Keynote Speech at the German-Singaporean Plastics Recycling Forum - Mr Desmond Tan
Keynote Speech by Mr Desmond Tan, Minister of State for Sustainability and the Environment, at the German-Singaporean Plastics Recycling Forum on 15 October 2021
The future of plastic recycling in a circular economy – solving a worldwide crisis through international collaboration and knowledge transfer
His Excellency, Dr Norbert Riedel, Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany to Singapore
His Excellency, Peter Guschelbauer, Ambassador of the Republic of Austria to Singapore
Mr Jens Rübbert, President of the Singaporean-German Chamber of Industry and Commerce
Ladies and Gentlemen
1 Good afternoon. I am delighted to join you today at the German-Singaporean Plastics Recycling Forum. I thank the Chamber and the German Embassy for organising this Forum to discuss this important and timely topic.
The Challenge of Plastic Waste
2 The challenge of managing plastic waste grows each and every year. The United Nations Environment Programme estimates that we produce around 300 million tonnes of plastic waste annually – this is almost the weight of the entire human population! Plastics are, however, resistant to degradation and the global recycling rate of plastics stands at a dismal nine percent of all plastic produced, with the rest finding its way into the natural environment as debris. Other research findings project that if we fail to take action, approximately 12 billion tonnes of plastic will surround our land and oceans by 2050. This will have severe implications for our environment, public health and economies. Studies also suggest that plastic litter in the Asia-Pacific region alone costs its tourism, fishing and shipping industries $1.3 billion each year, and the total economic damage to the world's marine ecosystem amounts to at least $13 billion every year.
3 Singapore is acutely aware of the challenges arising from increasing waste. Over the past 40 years, the amount of waste disposed of in Singapore has increased sevenfold. Most of you will probably know by now, Singapore incinerates most of our waste, and they are shipped to an offshore island called Semakau. Based on current rates, our only landfill at Semakau will run out of space by 2035.
4 Plastic waste is one of our largest waste streams. It accounted for almost 30 percent of all waste disposed of in 2020. However, it remains one of the most challenging waste streams to recycle, with only four percent recycled last year. Part of the challenge lies with the need for people and businesses to be more conscientious about recycling plastic. The other part of the challenge is to reduce the cost and to improve the value of recycling plastic.
Singapore's Transition to Zero Waste and Circularity
5 To address these challenges, Singapore has adopted a circular economy approach to reduce waste and maximise the value of resources by keeping them in use for as long as possible. In 2019, we launched the Zero Waste Masterplan which laid out our strategies to become a Zero Waste Nation. The Masterplan included targets to reduce the amount of waste going to our landfill by 30 percent, and increase our overall recycling rate to 70 percent by 2030. We also introduced the Resource Sustainability Act to provide the legislative framework to manage our priority waste streams, namely e-waste, food waste, and packaging waste, including plastics. Under the Resource Sustainability Act, an Extended Producer Responsibility or EPR scheme for e-waste was implemented in July this year. The EPR approach makes producers responsible for the collection and proper treatment of their regulated products when they reach end-of-life at licensed recycling facilities. Alba E-waste Smart Recyclinghas been appointed by the National Environment Agency as the Producer Responsibility Scheme operator for a five-year period to perform the duty on behalf of the producers.
6 More recently, we launched the Singapore Green Plan 2030 earlier this year. The Plan is a whole-of-nation roadmap with concrete sectoral plans and ambitious targets over the next ten years. Waste management and recycling are part of the Sustainable Living pillar of the Plan, with the other four pillars being City in Nature, Energy Reset, Green Economy, and Resilient Future. In the Green Plan, we have frontloaded the targeted reduction in waste going to our Semakau landfill.
7 I am pleased that the Chamber's latest publication, The Green Plan 2030 – Sustainability Opportunities for Companies in Singapore, has focused on the opportunities for German enterprises in relation to Singapore's sustainability plans.
It testifies to the key role of the private sector in delivering innovative solutions to our sustainability challenges, and builds on the longstanding contributions of German companies such as Ed. Zublin, Herrenknecht, KSB, GEA, REMEX and ALBA which have been actively contributing to Singapore's environment and water sectors.
8 Let me share three areas of opportunities in the private sector for plastic recycling.
9 First, the global paradigm shift to circularity. As the global movement towards a low-carbon, circular economy future gains traction, organisations are changing their business models and adopting sustainable business practices such as circularity in product design, recovering resources from products at their end-of-life, and undertaking lifecycle assessments to green supply chains. Consumer demand for sustainable products and services is also increasing, and many companies are reviewing their plastic packaging and setting targets to scale up the use of recycled plastics in their production processes. In short, the shift to circularity is well on its way, and will incentivise plastic recycling and use of recyclable plastics.
10 Henkel, for example, has committed to use at least 30 per cent of recycled plastics in all its plastic packaging for its consumer products by the year 2025. Various companies in Singapore have also made similar commitments under the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Plastic ACTion initiative (PACT) to reduce and recycle plastics, or switch to recyclable alternatives. For instance, healthy food chain SaladStop!, uses recycled PET in 80 percent of its plastics packaging and aims to phase-out the remaining 20 percent.
11 Second, the build-up of recycling capabilities for plastic waste. In the first phase of implementing an EPR framework for packaging waste, Singapore will introduce the beverage containers return scheme. It involves getting producers, such as beverage companies, to finance the take-back of used beverage containers and refunding deposits from consumers when they return their empty beverage containers at designated return points. Besides encouraging recycling in the community, the scheme will support our industry by aggregating a relatively clean source of plastic waste, such as PET beverage bottles, as a steady supply of feedstock for recycling. This should further drive demand for plastic recycling in Singapore, including the need for more mechanical recycling plants to treat post-consumer plastic waste.
12 The role of the Plastic Recycling Association of Singapore (PRAS), which was recently launched in August, will be critical. I welcome the Association's efforts in working with HTP GmbH & Co KG on the feasibility of building and operating a PET bottle recycling plant in Singapore. Such a facility would not only strengthen Singapore's expertise in recycling PET bottles, but also create more jobs in support of a green economy.
13 Beyond closing the plastics loop, Singapore is also studying chemical recycling solutions to convert plastics which are not suitable for mechanical recycling, such as contaminated plastic bags, to higher-value products such as pyrolysis oil. Such products could potentially be used to replace fossil fuels as feedstock for the petrochemical sector.
14 Third, international partnerships for collaborative innovation and knowledge sharing. Just as no single party can tackle environmental challenges alone, nobody has a monopoly on ideas. Ideas and capabilities are enhanced when we work together for mutual benefit and advantage.
15 The benefits of international collaboration are exemplified in the PRAS' plans to establish a Plastics Recycling Centre of Excellence (PRCOE) in Singapore to facilitate the transfer of recycling expertise. The Centre will require the participation of local and foreign technology suppliers, research institutes, and companies to assist in the design and growth of the local recycling industry. This will help local SMEs build capabilities and create greater opportunities in regional markets. Advances in precision engineering, manufacturing of recycling equipment and plastic recycling processes will serve the needs of the wider Southeast Asia region, particularly as many ASEAN countries have embarked on circular economy roadmaps and strategies, and curb the illegal cross border movement of plastic waste.
16 As partners who enjoy longstanding cooperation in trade and have common interests in sustainable development, Germany and Singapore can collaborate with each other to accelerate the shift towards plastics circularity. We have both pledged to implement the 2030 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and commitments under the Paris Agreement. Our countries have launched national strategies which place sustainability at the core of our recovery efforts and economic growth, and our trade links continue to be enhanced under the EU-Singapore Free Trade Agreement, which came into force in 2019.
17 To conclude, where there is demand, there are also opportunities. We are only at the initial stages of our plastic recycling journey and there are many opportunities for growth. German companies are well placed to contribute sustainable solutions through innovative and advanced technology, and I look forward to more collaboration with Singaporean firms to realise our shared goals in sustainability.
18 Let once again congratulate the Chamber on its publication and wish all participants fruitful discussions.
19 Thank you.