Speech for Bill on Resource and Sustainability Act By Henry Kwek, Member of Parliament for Kebun Baru, Nee Soon GRC For Parliament Sitting on 4 Sep 2019
1. I rise in support of the Act.
2. Let me first declare my interest as Advisor to the Federation of Merchant Association, which represents SMEs especially micro and heartland SMEs.
3. Fighting global warming and environmental destruction is humanity’s greatest test, and as the custodians of earth, our greatest responsibility.
a. Sad to say, mankind has yet to pass this test or to rise up to our responsibility.
4. I am heartened by Singapore’s affirmation of the Paris Accord. I am even more proud to know that when Singapore signs up for international agreement including the Paris Accord, we have every intention and ability to abide by our commitment.
5. Like many other things, unfortunately, Singapore is a price taker in the larger world.
a. With our small carbon footprint, even if we cut emission to zero, the train on global warming has already left.
6. Nevertheless, we have to do our right and fair share, even if it does not tip the global scale. Because we are a part of humanity, and we share humanity’s burden.
7. At the same time, fighting global warming and resource depletion is a grueling marathon, one that will test on the resolve of successive generations. There are real trade-offs, impacting real lives, today.
8. Therefore, we must be practical in implementing it. Focus on the most impactful ones, instead of the most fashionable.
a. For example, there are many discussions about banning plastic bags or straws, despite Singapore’s unique ability to mitigate their negative impact.
b. But one of the largest usages of global energy is for heating and air-conditioning.
i. And investing in better insulation and air-flow design is not just impactful in reducing emission, but it also pays off financially even factoring in the investment cost.
ii. In financial terms, it is Net Present Value positive.
iii. And even better if we find ways to minimize the use of air-conditioning.
9. I hope more ground up public attention can be focused on the most impactful ideas to save our environment.
a. Our efforts must be rooted on facts, impact and practicality.
b. If we over-reach, we risk undermining public support from the broader population across successive generations too.
10. It is in this spirit, that I would share feedback from the ground on how to judiciously implement the good ideas in this Act.
11. First, the call to recycle Large Electrical and Electronics Equipment is a good move. These may not be a large source of waste, but they contain very toxic components.
a. I agree with the government’s effort to:
i. focus on larger sellers,
ii. get service providers to provide the recycling service, and
iii. provide our businesses with sufficient time to adapt.
b. The definition of larger sellers seems to be focus on larger retailers with > 300 sqm space. It is a reasonable definition.
c. However, I would like MEWR to clarify on:
i. Whether large B2B sellers who carry a lot of volumes directly to the businesses even though they do not have much retail space are included?
ii. And whether large online sellers (e.g. Dell online, Lazada, Alibaba) or the e-shop within those platforms, are included?
d. Because retail sellers should not be asked to take on the full burden.
12. Second, reducing packaging is a good move.
a. However, we must give careful thought on how we implement this, or we will see a noticeable increase in cost of living or reduce consumer choice.
b. One way to ensure careful implementation
i. is to get the inputs of major packaging companies, retailers, logistics players, and international environmental experts,
ii. who can come up with practice solutions and ideas.
c. We must be very practical in the way we reduce packaging, for there are real trade-offs here given our high cost of labor.
i. For example, many fresh produce to be pre-packed into smaller packs in Malaysia prior to them being sent to Singapore.
1. However, if we take the view that we should reduce packaging, and discourage smaller packs from being imported, then we have to do the bulk-breaking in Singapore.
2. Given our high cost of labor, this will mean higher costs, which consumers will end up paying.
d. Also, for some brands that sell well in Singapore, there is ample scope for us to work with the importers or the producers to reduce packaging waste.
i. However, for smaller brands, it is not practical for Singapore to ask them to change.
ii. For them, it simply means that they may choose not to import to Singapore, which reduces our consumers’ choices.
e. Also, while I do agree that may consumer products are over-packaged, we have to understand that companies have a natural desire to compete and differentiate
f. This brings me to the final point on packaging:
i. When consumers speak with their wallets, businesses have no choice but to listen.
ii. In fighting packaging waste, one of the strongest possible ways for us to strike the right balance is for the government to support, and if necessary fund, consumer ground up efforts to change consumer preferences for simple but effective packaging.
13. Third, I am heartened to hear that we are targeting food waste. As a nation, we waste a tremendous amount of food.
a. I recently met with Food from the Heart.
i. Through a fantastic logistics network driven by both dedicated staff and volunteers, they do outstanding work to bring food to people in need.
1. Food that would be otherwise be wasted.
ii. They have recently decided to do a substantial collaboration with Kebun Baru to help our families and seniors in need. For that, I am very grateful.
b. And our effort to reduce food waste will provide tremendous help to organizations like Food from the Heart.
i. I hope MWER can consider the viewpoints of food charities like “Food from the Heart” for policy implementation.
c. Having said that, we must exercise a lot of care and thought in how we push to reduce food wastage, to minimize the cost increase to Singaporeans and Singaporean businesses.
d. For example, getting soon to be expired packaged and canned food to be given away is a very good idea.
i. Food for Thought even had a program where they have bread runners to bring the unsold bread to various locations.
e. For unsold cook food or ingredients, on the other hand, we must give extra thought on it.
i. If we focus our implementation starting with central kitchens, large canteens, hotels and etc, it makes a lot of sense.
1. Because they have the right logistics infrastructure to make it work.
ii. If we make it mandatory for small businesses, by which I mean hawker stalls, coffee shops, and smaller F&B outlets, then we must ask ourselves some tough questions:
1. First, are we asking them to provide the unsold cooked food or ingredients to benefit other people?
a. If so, it means incurring a considerable cost on them, because the food needs to be moved quickly to the next location.
b. Who is going to pay for it in the end?
i. The small SME owners?
ii. Or their consumers?
iii. And what is the benefit compared to the cost?
2. Second, even if we say that the unsold cooked food or ingredients are to be collected not for other people, but to say be collected and transform into animal feed or fertilizers like in Taiwan, it would be good to share with Singaporeans the larger national plan on this.
a. For example, the government can share the timeframe that we as a country to can transform food waste into animal feed or fertilizers.
i. This will help them understand that the impact on their business serves the larger national goal.
14. On these three issues, in rolling out the plans, I’m confident that MWER will be practical and judicious. I’m just bringing out initial ground feedback from my residents and from SMEs, which I am sure MWER will study carefully.
15. Lastly, I hope that the government spur efforts to look into another area – fast fashion.
a. Fast fashion clothing can last for a mere few months, but its impact can be long and destructive.
b. And to compound the challenge, consumers have difficulty in gauging the impact of their actions.
c. This is one clear area that our government can work with environmentally conscious citizens.
i. For example, if the government can take the lead to work with other international organizations to help break down the environmental impact, perhaps by material or by manufacturing process.
ii. This information can help our passionate environmentally citizens make a clear case to other Singaporeans on the importance of moving away from fast fashion.
d. When I visit regions and countries like Japan and Northern Europe, I realized that they are very conscious of the negative impact of fast fashion.
e. The key is public education and advocacy. I hope that on this issue, with sufficient hard-work down the road, we can encourage Singaporeans to buy in, and be more thoughtful.
16. In conclusion, the central focus of the Act – of transforming waste into resources –is a wise move. It is a manifestation of our national spirit – of turning adversity into opportunity.
a. I hope the three areas that this Act proposes will be the start of more concrete and practical steps, covering more areas.
b. And if we succeed in doing so in Singapore, we will not just live up to our duty as part of humanity,
c. And over time, what we do in our small part of the world can also influence and inspire similar efforts beyond Singapore.
17. With that, I support the Act.
Watch the speech here
Watch the response by MEWR here