Speech by Dr Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State for Sustainability and the Environment, at Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment’s Committtee of Supply (COS) Debate 2023, 2 March 2023
Chairman, let me now elaborate on our vision for a zero waste nation and my pet topic, NO!, not smoking, but hawkers and hawker centres.
Introduction – Towards a Zero Waste Nation
2 Since the launch of the Zero Waste Masterplan in 2019, my Ministry and NEA have taken concrete steps to move from a throwaway culture towards a more sustainable paradigm. We are making good progress addressing our priority waste streams of electronic waste or e-waste, packaging waste and food waste.
Update on EPR for E-Waste
3 Mr Louis Ng asked for an update on the e-waste Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) scheme that was implemented in July 2021.
4 Since then, we have more than doubled the number of nationwide e-waste collection points, from 300 to over 700 today. These collection points are situated at accessible locations like community centres and shopping malls.
5 To date, ALBA, the appointed Producer Responsibility Scheme operator, has collected more than 9,000 tonnes of e-waste. It is a start, but is only a fraction of our collection targets. Since 1 July 2021, for Information Communication Technology (ICT) equipment, batteries and lamps, the collection rate is under 4%. We have done better for large household appliances, with a collection rate of 18%. There is still much room for improvement.
6 Together with ALBA, we will roll out extensive publicity and outreach efforts throughout the year across various marketing and online platforms, focusing on events such as International E-waste Day in October. ALBA has also worked with all 17 Town Councils to organise quarterly collection drives at housing estates to collect bulky e-waste.
Resource Sustainability Bill and Approach to Managing Single-Use Plastics
7 On 6 February 2023, I moved the Resource Sustainability (Amendment) Bill for First Reading. There will be a full debate on the Bill during the Second Reading.
8 Today, I will share more details on two key initiatives under the Bill: a disposable carrier bag charge, and a beverage container return scheme. They are decisive steps to reduce packaging waste and increase recycling, including single-use plastics.
Disposable Carrier Bag Charge
9 First, on the disposable carrier bag charge. By making the cost of disposable carrier bags visible to consumers, the charge will nudge consumers to be mindful of and reduce their usage of disposable bags.
10 Based on NEA’s 2021 survey of around 1,000 residents, close to 90% agreed that they had a part to play in reducing the usage of disposable carrier bags. More than 70% also agreed that a mandatory charge would help to reduce the usage of these bags.
11 From Monday, 3 July 2023, supermarket operators with a company-level annual turnover of more than $100 million will be required to charge at least 5 cents per disposable carrier bag at their SFA-licensed supermarket outlets. Following consultations with supermarket operators, we understand that the majority will be charging 5 cents per bag, and this would moderate potential cost impact on consumers. We can avoid the charge by bringing our own reusable bags.
12 The mandatory charge will cover around 400, or about two-thirds, of all supermarket outlets. These include large supermarket chains such as FairPrice, Cold Storage, Giant and Sheng Siong. These supermarkets will be easily identifiable through collaterals displayed at their premises.
13 The mandatory charge would not apply at other retail outlets such as convenience stores, as suggested by Mr Ng. Nevertheless, I note that many retailers already charge for bags voluntarily, including large convenience store chains such as 7-Eleven and Cheers. We will monitor the effectiveness of the charge and assess the need to expand the mandatory coverage in the future.
14 The charge will apply to all disposable carrier bags, not just plastic bags, as all bags require resources and generate carbon emissions during their production and disposal. Other similar schemes in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the UK, have led to a reduction of plastic bags used by 60% to 90%.
15 We have heard concerns about supermarket operators profiting from the charge. I am happy to share that all covered supermarket operators have indicated that they intend to apply the charge proceeds towards environmental and social causes. For transparency and accountability, supermarket operators will be required to publish information on the number of bags issued, the amount of proceeds collected and how the proceeds are used.
16 Mr Gan Thiam Poh asked how we can balance the charge and the need for bags for waste disposal. The charge will not remove the public’s access to disposable bags. Bags will still be available at supermarkets and other retail outlets. By reducing waste and recycling right, we will require fewer bags for waste disposal. Additionally, we can repurpose product packaging to bag waste, including toilet roll bags or packaging from online purchases.
Beverage Container Return Scheme
17 Second, a beverage container return scheme, which Mr Gan mentioned.
18 The scheme is part of an EPR approach to manage packaging waste. Beverage producers will be responsible for collecting and recycling the products they put to market.
19 Consumers will pay a small deposit when buying a pre-packaged beverage and receive a full refund when the empty beverage container is returned for recycling at a conveniently located return point. The scheme will cultivate recycling habits and aggregate clean and high-quality recyclables, which can be made into new products.
20 The scheme framework has been developed following extensive stakeholder consultations since 2020. Around 80% of 1,000 households surveyed in 2021 generally supported implementing the scheme.
21 The scheme will cover plastic bottles and metal cans, of volumes ranging from 150 to 3,000 millilitres for all types of pre-packaged beverages. Plastic bottles and metal cans comprise about 70% of beverage containers put to market. They are easy to collect, compactible, and have high material value.
22 Similar schemes have been implemented in over 50 jurisdictions, such as Norway and Sweden. Many have seen return rates increase to over 80%. For Singapore’s beverage container return scheme, NEA will set an 80% return rate target on the scheme operator at steady state. With this, we expect about 800 million plastic bottles and metal cans to be returned for recycling annually.
23 Even as we strengthen legislation to drive behaviour change, we must continue with outreach and education. Prof Koh Lian Pin spoke on The Waste Café. As noted in my PQ reply yesterday, we will take into consideration the views of those who felt that this experiment could have been done differently, to improve our future campaigns.
24 I also thank Prof Koh for his queries on our initiatives to encourage household recycling. On transparent recycling bins, we will be releasing our findings soon. On recycling chutes, HDB introduced dual chutes for refuse and recyclables for all new public housing developments from 2014. Since 2018, NEA has also required them at all new non-landed, private residential developments higher than four storeys.
25 Mr Gan and Ms Hany Soh spoke on the contamination rate of recyclables, which is about 40%. In tandem with education campaigns, the e-waste EPR scheme, the upcoming beverage container return scheme, and initiatives by other organisations to sort recyclables such as paper and textiles, will reduce contamination in our blue bins.
26 Members will be heartened to learn that all households can collect a Bloobox from vending machines deployed islandwide later this monthto set up a recycling corner. Designed by a team of students from the Singapore Institute of Technology, the Bloobox is foldable, reusable, and light. It has labels to help households identify what can and cannot be recycled, with reminders that plastic bottles, metal cans and glass containers for recycling should be empty, and free of food and liquids. Members may pick up a Bloobox from the Parliament Library to start your own recycling corner.
Introduction – Safeguarding our Hawker Culture
27 I will now speak about our hawker centres and hawker culture. Our hawker centres are an important institution, providing us with affordable and tasty hawker food.
28 Ms Cheryl Chan and Ms Nadia Ahmad Samdin asked about planning considerations for new hawker centres and markets, and the progress of the new hawker centres. Mr Pritam Singh also asked about plans for hawker centres in the Marina Bay Financial area.
29 The Government had previously announced plans to build 20 new hawker centres, prioritising new estates and existing estates in the heartlands that are relatively under-served in terms of affordable dining options. These sites are selected after carefully considering factors including residential catchment, availability of comparable dining options and complementary facilities in the vicinity. This ensures the centre serves the demands of the residents, while avoiding over competition amongst comparable F&B establishments.
30 Even as we build new centres, we need to ensure that there are hawkers and that they can make a decent livelihood.
31 CBD hawker centres face additional challenges, due to their heavy dependence on the working lunch crowd and the lack of residential catchment. Today, there are already existing food options in the CBD for workers. These include four hawker centres, such as Market Street Hawker Centre that just reopened last year, as well as about 50 coffeeshops, food courts and canteens.
32 Last year, four new hawker centres opened in Senja, Bukit Canberra, Fernvale and Punggol. Besides Market Street Hawker Centre, another redeveloped centre that commenced operations was Margaret Drive Hawker Centre. Repairs and Redecoration, or R&R works, were also completed at 15 centres. Many Singaporeans have explored these centres as part of hawker centre hopping circuits, which is becoming a national pastime.
New Hawker Centres to Serve Residents’ Needs
33 Chairman, in Mandarin, please.
今 年，我 们 可 以 期 待 分 别 位 于 万 国 与 兀 里 村 的 两 个 新 小 贩 中 心 开 幕 营 业 。他 们 都 将 设 有 约 四 十 个 摊 位 以 及 七 百 个 座 位。
这 两 个 小 贩 中 心 都 将 连 接其 他 社 区 设 施 与 交 通 枢 纽，为 居 民 提 供 日 常 便 利。用 餐 空 间 会 取 用 宽 敞 又 具 包 容 性 的 空 间 设 计，中 心 也 将 取 用 促 进 空 气 流 通 的 高 天 花 板 建 设。
34 此 外，裕 廊 西 小 贩 中 心 在 完 成 重 新 设 置 后, 也 计 划 于 二 零 二 三 年 第 三 季 度 重 新 营 业。
35 除 了 刚 提 到 的 新 小 贩 中 心 外，为 了 改 善 并 让 食 客 们 能 在 更 通 风 和 舒 适 的 环 境 中 用 餐，我 们 今 年 也 将 对 二 十 五 个 现 有 的 小 贩 中 心 进 行 翻 新 维 修 。这 将 包 括 荷 兰 村 及 桥 北 路 的 巴 刹 和 熟 食 中 心。
36 We are also futureproofing hawker centres through the Hawker Centres Transformation Programme (HTP). As Ms Nadia would be aware, we are piloting the HTP at Cheng San Market and Food Centre and Geylang Serai Market. NEA will be engaging stallholders, before targeting to start works from 2024.
Affordability of Rentals and Cost of Hawker Food
37 Let me address Ms Joan Pereira’s and Ms Chan’s questions about inflationary pressures and the impact on rental and cooked food prices.
38 We have provided hawkers with a conducive business environment, including ensuring reasonable rental at our hawker centres. For NEA’s monthly tender exercises, we adopt a transparent and fair system with no minimum bid. Individuals can bid for a stall at a monthly rental as low as $1, while others may submit higher bids to secure stalls at popular locations. After the first 3 years, rent is adjusted towards the assessed market rent. In fact, only about 4% of cooked food stalls in hawker centres today are paying rent at above assessed market rent. The remaining over 5,600 stallholders are paying rent no higher than the assessed market rate.
39 Median rental across our non-subsidised cooked food stalls has remained constant at about $1,250 per month since 2018. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we have also supported hawkers by providing 10 months of rental waiver, and 6 months subsidy for table cleaning and centralised dish-washing. In fact, stall rentals at hawker centres are generally lower than most other comparable food establishments in their vicinity. Nonetheless, rental only accounts for about 9% of our hawkers’ operating costs.
40 Hawkers price their food based on multiple factors, including operating costs, location, business level, and patron demographics. They delicately balance these factors to attract patrons, while trying to make a decent living. Today, patrons can continue to find affordable options in our hawker centres, as Mr Singh also acknowledges, including the Socially-conscious Enterprise Hawker Centres (SEHCs), where operators have committed to provide at least 1 budget meal option per stall.
41 To help Singaporeans cope with inflationary pressure, the Government is, among other measures, providing CDC and GST vouchers under the Assurance Package, with more assistance provided to the lower income. CDC vouchers can be used at hawker centres and coffeeshops. The Government will continue to monitor the situation, and consider if further support is needed.
Productive Hawker Centres Programme – Futureproofing our Hawker Centres
42 We are taking additional steps to futureproof our hawker centres. Under the Productive Hawker Centres (PHC) Programme, the Hawkers’ Productivity Grant (HPG) provides co-funding to purchase kitchen automation and queue management equipment. Ms Rahayu Mahzam would be happy to know that close to $3 million has been provided to more than 900 hawkers under the HPG. Additionally, eight existing centres have tapped on PHC funding to implement centre-level Centralised Dish Washing (CDW) and Automated Tray Return System (ATRS).
43 Today, more than 70% of cooked food stallholders in our hawker centres are already using e-payment. Support groups have been set up at 37 hawker centres to help hawkers embrace digital opportunities.
44 Mr Gan asked what can be done to support hawkers to digitalise. We will be expanding the HPG to include stall-level digital solutions, such as e-ordering solutions, which are becoming more widespread. We will maintain the co-funding quantum at 80% but will increase the total claimable amount from $5,000 to $7,000 per stallholder. The funding period will also be extended to March 2026.
45 Additionally, we will broaden the ATRS component of the PHC programme to cover Cleaning Process Automation (CPA) solutions. This helps to address challenges such as ageing cleaners and rising manpower costs. Examples include autonomous systems that clean tables, and transfer used trays and crockery from tray return points to centralised dishwashing areas. This will reduce cleaners’ workload, especially during peak hours. We will co-fund up to 80% of deployment costs incurred by the cleaning operator for CPA solutions.
46 Coupled with mandatory tray and crockery return, these would help to improve the cleanliness situation and bird nuisance issues as raised by Ms Nadia. With everyone doing their part to return their used trays and crockery, we noticed that the situation has generally improved and bird nuisance feedback at hawker centres has been declining annually from 2019 to 2022.
Sustaining the Hawker Trade and Culture
47 As we celebrate our veteran hawkers, I am also heartened by the new hawkers who have joined the trade. Ms Chan would be happy to hear that many of them have benefitted from NEA’s Incubation Stall Programme (ISP) and Hawkers’ Development Programme (HDP). Together with other similar programmes by our SEHC operators, over 50 aspiring hawkers have joined the hawker trade through these programmes.
48 As part of our tradition, you would have tried some hawker fare during yesterday’s tea break from our ISP and HDP hawkers. This included delicious Halal braised duck kway teow from an ISP stall by Jonathan Tan and Habri Hammad Bin Mohammad at Amoy Street Food Centre. Jonathan adapted his grandfather’s Hokkien braised duck recipe into a Halal recipe, so the Muslim community can enjoy his food, while continuing his grandfather’s legacy.
49 We are constantly reviewing our programmes. Through feedback, we realised that additional emphasis on culinary readiness, alongside close mentorship from their hawker mentors, will raise participants’ chances of success. Therefore, the HDP’s classroom programme will spend more time honing culinary skills. At the apprenticeship stage, hawker mentors will also help to assess the participants’ culinary readiness. Participants can have the option to extend their apprenticeship by four more weeks, on top of the current eight weeks.
50 Finally, we have also received feedback that some local snacks are increasingly less commonly found. Those selling such snacks usually find it difficult to sustain an entire cooked food stall. We will work with SEHC operators to pilot the use of kiosks, which could incur lower rental and operating cost, to support the sale of snacks, such as muah chee and putu piring. We hope this will help to preserve these snacks as part of our hawker culture. We will monitor the viability of such kiosks before deciding if we should scale up this pilot.
Call to Action / Conclusion
51 Chairman, I am heartened that many Members have called on Singaporeans to embrace sustainability, reduce consumption, and green business practices.
52 I remember the slogan – “Courtesy begins with you and me”. Likewise, sustainability begins with you and me! The Government cannot build a green nation alone. I urge everyone to incorporate sustainable practices into your daily routines, starting with the 3 Rs, and support our hawkers to sustain our hawker culture.