Speech by MP Lee Bee Wah during Ministry of Environment and Water Resources’ Committee of Supply Debate 2019
Er Dr Lee Bee Wah: Why Is Towards Zero Waste Important
Let’s do more on Zero Waste and help stop Climate Change
In recent years, the concept of zero waste has been growing in popularity all over the world. In land-scarce Singapore, zero waste is even more critical. Semakau Island is currently our only landfill. The man-made island was supposed to meet our needs until 2045, but recent estimates indicate that it could be reduced by a full decade. Building another landfill by the 2030s is not possible. The most practical longterm solution, therefore, is to reduce waste.
The Government has taken the lead with education, as well as funding of technology and R&D to promote eco-friendly waste management. A survey by global public opinion and data company YouGov found that 95 per cent of Singapore’s consumers acknowledge the environmental, health and pollution issues caused by excessive use of disposable plastics.
That is a big step forward. But this support has not translated into action. Why are we not walking the talk? As individuals, we can do our part by reducing consumption. When we generate waste, we should dispose it appropriately. There are recycling bins all over Singapore, but some people treat them like trash bins, contaminating them with food waste, soiled garments, and so on. What can we do to get more Singaporeans to recycle properly? Can we include domestic helpers and foreign workers? They play a big role at home and at work. What is the Ministry doing to reach to these groups to help get on the same page? Can we do more to improve the heartland recycling network?
Moving on to businesses, I note several have taken the initiative to reduce plastic use. Some F&B businesses no longer provide straws for example. As of January this year, nine companies including large hotel chains and popular food establishments have teamed up to relook their plastic use under the Pact initiative by World Wide Fund for Nature.
All these bode well, but more can be done. Will the Government take a more proactive approach, including identifying companies that should have a waste reduction programme, working closely with them to help them turn it into something beneficial? Some companies don’t know the range of solutions possible or assume that recycling would be troublesome and timewasting and hence may be reluctant to take part. A little motivation with some hand-holding and incentives in the initial stage could help to get things moving.
Some have even gone a step further to create a business out of a potential solution. In January this year, a new service was launched in Singapore, partnering with F&B outlets to switch disposable containers and cutlery for takeaways with reusable made of stainless steel or glass. Customers would pay a fee for these items and get their money back when they return them at a nearby location.
This is a novel idea; it frees businesses from the labour cost of hiring dish washers and resolves the problem of facilitating take-outs without using disposables. Does the government incentivise such businesses and work with them to refine their ideas for mass-uptake?
On the other hand, this possibly leads to a dilemma. These cutlery and containers would have to be washed, so water consumption goes up. Essentially, when we reuse something, we usually must maintain its cleanliness.
How do we balance the effort to reduce plastic disposables with our need to save water?
PUB and R&D
While on this subject, I’m aware that our PUB has always been putting in a lot of effort on technology and R&D to secure our water supply. What are new developments in the water sector that we can look forward to? In what ways can technology be used to optimise the way in which the Ministry and PUB operates?
In recent weeks, we have heard the price of water being mentioned again, by one of our old suppliers. We have also launched a water conservation campaign at home. Research by the National University of Singapore has shown that when it comes to saving water, normative incentives work as well as economic ones. Hence, campaign messages can motivate households to save as much as 4.9 litres a day per person or about 3% of demand. This is not an insignificant amount.
As a small, low-lying island state, we need to be aware of how climate change impacts us. We have experienced more frequent and more extreme weather events. We have had our share of flash floods and scorching hot sun. To effectively tackle climate change, it is necessary for us to work with other countries. How are we doing in terms of regional and international engagement? There are also several tropical island states that could face similar challenges. Are we working with them on a solution?
What about the myriad of tiny islets that belong to our nation? We are made up of 63 islands altogether. How are we protecting them from climate change?
We designated last year as the Year of Climate Action. How will the Ministry continue the efforts from the Year of the Climate Action? What are the key climate-related initiatives we can look forward to this year and beyond?
In 2013, the Ministry established the Centre for Climate Research to develop climate projections for Singapore. Its findings will guide us towards prioritising our key challenges and building up our resilience. What more will the Ministry do to continue to build up our climate science capabilities to ensure that we are well-prepared against climate changes?
What are we doing to nurture an adequate local talent pool to implement the relevant technology and research programmes?
Sir, Singapore has always been vulnerable because of its size and lack of resources. But we have prospered and succeeded because of forward planning and collective action. Let’s all do our part so that our nation will not be submerged in water in years to come.
Watch the speech here