Speech at the Opening Session of the Citizens' Workgroup on Reducing Excessive Consumption of Disposables by Dr Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State for Sustainability and the Environment
Address by Dr Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State for Sustainability and the Environment, at the First Session of the Citizens’ Workgroup on Reducing the Excessive Consumption of Disposables, on 26 September 2020
Minister Grace Fu
MOS Desmond Tan
Good morning and welcome to the first session of the Citizens’ Workgroup on Reducing Excessive Consumption of Disposables. Thank you for being here with us!
2 Earlier this year, we put out a call for Singaporeans to sign up for this Citizens’ Workgroup, which will span eight sessions over the next five months, till end February 2021. The response was very encouraging. More than 300 citizens responded to our call and we selected a diverse group of 55 to join the Workgroup. Among you are students, freelancers, business owners, architects, avid volunteers, and founders of social enterprises.
3 Our aim of having a diverse group of Workgroup members with different backgrounds, professions and demography is to enable members to have a deeper and better understanding of the varied perspectives, needs and concerns of different segments of the population regarding the use of disposables. The Workgroup will then be well-placed to come up with solutions that are viable, address daily realities and mobilise community support.
4 This is the third Citizens’ Workgroup that the Ministry is convening. And for the first time, we will facilitate more members of the public to access and participate in some of the sessions. For instance, we are now on Facebook Live, where anyone interested can tune in. Additionally, we are opening the second segment of today’s session beyond the 55 participants, to include members of the public who are interested to join in, listen to the presentations and participate by asking questions or sharing their views. We will be opening up 120 such slots for interested individuals to attend our future sessions. We encourage you to join in the discussion and add to the diversity of ideas and conversation. More details can be found on our Clean and Green Singapore Facebook Page. We hope that this will help raise awareness about the issue of excessive consumption of disposables among more Singaporeans, and also allow the Workgroup to garner more views for consideration.
Excessive Consumption of Disposables
5 Disposables have become a global concern, not just because of unsustainable consumption rates, but also because of their contribution to marine litter. Marine litter is a serious issue that needs to be collectively and urgently addressed by all countries, due to their impacts on marine life. In Singapore, we have put in place a comprehensive solid waste management system and stringent anti-pollution and littering measures to prevent marine pollution from land-based sources. Any litter that enters our waterways is removed using litter traps and flotsam removal craft before it reaches the sea.
6 The excessive consumption of disposables has a significant impact on our environment in several ways. First, disposables have a short usage lifespan, and producing them hasten the depletion of our finite resources. Second, each stage in the life cycle of the disposables, from extracting the raw materials for production to treating them after disposal, leaves a carbon footprint that contributes to climate change. Third, excessive consumption of disposables exacerbates the generation of waste. While the waste is incinerated before it is sent to Semakau Landfill, the landfill has a limited lifespan.
7 In 2019 alone, we threw away about 200,000 tonnes of disposables such as carrier bags, takeaway food packaging, tableware and cutlery. This was equivalent to more than 10 per cent of the domestic waste we disposed of! This staggering amount is enough to fill about 400 Olympic-size swimming pools. In recent months, we have also seen a shift in consumption patterns due to COVID-19, towards more online shopping, food delivery and takeaway. About 3 per cent more waste was collected by the Public Waste Collectors from domestic and trade premises during the Circuit Breaker period from 7 April 2020 to 1 June 2020, compared to the daily average in the month of March 2020.
8 According to a 2018 study by the Singapore Environment Council, we take, on average, two to four plastic bags per trip when we visit the supermarket. The study estimated that 820 million plastic bags are taken from supermarkets each year. This amount can fill the land area of Gardens By The Bay 126 times. Even though plastic bags are useful for bagging our refuse to minimise the issue of pests, the number of single-use plastic bags we consume is still excessive.
9 Waste is both a noun and a verb, and the verb is what generates the noun. We need to stop wasting in the first place, so that waste is not generated. This is why, in our waste management process, reduction at source is a fundamental priority.
Government Efforts to Reduce Waste
10 To reduce the excessive consumption of disposables, my ministry and the National Environment Agency (NEA) have been progressively rolling out various policies and initiatives. Let me briefly highlight some.
11 We recently introduced regulations to mandate that producers of packaged products and retailers have to collect and report data to NEA on the types and amounts of packaging they place on the market. This applies to brand owners, manufacturers, importers of packaged goods, as well as retailers such as large supermarkets. We are also requiring these businesses to develop plans to reduce, reuse and recycle packaging, including disposable packaging. This is a significant step towards increasing companies’ awareness of the potential for packaging reduction in their business operations.
12 The mandatory packaging reporting will pave the way for the Extended Producer Responsibility framework (or EPR) for managing packaging waste that we plan to roll out no later than 2025. Under the EPR framework, producers will be responsible for the collection and end-of-life management of their packaging. This will further encourage them to reduce the amount of packaging that they put out. As part of the first phase of the EPR, a Deposit Refund Scheme (or DRS) will be introduced for beverage containers. In a typical DRS, consumers pay a deposit for beverages and get a refund when they return the empty beverage container at designated return points.
13 We also recently launched the second run of the nationwide “Say ‘YES’ to Waste Less” campaign. This is to raise awareness of the need to reduce our disposables and food waste, and to encourage individuals and businesses to act. NEA is working with close to 100 commercial partners covering more than 2,100 premises to encourage consumers to take simple positive actions, such as bringing reusables for takeaways and opting out of disposables for online food orders.
14 I am heartened that many Singaporeans, young and old, recognise the need to take climate action through the reduction of waste. We have seen individuals and businesses channelling this energy into driving change from ground up. These are all steps in the right direction, and we are prepared to do more.
Need for the Citizens’ Workgroup
15 How can we engender a change in mindsets and behaviours of businesses, the community and individuals to reduce their consumption of disposables – not just single-use plastic bags but all types of disposables? We have heard impassioned calls from our youth and environmental groups to take stronger steps, particularly last year, when we launched our Year Towards Zero Waste. Suggestions such as banning or charging for plastic disposables have sparked much debate.
16 This is why, in the spirit of Singapore Together, we want to work hand-in-hand with Singaporeans through this Citizens’ Workgroup. We want to harness your collective energy, diverse experiences and perspectives to come up with potential solutions that work for Singapore, and build a better, and more sustainable Singapore for future generations.
17 Let us work together to ensure that the solutions we come up with are holistic, inclusive and practicable for Singapore. This means taking into consideration potential implications, such as the substitution of one disposable material for another, and the use of plastic bags to dispose of our waste hygienically. We must also be sensitive to the costs that are placed on the more vulnerable groups in society.
18 No doubt the journey will be challenging, but I hope it will be fruitful and fulfilling. You will be given the opportunity to consult experts to understand the pros and cons of various solutions. As you develop your recommendations, you will also be asked to walk in the shoes of various groups in our society to understand their concerns and demands. Lastly, you will be asked to prioritise solutions that you think will work best for Singapore and garner the most support. My colleagues will provide you with the necessary support and resources over the course of this Workgroup. Many organisations have also volunteered to share their viewpoints and experiences with you.
19 We will study each recommendation carefully and explore implementing the solutions, just as we have done with the #RecycleRight Workgroup organised last year. This could be through policy changes or by working with citizens, interested members of public as well as organisations to run pilots or trials. We hope to pilot or trial at least three projects out of your recommendations.
20 Thank you for coming on board this journey with us. I look forward to our discussions, and to hearing the recommendations of this Citizens’ Workgroup early next year. Together, we can bring Singapore closer towards becoming a Zero Waste Nation.