Speech by Ms Grace Fu, Minister for Sustainability and the Environment, at the Launch of the Royal Golden Eagle-Nanyang Technological University Sustainable Textile Research Centre on 4 August 2022
Prof Subra Suresh, President of NTU
Mr Perry Lim, Executive Director of RGE
Ladies and gentlemen
1 Good afternoon. It is my pleasure to join you today for the opening of the NTU-RGE Sustainable Textile Research Centre. I am happy to see some familiar faces from the Enable the Change Sustainability Summit which I attended last month.
Threat of resource depletion and climate change
2 As global economies and populations grow, we are consuming more than ever and exhausting the Earth’s natural resources faster than they can be replenished. Our consumption and production habits are contributing to environmental degradation, waste generation, carbon emissions, and ultimately climate change.
3 A recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report highlighted that climate change has resulted in the increased frequency and severity of extreme weather events. As you may be aware, Europe is currently experiencing an unprecedented heat wave that has caused an airport runway in London to melt. The historic Hammersmith Bridge over the River Thames even had to be wrapped up in foil to reflect sunlight so that it does not expand and crack.
4 As a low-lying island city-state, Singapore is especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change such as sea-level rise. Climate change can adversely affect our access to essential resources like water, food, and energy. With rising temperatures, infectious diseases that thrive in warmer climates like ours, such as dengue fever, will also become more prevalent.
5 We cannot afford to continue business-as-usual. If we do not act now to reduce our carbon emissions, climate change could result in consequences which are far worse. One key climate mitigation strategy is to reduce waste by making a paradigm shift from a linear economy to a circular one, where resources are reused over and over again.
Environmental impact of fashion
6 Globally, the advent of fast fashion has made the latest runway styles available to the average consumer at an affordable price. In recent years, e-commerce has made buying new clothes even cheaper and more convenient. Global textile production has increased significantly over the years, from 60 million tonnes in 2000 to 109 million tonnes in 2020. It is estimated that it contributed to about seven per cent of total global carbon emissions. For each kilogramme of fabric, 23 kilogrammes of greenhouse gases are generated. In addition, a total of 1.5 trillion litres of water are used by the fashion industry annually. This is unsustainable.
7 Last year, textile and leather waste accounted for about six per cent of the total waste disposed of in Singapore. It increased by 13 per cent, from 168,000 tonnes in 2019 to 189,000 tonnes in 2021. Meanwhile, its recycling rate remained low at four per cent, which means that a large majority is heading to the incinerator and then landfill each year.
Towards zero waste and a circular economy
8 The amount of waste disposed of has increased seven-fold over the last 40 years. If we continue at this rate, our Semakau Landfill will run out of space by 2035. To reduce waste and catalyse the shift towards a circular economy, the Government launched the Zero Waste Masterplan in 2019. The landmark Resource Sustainability Act (RSA) was enacted the same year.
9 The Zero Waste Masterplan maps out our key strategies to become a Zero Waste Nation, while the RSA mandates an Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) approach to our three priority waste streams — e-waste, packaging waste including plastics, and food waste. These are waste streams which are generated in high quantities but of which relatively little gets recycled. Under the Singapore Green Plan 2030, we have set a target to reduce the amount of waste going to our landfill by 20 per cent by 2026.
Role of R&D in turning waste into resource
10 Besides implementing upstream legislative measures, the Government is also investing heavily in sustainable infrastructure and research and development (R&D) to close resource loops, maximise resource recovery and meet Singapore’s long-term waste treatment needs. For instance, we are looking at using incineration bottom ash as a type of construction material which we call NEWSand, and exploring chemical recycling to turn plastic waste into new products.
11 Earlier this year, I also announced that the Government has allocated $220 million for R&D in resource circularity and water technologies, with $80 million for the Closing the Resource Loop initiative to develop sustainable resource recovery solutions for our key waste streams. The funding will support the development of useful and safe applications for treated waste residue, and low carbon waste treatment options.
12 However, the push towards a circular economy and a Zero Waste Nation cannot be achieved by the Government’s efforts alone. We will require the support of businesses, consumers, academia and the community to make it happen.
RGE-NTU Sustainable Textile Research Centre
13 With all the textile and leather waste collected for recycling being exported, it is important to develop our local textile waste recycling capabilities. In this regard, I am glad to note that RGE, the world’s largest producer of viscose, has partnered the Nanyang Technological University to establish the Sustainable Textile Research Centre (RGE-NTU SusTex) in Singapore.
14 The RGE-NTU SusTex will receive a funding of $6 million from RGE, and its research will focus on textile recycling technology and innovation. Currently, most of the recycled polyester used by fashion brands is derived from plastic bottles, and not old clothing. This is because our clothes are often made from a combination of materials and components, which make them complex to recycle.
15 The setup of the RGE-NTU SusTex is thus timely. The Centre’s research into cleaner and more efficient means of mixed fibre separation, new functional materials, and environmentally-friendly processes of dye removal and natural dyes development, will help the textile and fashion industry shift towards resource circularity and more sustainable means of production and recycling. I am hopeful that the research outcomes will contribute towards Singapore’s vision of becoming a Zero Waste Nation.
16 As individual consumers, we can also make a difference by choosing to buy products which are sustainably made, or carefully reviewing the need to buy a new piece of clothing. I encourage you to check out NEA’s website for information and tips on how you can donate, resell or repair items, including clothing, that are still in good condition (https://www.nea.gov.sg/our-services/waste-management/donation-resale-and-repair-channels/).
17 The choices that we make today will determine our tomorrow. Let us take collective action to reduce waste and fight climate change, to secure a better and greener Singapore for our future generations.