Speech by Dr Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State for Sustainability and the Environment, at the Opening of the TOMRA Resource Transformation Centre on 31 March 2022
His Excellency, Eivind S. Homme, Ambassador of Norway to Singapore
Mr Wolfgang Ringel, Senior Vice President and Global Head of Public Affairs, TOMRA
Ladies and gentlemen
1 Good afternoon. I am happy to join you for the opening of the TOMRA Resource Transformation Centre. Congratulations!
Case for zero waste and a circular economy
2 Unsustainable resource depletion is a critical issue of our time. Urbanisation and technological progress have raised standards of living, and generated wealth and prosperity for a growing global population. But this has also come at a heavy cost to the planet. According to the United Nations, the global material footprint increased by 70% between 2000 and 2017.
3 Every minute, one million plastic drinking bottles are purchased. And every year, five trillion single use plastic bags are thrown away. In Singapore, it is estimated that more than 1 billion beverages are brought into the country every year.
4 Our growing resource footprint depletes finite natural resources, and is leading to environmental pollution, carbon emissions, and increasing amounts of waste.
5 In 2015, countries around the world agreed on a vision for a more sustainable world, adopting the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The agenda sets out a set of 17 interlinked Sustainable Development Goals, including one on responsible consumption and production. The goal recognises that changes have to be made in our production and consumption patterns, and that bold and innovative solutions are urgently needed to safeguard our resources for present and future generations.
6 Countries like Norway have taken the lead to make this change. For example, Norway has one of the most successful and established deposit return schemes for beverage containers in the world, with a return rate of over 90 per cent.
7 Singapore and Norway are like-minded partners who have been working closely to create a more sustainable future. In the lead up to and at the UNFCCC COP-26 last year, Minister Grace Fu co-facilitated ministerial consultations on Article 6 of the Paris Agreement on carbon market rules, alongside the Norwegian Minister of Climate and the Environment Espen Barth Eide, and his predecessor, Sveinung Rotevatn. This led to the successful completion of Article 6 with the support of all Parties, after six years of negotiations. We are pleased to have contributed to the positive outcomes at COP-26, which have injected fresh momentum for global climate action.
Singapore’s shift to a circular economy
8 In Singapore, the Government has taken significant steps to encourage sustainable consumption and production, and sustainable waste and resource management. We launched a Zero Waste Masterplan in 2019 to lay out our vision and strategies to move from a linear take, make, and throw economy, to a circular one where waste becomes resource and is reused over and over again.
9 To close key resource loops, we introduced the Resource Sustainability Act in 2019 to impose regulatory measures upstream. This addresses our three priority waste streams of e-waste, packaging waste including plastics, and food waste. Let me elaborate on packaging waste.
a. Producers play a critical role in the shift to a circular economy. They develop and manage supply chains, and manufacture essential goods. But this also introduces materials into our ecosystem that can end up as waste.
b. It is hence important, in the first instance, to direct companies’ attention to the materials they place on the market, and the potential to reduce waste. This is the objective of the Mandatory Packaging Reporting framework that came into effect in 2021, where large producers of packaged products and retailers are required to report annually the amount of packaging they introduce into Singapore, as well as their plans to reduce, reuse or recycle packaging. This will lay the foundation for an Extended Producer Responsibility scheme for packaging waste eventually.
c. An EPR scheme mandates that producers of regulated products, including manufacturers and importers, be responsible for the collection and proper treatment of their products at end-of-life, with safe handling and extraction of valuable resources.
d. As a next step in the EPR for packaging, we are developing a return scheme for beverage containers. Under such a scheme, a deposit is included in the price of the pre-packaged beverages. The deposit is refunded to consumers when they return the empty beverage container to designated return points. By encouraging the return of containers, the scheme can help to create a clean stream of recyclables, which can then be processed into new beverage containers or other products. This reduces the need for virgin materials. Besides Norway, many other countries such as Lithuania, Sweden and Germany that have implemented similar schemes have seen return rates for beverage containers of over 80 per cent.
e. Over the past two years, NEA has engaged more than 100 producers, which make up about 80 per cent of the pre-packaged beverage market, as well as retailers, recyclers, and members of the public. We have also engaged technology providers like TOMRA, to learn from their experiences implementing such schemes overseas. Our stakeholders have contributed valuable views and feedback, which we are taking into consideration as we develop the details of the proposed scheme, such as the types of beverages and container materials to include, and the coverage of return points. Once ready, we will put this up for further feedback and consultation, so that we can develop a cost-effective and suitable scheme beneficial to Singapore.
10 The success of our regulations and programmes also hinges on behavioural and lifestyle changes. To move towards zero waste, we need to make changes to our daily routines and habits.
a. For example, F&N and NEA have been running the Recycle and Save initiative, which offers incentives when plastic bottles and aluminium cans are deposited in Reverse Vending Machines around Singapore. The programme has seen good results so far, with over ten million containers collected since its launch in Oct 2019. As people continue to develop the good habit of returning their drink containers, I hope it will help set the stage for the successful rollout of a proposed beverage container return scheme in the future. We can only achieve a circular economy when recycling right becomes second nature to us.
b. I spoke about recycling, and now I will touch on another R – reducing. We recently announced our plans to implement a disposable carrier bag charge at supermarkets in mid-2023. It will serve as a behavioural nudge to shoppers to adopt more sustainable consumption habits and bring their own bags. This is an important step for us to become a greener citizenry, where we show our care for the environment in our daily choices and actions.
Technology and infrastructure key to enabling a circular economy
11 In addition to new regulations, and shifts in consumer behaviour, we also need to seek out the right technologies and put in place suitable infrastructure to enable a circular economy.
a. More efficient sorting facilities will enable us to aggregate more recyclables for better resource recovery.
b. New technologies like pyrolysis will allow us to convert contaminated plastic waste, which are not suitable for mechanical recycling, into higher-value products.
12 The circular economy presents many opportunities for businesses. For example, shortly before Singapore’s national e-waste management system commenced last year, the TES-B plant was opened. The plant can extract and recover valuable materials such as lithium and cobalt from lithium-ion batteries, turning trash into treasure.
13 TOMRA is another business that has planted its roots in circular economy. Back when much of the world’s attention was focused on how to dispense products to customers, a small number of companies, with TOMRA amongst them, focussed instead on how to take them back, through innovations such as the reverse vending machine. This early mover advantage has paid off. Today, I am happy to see that TOMRA plays a critical role in the sorting, collection, and recycling systems in many countries. Companies like TOMRA and TES are proof that there is a strong business case for sustainability.
Towards a vibrant and thriving circular economy
14 Let me conclude. We aspire towards a vibrant and thriving circular economy in Singapore, one that is marked by active participation and partnerships across the public, private and people sectors.
a. The Government will do its part by putting in place clear policies and regulations, and investing in research and development to support circular economy approaches.
b. Consumers and individuals can play their part by choosing greener products, and leading sustainable lifestyles.
c. For the private sector, you can contribute by developing and deploying new solutions to drive circularity, and assuming responsibility in closing waste loops.
d. I urge all stakeholders to seek out synergies with like-minded partners and contribute to our shared goal of a more sustainable future.
15 I congratulate TOMRA on the opening of the Resource Transformation Centre. It is a great showcase of the potential and promise of a circular economy for Singapore and the region.
16 I look forward to TOMRA’s continued contributions to sustainability.