, starting with a return scheme for beverage containers. Under such a scheme, a deposit is included in the price of the pre-packaged beverages. Consumers will receive a refund upon returning the used beverage container.
21 To facilitate the development of this scheme, NEA formed a stakeholder group comprising key industry, academia and civil society representatives in December last year.
22 Over the past two years, NEA has engaged more than 100 large and small producers, which make up about 80 per cent of the pre-packaged beverage market. This included industry briefings, surveys, and one-on-one engagements with individual companies and trade associations. Other stakeholders consulted included retailers, waste management companies and members of the public. NEA will continue to broaden engagement with the public and industry in the coming months, to co-design a cost-effective and suitable Beverage Container Return Scheme for Singapore.
(iii) Ensuring Sustainability of Waste Disposal Services
23 As we strive towards a Zero Waste Nation, we need to continue to ensure the sustainability of essential waste disposal services, while encouraging waste reduction to conserve Semakau Landfill.
24 Over the years, the operational costs of waste disposal have increased.
25 To keep pace with rising costs, we will revise the refuse disposal fee for incinerable waste from $77 to $88 per tonne. This fee is paid by public waste collectors and general waste collectors to dispose of incinerable waste at the waste-to-energy plants.
26 We will also revise the refuse disposal fee for non-incinerable waste from $97 to $124 per tonne. This fee is paid by general waste collectors and toxic industrial waste collectors to dispose of non-incinerable waste at Semakau Landfill, such as treated toxic industrial waste and sludge.
27 The revised fees will take effect on 1 January 2024, two years from now. NEA will issue notification letters to the industry to allow the industry sufficient lead time to adjust.
28 We encourage all businesses to adopt sustainable practices to generate less waste and recycle more, and play their part in the shift towards a greener and zero-waste Singapore.
Building Capabilities to Maximise Resource Recovery
29 As we put in place a comprehensive regulatory framework to encourage recycling, we also need to build capabilities in our local industry.
30 A thriving local recycling industry can generate economic value, job opportunities and exportable solutions for the global green demand. EWR2 is a local e-waste recycling company that recycles large household appliances and ICT equipment, and was set up in response to the increasing demand for e-waste recycling services driven by the EPR scheme. It operates a highly automated recycling facility that can recover up to 95 per cent of materials used to make the appliances, of which about 80 per cent is being recycled.
31 We are also pursuing chemical recycling of plastics that converts plastic waste into pyrolysis oil, which can be used as feedstock for the manufacturing of chemicals and plastics.
32 NEA commissioned a feasibility study on the development of a Plastic Recovery Facility last year to extract plastics from our waste for chemical recycling. The facility will harness advanced plastic waste sorting capabilities and improve our plastic recycling rates.
33 We are finding other new innovative ways to turn waste into resource.
34 Semakau Landfill, for example, can potentially be mined for its landfilled materials. NEA and the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore are carrying out a feasibility study to use such materials in its reclamation for Tuas Port. If feasible, this will prolong the lifespan of Semakau and at the same time, reduce the amount of reclamation materials to be imported.
Sustainability as a Way of life
35 Our transition to a Zero Waste Nation will require everyone to play their part. To be a nation known for sustainable development, care for the environment must be reflected through our daily practices. Our personal and societal values drive the actions and choices we make daily.
(i) Disposable Carrier Bag Charge
36 The use of disposables is an issue that many Singaporeans care about. While disposables have become an everyday convenience, they create large amounts of waste and use up finite resources.
37 We convened a Citizens’ Workgroup in September 2020 to co-create solutions with the public in the spirit of Singapore Together. The Workgroup came up with recommendations on how we can reduce the use of disposables such as carrier bags, food containers, cutlery, and packaging.
38 Implementing a charge for disposable carrier bags at supermarkets was one of the recommendations of the Workgroup. After careful deliberation, we announced last year that we would work out an appropriate model for a disposable carrier bag charge at supermarkets.
39 We did not decide on this lightly.
40 Our earlier considerations for not implementing a disposable carrier bag charge in Singapore are still valid. Plastic bags are often used to bag our garbage before throwing it down our rubbish chutes. Unlike many other countries, we do not directly landfill our disposables but incinerate them. Hence, we do not face the land and water pollution issues that plague those countries.
41 Climate action and environmental protection are gaining pace internationally and locally, and we cannot continue with business as usual. A bag charge is becoming commonplace in jurisdictions around the world and closer to home, such as in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Malaysia.
42 There is broad recognition that we can reduce wastage of plastic bags. In Singapore, an increasing number of retailers have voluntarily implemented a charge on disposable carrier bags, which has been shown to be effective in encouraging the use of reusables. For example, FairPrice’s “No Plastic Bag” initiative has saved more than 30 million plastic bags over two years, with seven out of 10 customers willing to bring their own bags.
43 More importantly, we want Singaporeans to be a part of the shift towards a green Singapore. We should show our care for the environment in the choices we make every day.
44 By making the cost of the bag visible to consumers, the intent of the bag charge is to nudge people to consider what they really need, instead of taking bags freely.
45 The charge is not a ban. It will not remove the public’s access to disposable bags. It is a nudge to every one of us to develop the habit of bringing a reusable bag when shopping for groceries and more, and to reduce the use of disposables — an essential feature of Sustainable Living.
46 Dr Lim Wee Kiak asked about our consultations in developing the bag charge framework. We have conducted extensive consultations over the past year, including with supermarkets and members of the public. Close to 6,000 stakeholders were consulted through focus group discussions, industry and public consultation sessions, and surveys. We have heard diverse views in our consultations, and have considered these views carefully.
47 Ms Yeo Wan Ling and Dr Lim also asked for details on the bag charge.
48 Let me share about the framework.
49 We will introduce a charge of at least 5 cents per bag, for purchases made at the supermarket outlets. This will be applicable to all disposable carrier bags. We have kept the minimum charge low to moderate the cost impact on shoppers, including on low-income households.
50 Charging per bag is equitable and effective. The more bags we take, the higher the amount we pay. Charging from the first bag would also encourage shoppers to bring their own bags from the outset.
51 The charge will take effect in mid-2023.
52 It will apply to operators of Singapore Food Agency (SFA)-licensed supermarkets with an annual turnover of more than $100 million, which will cover about two-thirds of all supermarket outlets. We are starting with the larger supermarket operators who have extensive market coverage. We will not extend the charge to smaller convenience stores for now, as suggested by Mr Louis Ng.
53 During our consultation, concerns have been expressed about supermarket operators potentially profiting from the charge. We strongly encourage supermarket operators to channel the proceeds obtained from the bag charge to environmental or social causes, and consider initiatives to support lower-income families.
54 To ensure accountability, we will require supermarket operators to publish information on the number of bags issued, amount of proceeds collected from the bag charge, and how these proceeds would be used. The public will then be able to see how the supermarket operators are using the proceeds.
55 Over time, we hope that the charge will encourage Singaporeans to adopt sustainable habits and bring our own bags when shopping at supermarkets and other stores.
56 At this point, I would like to quote Ms Liu Yining who wrote eloquently about the need to reduce the use of plastic disposables in a recent commentary in Lianhe Zaobao. Mr Chairman, in Mandarin please. 刘伊宁女士在3月4日的联合早报发表了这一篇评论。它的标题为"塑料袋收费是一个减塑的种子"。"在人民多拿一个塑料袋的那一刻，能思考 "是不是需要这个袋子" 时，已在心中种下一颗幸福、善的种子，也为自己，国家及地球种下了一个希望。" The larger purpose of the bag charge is to make all of us pause and think if we really need the next bag before we reach for the bag. It is a seed of hope for a better world — the first step on a journey towards sustainability and the beginning of a change in how we treat the environment.
(ii) Recycling as a Way of Life
57 Ms Ng Ling Ling asked how we can encourage and support families and communities to recycle more.
58 Applying an idea from the Recycle Right Citizens' Workgroup to encourage right recycling behaviour, we recently piloted the use of transparent recycling bins in Hong Kah North and East Coast GRC. Residents' response was positive.
59 To encourage recycling at every home, NEA is collaborating with the Singapore Institute of Technology to design a compact recycling container to better sort out and collect recyclables at home. These containers will be made available to households later this year. To minimise wastage, NEA will only distribute to households that want them.
60 Our individual actions will determine the collective outcome for Singapore.
61 Together, our zero-waste efforts will bring us closer to achieving our waste-to-landfill targets, and extend the lifespan of Semakau for as long as possible beyond 2035.
62 Next, I will touch on climate resilience.
63 Ms Poh Li San , Ms Nadia Samdin , Dr Lim Wee Kiak and Mr Sharael Taha asked about our progress in shoring up our coastal and flood defences.
64 Sea-level rise poses an existential threat for a low-lying island nation like Singapore.
65 The Centre for Climate Research Singapore has projected that climate change could cause mean sea-level rise of up to 1 metre by 2100. If there should be a confluence of extreme high tides and storm surges, some projections suggest that sea levels could be as high as 4 to 5 metres. This is high enough to potentially flood one-third of Singapore.
66 Coastal protection is a long-term endeavour, and we have started planning ahead.
67 In May last year, PUB, the national coastal protection agency, embarked on a site-specific study at the coastline of City-East Coast.
68 We are starting site-specific studies at other parts of our coastline. This year, JTC and PUB will commence studies at Jurong Island and the North-West Coast respectively.
69 Singapore has a varied coastline of over 300 km. Hence, our site-specific studies allow us to understand the characteristics of these different segments and develop the coastal protection solutions accordingly.
70 Take the North-West Coast as an example.
71 First, there are four coastal reservoirs – Tengeh, Poyan, Murai, and Sarimbun. We will study how to reinforce the dykes and dams for these important water sources to protect them from seawater intrusion.
72 Next, we will study how best to dovetail coastal protection solutions with upcoming developments such as the future Sungei Kadut Eco-District and Lim Chu Kang high-tech agri-food cluster.
73 There are also sections of mangrove habitats at the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, and the Mandai Mangrove and Mudflat Nature Park. We must take care to minimise environmental impact in these biodiversity-rich areas. PUB will explore hybrid coastal protection solutions that combine nature-based elements with hard engineering measures, and will also work closely with NParks and stakeholders to conduct environmental studies, minimise impact, and enhance the existing ecosystems.
74 These studies are expected to take a few years.
75 To ensure that coastal and flood protection measures are adequately resourced, we established the Coastal and Flood Protection Fund in 2020 with an initial injection of S$5 billion. In May last year, the Government passed the Significant Infrastructure Government Loan Act (SINGA), to allow the raising of loans to finance major long-term infrastructure, such as coastal and drainage infrastructure.
76 Even as we plan long term for the challenges of sea-level rise, we are already seeing more extreme weather patterns today. We see more flash floods from more intense rains.
77 Ms Poh Li San and Ms Nadia Samdin asked what PUB's plans are to mitigate inland floods. The Government has invested significantly with almost $2 billion spent on drainage improvement works since 2011. This includes the Stamford Diversion Canal, Stamford Detention Tank and the Bukit Timah First Diversion Canal. We have set aside another $1.4 billion to carry out further improvements to the drainage system till 2025.
78 While we systematically improve our drainage system across the island, it is not possible to expand our drains to cater to every extreme rainfall event as it will mean less space for housing, parks or roads in land-scarce Singapore. Hence, it is important to strengthen community resilience and our collective response to flooding incidents.
79 PUB has been enhancing its early warning systems to provide more timely updates to the public, including launching a dedicated Telegram channel last November. PUB has also expanded its fleet to 13 flood response vehicles that are able to stream real-time flood conditions and drive through higher floodwaters. This allows PUB to provide timely assistance during any heavy rain event.
80 PUB cannot do it alone. We urge Singaporeans to be on alert for weather events, by subscribing to PUB’s flood alerts for timely updates on heavy rains and potential flood risk locations. Building owners must do their part in protecting their properties by installing effective flood protection measures.
81 In July last year, PUB trialled the automated flood barrier at the entrance of Fortune Park Condominium leading to the basement carpark. The automated barrier uses approaching floodwaters to buoy itself up and block floodwaters from entering the premises, without the need for any human or mechanical intervention. It is a viable and cost-effective solution for flood protection, and we encourage building owners in low-lying areas to implement these automated barriers.
82 Mr Chairman, as a small island city-state with no natural resources, we have weathered many crises together as a people and as a nation.
83 We have overcome these crises and seized the opportunities to develop into a clean, green and liveable city that we see today.
84 Climate change is the defining crisis of our generation.
85 Together, let us build a resilient Singapore, for a sustainable future.