Speech by Mr. Louis Ng Kok Kwang, MP for Nee Soon GRC at the Second Reading of the Resource Sustainability Bill (Bill No. 20/2019)
Sir, I’ve spent the past 4 years in this House speaking up and calling for greater protection of our environment. This Bill is a positive step in the right direction and I wholeheartedly support it and I thank MEWR for taking this progressive step forward.
The amendments proposed are substantive and will help to tackle the supply side of the equation and tackle it at the root rather than tackle the symptoms.
We are starting the Extended Producer Responsibility framework with e-waste and subsequently packaging waste and I hope we will soon extend it to other waste.
We are all aware that when it comes to the environment, it cannot be business as usual. We cannot go on generating and incinerating waste indefinitely. Our landfills are rapidly filling up and our planet is at her breaking point.
We need become a zero waste nation and we need to do it soon.
We need to remember that ensuring resource sustainability is not merely about waste management. We have to tackle the issue holistically. Our efforts must both aim to manage waste and reduce the generation of waste in the first place.
Our measures have to address both the producers on the supply-side and the consumers on the demand-side.
With this in mind, I would like to raise some clarifications and recommendations.
E-waste collection targets
Singapore generates 60,000 tonnes of e-waste annually. Only 6% or 6 tonnes of every 100 tonnes of e-waste is recycled. This is a staggering loss of recoverable raw materials and a huge waste.
From 2016, EU Members States had to collect 45 tonnes of e-waste for every 100 tonnes of electronic goods put on sale during the previous three years. This target was revised up to 65 tonnes in 2019.
What are the envisaged collection targets in Singapore as a result of this Bill over the next three years? What will be the next targets thereafter in the next three-year cycle?
Can the Minister share how the collection targets are calculated? Can the Minister also shed light on why is there a three-year grace period for missed collection targets?
Definition of large retailers
Next, the Bill defines “large retailers” as retailers that occupy any premises with a floor area of 300m2 or larger. However, this does not take into account e-commerce retailers.
With the rise of e-commerce, “large retailers” may not need to supply RCPs from a large shopfront area. In fact, all a “large retailer” needs is a warehouse and an internet connection. Will the Minister consider also requiring e-commerce retailers to partner with PRS operators or e-waste recyclers to collect and process unwanted e-products?
Exemption of small producers from e-waste producer responsibility schemes
Next, I understand that the Bill seeks to cover 90% of Singapore’s e-waste. Yet, small producers will be exempted from financing critical producer responsibility schemes (PRS).
Can the Ministry also share the percentage of the producer pool comprised by small producers?
In line with the polluter-pays principle, the PRS should not have the effect of excluding niche and low-volume producers. What measures will be imposed upon such small producers in the future in order that they be accountable for the e-waste they generate? As an interim measure, could the Ministry look into setting up subsidised, voluntary PRS schemes for such small producers who wish to contribute?
Exemption of small producers from packaging waste reporting scheme
Similarly, I understand that producers with an annual turnover below $10 million will not need to report the packaging they imported or used and also need not submit to NEA a plan to reduce, reuse or recycle the packaging in Singapore, and how they will implement this plan. Why?
Can the Minister clarify how the $10 million threshold was determined and what proportion of the market these exempted producers of packaging waste form?
Small producers of low-cost goods can generate just as much waste as one with a higher turnover. Can the Minister further share what plans there are to integrate these small producers into reporting schemes in the future?
Setting reduction targets
Next, I understand that a producer will submit their plan to reduce, reuse or recycle packaging and their implementation plans. Can I ask if there will be any penalties if these plans are not adhered to? Also, in the future, will MEWR consider setting reduction targets for these producers? Otherwise, while we can collect data from this exercise of submitting their plans, I’m not sure we will achieve much in terms of reducing the amount of waste generated.
Reducing generation of packaging waste at supermarkets
In addition to the broad framework under the Bill, we should also have initiatives on the ground to tackle the packaging waste generated by supermarkets.
I am astounded by the amount of unnecessary packaging used at supermarkets. While it is often argued that plastic is required to protect fresh produce during shipping and storage, I have been told that some items do not arrive already packaged in the plastic packaging we see on the shelf. They are shipped in plastic packages and are then re-packaged in even more plastic packaging.
I suggest we learn from what other countries have done to tackle waste generated at supermarkets.
Can our supermarkets go “nude”? Major supermarket chains in the UK such as Waitrose and Morrisons have gone “nude” by having “nude zones” where products are not packaged in plastic packaging. I would love to one day walk into our supermarkets in Singapore and see “nude” vegetables and fruits without any plastic packaging.
I hope MEWR will consider launching a pilot for this.
Encouraging adoption of technology to combat food waste
On the supply side of the equation, we are doing well for e-waste and packaging waste where we are addressing the root of the problem.
However, for food waste, we seem to be addressing the symptoms of the problem. The focus of the Bill is on processing the food waste rather than preventing or at least reducing it.
Does MEWR have plans for the businesses to also report their plans to reduce their food waste, similar to how producers of packaging and packaged products have to submit to NEA how much packaging they put-to-market annually and their plans to reduce, reuse or recycle packaging waste.
We currently have technology on the market to identify and track the components of food waste for commercial businesses in order for them to plan their production better.
One local example is the Singapore start-up Good for Food. Their Smart Dustbin allows hotels and large commercial kitchens to measure, track, and identify all food waste thrown into it.
The data allows businesses to adjust the type and quantity of food produced. This prevents food waste and reduces business costs wasted on producing unsold and unconsumed food.
Beyond the reporting of how a business will reduce food waste, will the Ministry also consider encouraging businesses to adopt such technology?
Tackling the demand side
Sir, we have a strong focus on tackling the supply side of the equation and I hope we have an equally strong focus on tackling the demand side of the equation. We all know that if there is demand, there will always be supply.
If there is continue demand for packaging, then the EPR that we will introduce for packaging waste will be futile. Producers will likely continue to provide packaging and the EPR will simply be another business cost.
Can MEWR share what plans it has to urge Singaporeans to Reduce and Reuse. I know we have a lot of plans for recycling but I stress again that recycling does not address our throw-away culture. We need to urge people to Reduce and Reuse. If MEWR feels that a plastic bag charge is not the way to go then I hope they can share with this House what are the alternative plans.
Sir, our economy is important and dollar and cents issues are critical. However, a good economy will be useless for all of us is we don’t have a healthy planet to live in. In the words of Mdm Ho Ching, “There is no Plan B for us because there’s no Planet B.”
Notwithstanding the above queries, I stand in strong support of this Bill. Thank you.
Watch the speech here
Watch the response by MEWR here