CLOSING SPEECH BY DR AMY KHOR, SENIOR MINISTER OF STATE FOR SUSTAINABILITY AND THE ENVIRONMENT, FOR THE SECOND READING OF THE RESOURCE SUSTAINABILITY (AMENDMENT) BILL ON 22 MARCH 2023
1.Mr Speaker, I am happy that Members from both sides of the House have expressed support on the initiatives proposed in this Bill. Let me address Members’ thoughtful comments and suggestions.
DISPOSABLE CARRIER BAG CHARGE
2.First, the disposable carrier bag charge (or “bag charge”).
a.I am glad that many Members have expressed support for the bag charge, including Mr Dennis Tan and Mr Louis Ng. Indeed, many Members, including Ms Cheng Li Hui, former Member of Parliament Ms Lee Bee Wah, as well as NGOs like Zero Waste SG and WWF-Singapore, have also called for a charge on disposable bags. Mr Louis Ng, as he noted, has been speaking up about a charge since 2016 and I commend him for his persistence.
b.We heard these calls. The Government has been studying the experiences of other jurisdictions that have implemented a bag charge.
c.We are also mindful of our local circumstances, where plastic bags are widely used by households to dispose of waste hygienically and where incinerable waste is not directly landfilled.
d.We convened the Citizens’ Workgroup in 2020 to tap into diverse views and insights to address the issue of disposables. After we accepted the recommendation to implement a disposable carrier bag charge, we consulted widely to hear different considerations, seek feedback, and build collective support.
e.I am glad that Mr Dennis Tan agrees that it is the excessive use of disposables that we need to tackle.
f.By placing a visible cost on each bag, we will be more sensitive to the impact of our consumption on the environment.
Moderating impact on households
3.While Ms Joan Pereira raised concerns about cost, Mr Yip Hon Weng asked if we should consider charging more to discourage consumption. Indeed, we need to strike a careful balance between creating an effective behavioural nudge, and managing the cost impact on households.
a.Compared to other retail establishments, shoppers tend to make larger purchases at supermarkets and may have to purchase more bags if they forget or do not bring enough reusable bags.
b.We have therefore set the bag charge at a minimum of 5 cents, and most covered supermarket operators will be charging 5 cents per bag when the bag charge comes into effect.
c.The bag charge can be avoided by bringing our own bags. We all have to play our part for the environment.
Transparency by retailers
4.Mr Yip Hon Weng and Mr Shawn Huang asked about the use of proceeds from the bag charge.
a.Covered supermarket operators have flexibility to decide on the use of proceeds, but will need to account to the public for how they were used. Our approach to mandate annual declarations on the use of proceeds ensures that there is transparency and public accountability, while minimising regulatory and compliance costs.
b.I am heartened that all the supermarket operators have indicated that they intend to use the proceeds to support environmental or social causes.
Scope of the charge
5.Mr Louis Ng and Mr Dennis Tan asked about expansion plans for the bag charge. We will monitor the effectiveness of the bag charge and assess the need to expand coverage.
a.For example, will we observe new behavioural norms where bringing your own bag for shopping becomes second nature? Will more retailers follow suit to voluntarily charge for disposable carrier bags?
b.We can learn from the experience of other jurisdictions such as Hong Kong, Taiwan, and England, which have taken a phased approach in extending the coverage of the bag charge over time.
6.Mr Don Wee asked if the bag charge would apply to convenience stores.
a.As I said in my opening speech, operators of SFA-licensed supermarkets with an annual turnover of more than $100 million will be required to charge for disposable carrier bags at their SFA-licensed supermarket outlets.
b.Convenience stores, such as those operated by Cheers and 7-Eleven that do not sell or prepare raw meats, poultry, or seafood, are not required to have supermarket licences and hence do not come under this legislation. Nonetheless, I note that Cheers and 7-Eleven are already charging for disposable carrier bags voluntarily.
7.Members have raised clarifications about online grocery purchases. We will prescribe in the subsidiary legislation that the bag charge will not apply to disposable carrier bags used by retailers to bag groceries that are purchased online and delivered to the customer. This is because customers do not have the choice of using their own bags.
a.Nevertheless, we agree with Ms Carrie Tan that there is scope for online retailers and platforms, not just supermarkets, to reduce packaging waste.
b.We will study how best to address packaging waste from e-commerce, including online grocery shopping, as we develop the extended producer responsibility scheme for packaging waste management.
c.In the meantime, we will work with the supermarket operators to compile best practices and develop guidelines on reducing packaging for online purchases. We also encourage other retailers to pursue initiatives to reduce and reuse delivery packaging.
8.To Mr Shawn Huang’s question on annual turnover, this will be determined at the entity level, and will not be aggregated at the group level. We will monitor the implementation of the bag charge, and assess if there is a need to adjust how annual turnover is determined in the future.
Preparations for implementation and managing other impacts
9.On Mr Yip Hon Weng and Ms Joan Pereira’s concerns about responsible waste disposal, I would like to reiterate that the practice of properly bagging waste before disposing of it in rubbish chutes should still continue.
a.We are not imposing a ban on disposable carrier bags — they will still be available.
b.Other packaging such as the bags that hold bread or toilet rolls can also be used to bag waste, as alternatives to supermarket carrier bags.
c.The bag charge should not be an excuse to dispose of waste in an irresponsible manner.
10.Mr Yip Hon Weng and Mr Don Wee commented that with the bag charge, consumers might start purchasing single-use plastic bags from online and overseas retailers in bulk. While this is possible, these consumers would likely only buy what they really need and be more mindful of how they use the bags, since they would also have to pay for them.
11.Members like Ms Poh Li San and Mr Dennis Tan spoke about the importance of public education to promote greater understanding of the value of sustainability and effect positive behavioural change. I agree with this.
a.Our nation-wide Say YES to Waste Less campaign has been ongoing since 2019.
b.As part of the campaign, we work with many partners, including supermarkets and F&B establishments, to amplify the message of sustainable living, and encourage action through initiatives and incentives. The campaign aims to help Singaporeans better appreciate why we need to reduce the use of disposables and food wastage, and how to do so.
c.The campaign messages are shared across multiple touchpoints and languages, to cater to the wider population.
12.The Government has plans to increase public education in conjunction with the commencement of the bag charge.
a.In the lead-up to 3 July, we will ramp up public awareness efforts together with the supermarket operators. We will remind the public to bring their own bags to avoid the bag charge, and offer suggestions on alternatives to supermarket carrier bags for bagging waste.
b.We are also encouraging the supermarket operators to carry out initiatives to support the transition from disposable to reusable bags, such as bring-your-own-bag initiatives and the distribution of reusable carrier bags, especially to lower-income groups.
c.In the spirit of environmental stewardship, I urge everyone to be mindful not to take more disposable bags than necessary and start bringing our own bags even before the bag charge commences.
BEVERAGE CONTAINER RETURN SCHEME
13.Let me now address the beverage container return scheme.
14.The scheme has seen good results overseas. To Mr Don Wee’s question, similar schemes in countries such as Norway, Sweden and Lithuania have consistently achieved return rates of 80% or higher.
Return points, forms of refund
15.Mr Yip Hon Weng, Mr Dennis Tan and Mr Gan Thiam Poh have asked about the return point network. Setting up a convenient return point network is a top priority, because it is crucial to the scheme’s success.
a.The mandated return points in larger supermarkets will form an important part of the network.
b.At other community spaces and public areas, NEA will work with the scheme operator to encourage premises operators to voluntarily set up return points.
c.Based on the experience overseas, setting up a return point can increase footfall to stores. The scheme operator will also pay handling fees to return point operators as part of the commercial arrangement, to reimburse costs incurred.
d.The scheme operator will be setting up return points at locations based on considerations such as footfall and proximity of return points. The Government will also exercise oversight via licensing conditions to ensure a robust network of return points for the public to return beverage containers conveniently.
16.Mr Don Wee asked about the space taken up by a return point.
a.This would depend on whether the premises operator opts for an over-the-counter return point, or a reverse vending machine. Reverse vending machines, or RVMs, range in size, with smaller machines requiring around 0.6m2 of space, and larger ones with higher capacities requiring up to 3m2.
b.Premises operators may work with the scheme operator to determine the optimal RVM size for their premises.
17.Mr Don Wee asked whether the scheme operator can exercise creativity in boosting recycling rates, such as by offering supermarket vouchers.
a.Return point operators would need to provide a full refund of the deposit amount when the covered beverage container is returned. As highlighted in my opening speech, the 10-cent deposit has been set to provide the necessary behavioural nudge to achieve the desired return rates.
b.That said, we will certainly encourage the scheme operator to work with stakeholders such as return point operators to explore innovative ways to boost return rates.
c.For example, in addition to the cash option, they could create different options for refund, including supermarket vouchers, rewards points, or donation to charity. We see such practices in overseas jurisdictions too. For example, in Australia, consumers are given the option to donate their refunds directly to charity.
d.Beyond this, return point operators may also work with the scheme operator on further promotional initiatives to increase footfall to their stores, if they wish to.
Managing regulatory impact on businesses
18.Mr Don Wee asked how the scheme is funded.
a.This is an extended producer responsibility or EPR scheme, where producers are responsible for the collection and recycling of their products. As such, the scheme would be financed by producers, that is, the covered beverage importers and manufacturers.
b.Producers will pay producer fees to the scheme operator to carry out these responsibilities on their behalf. These fees would be proportional to the beverages they put on the market.
c.The revenue from the sale of clean, high quality and high value recyclables will be utilised by the scheme operator to reduce the scheme costs.
d.The eventual cost pass-through to consumers in beverage prices, if any, will likely be moderated by price competition among industry players. This is also the experience in other countries that have implemented similar schemes.
19.I appreciate that business costs are a concern. We have also heard this feedback at our consultations with companies. At the same time, many have also expressed their support for this scheme, recognising the importance of sustainability.
20.We do need to balance cost and environmental considerations, especially in this uncertain economic environment. Therefore, we have taken a consultative and pragmatic approach in developing the scheme.
21.First, as outlined in my opening speech, we hope to establish an industry-led scheme operator, which is a good practice that we see in jurisdictions overseas. It will have a strong incentive to operate efficiently. It will also be able to tap on the industry’s capabilities and resources to improve operational synergies, such as using existing logistics channels to make backhaul trips.
22.Second, we will continue to support the industry and provide sufficient time for implementation.
a.In my opening speech, I spoke about how we are adjusting the timeline to implement the scheme based on the industry’s feedback.
b.We have also supported the industry with knowledge and capability building. We organised an industry workshop last year and invited an overseas scheme operator to share best practices. We will continue to convene and facilitate discussions and knowledge sharing amongst industry stakeholders.
23.Third, where possible, we will provide operational flexibility for companies to decide on arrangements that are more cost-effective.
a.For example, producers could consider using stickers for the barcodes and deposit marks or to directly print them on the beverage container.
Meeting return rate target
24.Mr Shawn Huang asked about the scenario where the scheme operator fails to meet the return rate target.
a.We place great importance on ensuring that the scheme operator meets the return rate target.
b.I mentioned in my opening speech that we will have a specific and higher financial penalty for missing the target for the beverage container return scheme.
c.However, we want to avoid this outcome as much as possible. We will support the scheme operator on key scheme aspects that contribute to achieving the return rate, such as public education efforts and deploying a robust return point network.
25.Mr Yip Hon Weng asked about measures to raise awareness and participation.
a.Indeed, this is a key area of work that we will partner the scheme operator on.
b.We will need to reach out to all segments of society as Mr Yip described, and spread the message in our communities. We want to bring everyone on board to do their part for sustainability.
Other impacts: Informal sector, seniors, persons with disabilities
26.Mr Yip Hon Weng, Mr Louis Ng, and Ms Poh Li San have raised questions and suggestions about the scheme, in relation to the broader waste collection industry, including informal waste collectors such as karang guni.
a.NEA will work with the scheme operator on appropriate measures to cater to them.
b.For example, the scheme operator could deploy return depots to accept beverage container returns in bulk, similar to arrangements made in other jurisdictions to involve the informal sector in the collection network.
27.Even as we seek to deploy a network of accessible return points to make returning beverage containers as convenient as possible, we recognise that the elderly and less mobile residents may find it more challenging, as Mr Yip Hon Weng highlighted.
a.We want to design a scheme where everyone can participate.
b.We will continue to seek out ideas from the community, such as students and community groups, on how we can encourage community support and involvement to make the scheme more accessible to less mobile residents.
c.NEA will work closely with the scheme operator to make the scheme work for these members of our community.
28.I am glad that Mr Dennis Tan is supportive of the scheme, and is even calling for the expansion of the scope to glass bottles and beverage cartons.
a.We are first targeting plastic bottles and metal cans because they are easy to collect, compactible, and have high material value. They also comprise about 70% of beverage containers put to market.
b.Including glass bottles or beverage cartons would add complexity and cost to collection logistics and infrastructure. They will continue to be recycled under the National Recycling Programme after the scheme begins.
c.We will monitor the scheme closely and assess the need to expand coverage if necessary or to include them in future phases of the wider EPR scheme for packaging.
29.Mr Shawn Huang asked how the scheme would work for cross-border commercial activities, such as food and beverage services onboard aircrafts and ships.
a.There are varying circumstances in how the beverages are supplied to aircraft and ships, as well as where the beverage containers are then disposed of. NEA has been engaging industry to develop suitable arrangements for such activities.
FOOD WASTE REPORTING FRAMEWORK
30.Finally, on the new food waste reporting requirements.
Types of buildings covered
31.Mr Yip Hon Weng asked if we would consider requiring other types of buildings, such as SAF cookhouses, schools and hospitals, to segregate food waste for treatment and submit reports.
a.Under GreenGov.SG, public sector buildings with food and beverage or F&B establishments will segregate the food waste for on-site or off-site treatment from 2024. This would include SAF cookhouses, schools and public hospitals.
b.Some public sector buildings have already done so. For instance, several polytechnics have introduced food waste segregation measures and installed on-site food waste digesters at F&B areas within their premises.
c.For non-public sector buildings, we will explore extending the segregation and reporting requirements to more types of buildings over time.
Off-site food waste treatment
32.Mr Yip Hon Weng and Mr Shawn Huang asked about off-site food waste treatment for new buildings.
a.NEA will not determine which off-site treatment facility building managers should send their food waste to. Building managers can determine this based on their business considerations, and submit their proposal for NEA’s approval.
b.Our intent is to encourage higher value-added processes, such as valorising food by-products into animal feed ingredients or even new food products. More details on the approval criteria will be provided when ready.
c.The food waste must be transported by licensed General Waste Collectors in a manner that safeguards public health.
33.Mr Don Wee suggested that food caterers should take back leftover food from their clients’ events for segregation and reporting. He asked if we would consider imposing penalties on those who dispose of the food waste at the clients’ premises.
a.It is primarily the consumers’ responsibility to avoid food wastage by ordering just enough food for their guests.
b.We encourage everyone to adopt such sustainable practices to minimise food waste from catering events.
34.Mr Don Wee asked about the food waste reporting requirements and frequency.
a.To minimise compliance burden, we will only require key data to be submitted annually, such as the building level tonnages.
35.Mr Louis Ng asked if we would consider requiring food donation amounts to be reported.
a.We will not require this as donated food is not food waste. We agree that donating excess food which is safe for consumption will reduce the amount of food waste, and the latter will be reported.
36.Regarding the Good Samaritan Food Donation Bill, MSE, with MCCY and MSF, will continue to work closely with Mr Ng’s team on this.
Measures to encourage food waste segregation and recycling in households
37.Ms Joan Pereira asked if there is any support provided for community food waste collection and composting solutions to close the food waste loop for households.
a.Ms Pereira will be glad to know that the SG Eco Fund has supported many such initiatives in the community, such as food waste collection drives, composting and gardening workshops, as well as initiatives that mobilise residents to bring their food waste to a central collection point to be turned into compost for their local community gardens.
b.Under the Green Action for Communities movement, we are hearing good ideas from residents, including on handling food waste. MSE and Green Plan agencies will work with residents to bring these ideas to fruition.
38.Let me conclude. The proposed changes set out in this Bill represent our next steps in this journey towards zero waste and a circular economy.
a.In particular, the beverage container return scheme and disposable carrier bag charge will require individuals to adjust their daily lives and habits.
b.Life-as-usual and business-as-usual cannot continue if we are to responsibly steward our resources and environment.
c.Each of us has a responsibility to reduce carbon emissions, conserve Semakau Landfill, and enhance resource resiliency.
d.By reducing waste and recycling right, we can do our part to combat climate change and ensure that Singapore remains clean, green and liveable.
39.I call on all Members of the House to give your support to this Bill. Mr Speaker, I beg to move.