Closing Remarks by Dr Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State for Sustainability and the Environment, at the 8th Session of the Citizens’ Workgroup on Reducing the Excessive Consumption of Disposables on 16 January 2021
Ladies and gentlemen
Thank you for joining us this afternoon, including our Citizens’ Workgroup participants who are at e2i, and members of the public viewing this on Facebook Live.
Key Zero Waste Milestones
2 2019 was a watershed year for Singapore’s journey towards zero waste. My Ministry designated 2019 as the Year Towards Zero Waste and published the first ever Zero Waste Masterplan to outline our strategies to reduce consumption and encourage conservation of resources. The Resource Sustainability Act was enacted in Parliament to give legislative effect to the measures that control three priority waste streams – electrical and electronic waste (e-waste), food waste, and packaging waste (including plastics). We convened a #RecycleRight Citizens’ Workgroup to improve household recycling, and are working with the participants and partners to pilot projects. The National Environment Agency (NEA) also launched the nation-wide Say Yes to Waste Less campaign. To date, 95 partners covering more than 2,100 premises have come on board this movement to encourage their customers to reduce food waste and the use of disposables such as plastic bags and takeaway containers.
3 2019 also saw the amount of solid waste generated in Singapore reduced by 6 per cent compared to 2018; this was the third yearly reduction since 2017. These are positive and encouraging results, but more can and needs to be done. Plastics, for example, remain the fourth largest source of waste in Singapore. The material, widely used by consumers in our day to day life, contribute 13 per cent to our total waste, but has a recycling rate of only 4 per cent.
4 That is why, in September 2020, the NEA brought 55 members of the public from diverse backgrounds together to form this Citizens’ Workgroup. We want to work with you, and leverage your collective experiences and perspectives, to come up with ground-up solutions that will go towards building a more sustainable Singapore for future generations.
The Journey and Stakeholders Involved
5 Coming together during the COVID-19 pandemic has not been easy. Due to prevailing restrictions, almost all our sessions were conducted virtually, which posed some inconveniences and challenges. Despite that, I have seen participants turn up enthusiastically at every session, including at our first physical session last month.
6 Through the past seven sessions, you have made discoveries, exchanged ideas, and refined your recommendations. I was happy to see all participants contributing actively and sharing valuable knowledge and insights. Beyond the sessions, I know you have been heavily involved in groupwork, research, as well as discussions with resource persons, to understand the landscape and viewpoints of various stakeholders. The hard work, time commitment and dedication that all of you have put into this Citizens’ Workgroup is truly commendable and is clearly reflected in the quality of your presentations and recommendations.
7 This is also the first workgroup under my Ministry where we opened some of our sessions to the public. More than 120 members of the public listened in to the presentations, and added to the diversity of ideas and conversations. I am told that many of the Workgroup participants found this added involvement useful.
8 I thank our partners from the retail, MICE, F&B sectors and civil society for lending your time to be panellists, and sharing your insights to help participants refine their ideas. Your strong support and honest feedback have helped the Workgroup arrive at the recommendations today.
9 The quality and diversity of the recommendations are very encouraging. Some of these recommendations have good synergy with what we are already doing. For example, the recommendation on using behavioural nudges is similar to the efforts by our Say YES to Waste Less campaign partners, who offer incentives for using reusables, and where sales staff verbally ask customers if they need a plastic bag. Recommendations on educating our young in school about sustainability through an e-learning platform and hands-on activities in our school curricula are also in line with our current efforts working with MOE, and we agree that we can do more. As for the recommendation to ban disposables for dining in at food & beverage outlets, this would complement NEA’s ongoing efforts of disallowing the use of disposables for dine-in by stallholders at new hawker centres and new stallholders at existing hawker centres.
10 Some recommendations are likely inspired by overseas examples, but with a “Uniquely Singapore” touch. For example, the proposed disposable carrier bag charge is similar to the per-bag charge that some countries have implemented. But it proposes to charge only from the third bag onwards at supermarkets, taking into consideration our current practice of reusing them to bag rubbish for disposal.
11 We have previously shared our considerations for not implementing a disposable bag charge in Singapore. We do not directly landfill our disposables but incinerate them. Disposable plastic bags are necessary in our context as they are used for responsible and hygienic bagging of waste. However, to increase companies’ awareness of the potential to reduce the amount of packaging that they put out, including carrier bags, we are introducing mandatory packaging reporting. Retailers such as supermarkets will be covered under this. The mandatory packaging reporting will pave the way for the Extended Producer Responsibility framework (or EPR) for managing packaging waste under which 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.
12 Nonetheless, we do want to do more to reduce the excessive consumption of disposables, including disposable plastic bags. We note the Workgroup’s passionate views that imposing a charge on disposable carrier bags, from the third bag, will help to significantly change consumers’ behaviour, reduce the use of such bags, and raise overall awareness about sustainable practices. This is something we will definitely look into and at the same time consider how to mitigate the possible negative effects that such a charging mechanism would have, say on lower income households.
13 Undoubtedly, these recommendations have been thoughtfully developed by the CWG with the strong desire to contribute towards reducing our excessive consumption of disposables. Participants have also considered potential undesired consequences and implementation challenges, and included possible mitigation ideas. These suggestions will definitely be useful to my team.
14 Going forward, my Ministry and the NEA will carefully study your recommendations, evaluate their potential as well as possible synergies, while ensuring that they are operationally feasible with sustained benefits in the long term and the negative impacts, if any, are mitigated.
15 At our next meeting on 27 February, we will share our response and highlight at least three projects we can pilot, trial and/or co-deliver with the relevant stakeholders and the larger community. I look forward to seeing you then, and hope that some of you would consider extending your journey, by working with us to roll out some of the recommendations from this Citizens’ Workgroup.
16 Thank you and I wish you a pleasant evening ahead.