Speech by Dr Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources, at the MEWR COS 2018 debate on 6 March 2018

Speech by Dr Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources, at the MEWR COS 2018 debate on 6 March 2018

A.            Introduction

1.            Mr Chairman, in the Year of Climate Action, MEWR will rally everyone to take action against climate change, this year and beyond. We hope all Singaporeans will join forces to ensure Singapore remains our best liveable home and a vibrant, sustainable city for generations to come. 


B.            Community Participation in Climate Action

2.            Since the Year of Climate Action was launched in January, the video on MEWR’s Facebook page has received over 167,000 views, and I am glad that more than 21,000 individuals have made Climate Action pledges online.

3.            Associate Professor Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim asked what role businesses and the public can play in climate action. My Ministry will intensify engagement to galvanise action amongst NGOs, businesses, communities, households and individuals. Let me elaborate.


4.            NGOs have always been passionate about sustainability, and many took the initiative to work together even before this year began. We will reinforce and support their ground-up efforts.

5.            I had a dialogue with NGOs in January this year, where we agreed that climate action collaboration and co-ordination across all stakeholders could be stronger. Arising from this dialogue, Ms Jessica Cheam, Managing Editor of Eco-business brought together NGOs and business leaders to form the Climate Action SG Alliance to advocate climate action and raise public awareness on climate issues. It will be chaired by Ms Cheam in her personal capacity. MEWR will support this ground-up initiative and I have agreed to act as the Advisor. We will also be launching a Climate Action SG Grant. NGOs and Grassroots Organisations can apply for this grant to defray some of the costs of organising programmes in support of the Year of Climate Action. Upon application, each eligible organisation can be provided with up to $5,000 on a reimbursement basis.


6.            Many companies have reached out to us in support of the Year of Climate Action, with over 110 firms including DBS, SembCorp, CDL and Ricoh making Climate Action SG pledges. Many of our SMEs have also pledged. These companies recognise it is possible to do good and do well at the same time. We hope more companies will voluntarily pledge and take climate action.


7.            MEWR will support community efforts to educate the public about climate change and encourage climate action. Grassroots organisations can apply for both the new Climate Action SG Grant and the existing 3P Partnership Fund from NEA for environmental programmes. We will be launching a bulb replacement programme for one- and two-room HDB households to encourage the use of energy efficient light bulbs to reduce energy use. NEA will also be organising an Energy Savings Challenge this year to raise awareness about energy efficiency and conservation. 

8.            Community engagement in climate action is a challenging long-term journey that goes beyond 2018, but we will stay the course to get every Singaporean on board.


C.            Zero Waste Living

9.            Last year, I outlined Singapore’s overall waste management strategy, and the 3 waste streams we are most concerned about; e-waste, food waste, and packaging waste.  


10.          As Minister mentioned, we will focus on e-waste this year. Singapore generates about 60,000 tonnes of e-waste annually. That is like every person in Singapore throwing away 73 mobile phones every year! E-waste contains heavy metals and hazardous substances that can seriously harm the environment and public health if not properly handled. Some heavy metals can also be extracted from properly recovered e-waste and re-used, which is more sustainable than mining for virgin materials.

11.          Dr Chia Shi-Lu asked about the e-waste recycling rate for businesses. As Dr Chia shared, based on the results of an e-waste study by NEA, currently residents place around 6% of their e-waste in e-recycling bins. We estimate the e-waste recycling rate by businesses to be higher, due to take-back arrangements that are usually in place between businesses, and manufacturers or importers. However, more needs to be done.

12.          Mr Chairman, with your permission, I would like to show some slides please.

13.          Dr Chia and Mr Louis Ng asked for an update on our national e-waste management system. MEWR will implement a mandatory e-waste management system by 2021 to ensure that electrical and electronic products are disposed of in an environmentally friendly way, and allow for safe recovery of useful resources. For a start, this system will cover 5 main categories of products, namely ICT equipment like mobile phones and computers, solar panels, batteries, lamps, and certain large household appliances like refrigerators, air-conditioners, washing machines and dryers. Together, these products make up close to 90% of e-waste in Singapore and generally pose more harm to the environment if not properly treated.

14.          Our e-waste management system will adopt the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) approach, which is also implemented in other countries like Sweden and South Korea. NEA will set collection targets for manufacturers and importers to take back a proportion of the products they put on the market. They will be required to work with NEA-licensed Producer Responsibility Organisations (PROs), which will organise the collection, transport and proper treatment of e-waste, and help the manufacturers and importers achieve their targets.

15.          For example, PROs will work with large electrical and electronic retailers to set up in-store e-waste collection points. All retailers must also provide free one-for-one take-back service for their products. Dr Chia asked about recycling larger e-waste items. Apart from the take-back service provided by retailers, Town Councils also provide bulky waste disposal services, which will ensure collected e-waste is properly recycled.  

16.          We will set collection targets in consultation with the industry and review them before implementing a penalty framework eventually. The EU started with an overall collection target of 4kg per capita in 2003. After 13 years, the target reached 45% of all electronic products sold on market by weight. We will study the practices in other countries to design a cost-effective system. By aggregating e-waste and enabling more efficient collection and processing, there will be greater value captured from e-waste, which is one of the more valuable waste streams. This will help offset the cost of operating the e-waste system.

17.          We will consult relevant stakeholders to work out legislation and implementation details. 

18.          Some companies have already taken the initiative to implement voluntary e-waste management programmes. For instance, StarHub runs the RENEW programme in partnership with DHL and TES-AMM. I am pleased to see retailers like Courts, Gain City and Harvey Norman coming on board the RENEW programme. There will soon be e-waste collection bins in some of their outlets.

19.          The mandatory e-waste system will help both the environment and the economy. EPR systems have generated new business opportunities and jobs in the e-waste management and recycling industries in other countries. In France, more than 3,000 e-waste recycling jobs were created since EPR was implemented in 2005. We will integrate and support smaller industry players so they can benefit from our national system, including karang guni men who provide collection services.

Food Waste

20.          Next, I will talk about food waste. I am glad that our food waste recycling rate has increased from 12% in 2012 to 16% in 2017, which is about 133,000 tonnes. We will continue to explore which food waste solution works best in Singapore. For example, around 90% of eligible stallholders participated in the food waste digester pilot at Ang Mo Kio Block 628 hawker centre, which processed around one tonne of food waste a day for the past 2 years. Food waste digesters have also been installed in 4 of our new hawker centres. Digesters will be installed in 2 more hawker centres in Bedok this year, and in more hawker centres subsequently.

21.          Ms Cheng Li Hui asked how food waste in military camps and Home Team premises is managed. To minimise food wastage, MINDEF and MHA use weekly forecasts of meals required to ensure that the right amount of food is prepared. NEA works with both Ministries on food waste management initiatives, such as with the Central Manpower Base on NEA’s Food Wastage Reduction Outreach Programme.

22.          Several army camps are also participating in NEA and PUB’s food waste pilots, where source-segregated food waste is collected and transported to a demonstration facility at Ulu Pandan Water Reclamation Plant. There, food waste is co-digested with used water sludge to generate biogas.

Packaging Waste

23.          Finally, I will touch on packaging waste. Mr Daniel Goh asked about packaging waste produced by food delivery services. While NEA does not monitor this specifically, the total amount of packaging waste has remained fairly constant over the last few years, and makes up around a third of the total domestic waste in Singapore. The voluntary Singapore Packaging Agreement (SPA) has cumulatively reduced almost 39,000 tonnes of packaging waste since its inception in 2007. Building on this, we will put in place a mandatory reporting framework for packaging waste management by 2021.

Life-Cycle Assessment of Carrier Bags and Food Packaging 

24.          Ms Cheng Li Hui and Mr Dennis Tan asked about our efforts to deal with plastic waste, and specifically whether we will impose a charge or ban on single-use plastic bags.

25.          Unlike many of the countries that have imposed a ban or mandatory charge on plastic bags, we do not directly landfill our plastic disposables but incinerate them. Hence, we do not face the land and water pollution issues that plague those countries.

26.          Plastic bags are also necessary for responsible and hygienic bagging of waste in our moist, tropical climate. Unbagged household waste attract more pests like cockroaches and rats, creating serious environmental and health problems.

27.          A recently concluded life-cycle assessment (LCA) study on carrier bags and food packaging, commissioned by NEA, found that every type of disposable bag, not just plastic bags, but also bio-degradable bags and paper bags for example, impose different environmental impacts, whether it be carbon emissions, heavy water usage or significant land clearance. This is particularly so as we incinerate our waste and do not directly landfill. Hence, imposing a charge or ban on disposable plastic bags and substituting them with other types of disposable bags is unlikely to improve environmental outcomes.  The study concluded that consumers can generally reduce their environmental impact by using reusable bags and food containers instead of disposables.

28.          In Singapore, a more sustainable approach is to tackle the excessive consumption of all types of disposables. 

29.          We will step up engagement with stakeholders to cut down the excessive use of plastic bags as well as disposables like single-use food containers. For example, Foodpanda is working on a trial where customers can opt-out of disposable cutleries when ordering food. Zero Waste Singapore also launched an innovative Bring Your Own (BYO) Singapore campaign last year to incentivise consumers to bring their own reusable bags or containers to eateries and supermarkets to earn discounts or free gifts. 

30.          We will continue to support such efforts while holistically tackling the broader issue upstream by reducing all types of packaging waste at source. By 2021, we will mandate that businesses report on the type and amount of packaging they put on the market and their plans for reduction.  We will start industry consultations this year.

31.          Mr Leon Perera also spoke about microplastics, an issue receiving increasing international attention, which we are working on closely with our international partners. To ensure that Singapore does not contribute to marine litter and microplastics, we have stringent and comprehensive regulations to control pollution and manage waste. We enforce strict anti-littering laws and incinerate our waste, and conduct clean ups of waterways and beaches to minimise marine litter.

32.          Our island is also fully sewered and all used water is collected and treated to international standards before discharge. During used water treatment, microbeads, a form of microplastics, will be substantially removed as sludge and disposed of by incineration.

33.          In addition, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) conducts regular food safety tests on locally sourced and imported fish. During these tests, AVA monitors for chemical contaminants found in microplastics which may affect the safety of the fish for consumption. AVA will continue to monitor this issue and introduce appropriate food safety measures where necessary.


D.            Public Cleanliness

34.          We agree with Mr Lim Biow Chuan that it is important to keep Singapore clean and we couple education with enforcement measures, to tackle littering. In 2014, we doubled the maximum fine for littering offences under the Environmental Public Health Act (EPHA) to enhance deterrence. We have stepped up enforcement against littering over the years, issuing more than 32,000 tickets last year compared to around 26,000 in 2015.

35.          I thank Mr Lim for his suggestion to impose mandatory Corrective Work Orders (CWO) on all littering offenders. Generally, more callous littering offenders would be more culpable and liable for stiffer penalties. CWO, which is issued by the Court, is meant for more severe cases like recalcitrant litterbugs, and it could be excessive to impose on all littering offenders. 

36.          Mr Lim may also wish to know that foreign workers convicted and fined more than $2,000 or jailed for littering related offences may have their work passes revoked and banned from employment.

37.          The Public Hygiene Council (PHC) has been working alongside the Singapore Kindness Movement (SKM), to promote the values of picking up after ourselves and keeping our environment clean.

38.          It is not sustainable to keep intensifying enforcement against littering. Instead, everyone should take ownership of the cleanliness of their homes and communities. I hope everyone can join us in our efforts to keep Singapore clean and litter-free.    


E.            Food Delivery Services

39.          Associate Professor Daniel Goh asked if we have plans to regulate new food delivery service providers like Foodpanda and UberEats, in the same manner as food caterers.

40.          Unlike food caterers, food delivery service providers are not involved in the preparation of food. Food catering involves the advance preparation of large quantities of food at the premises of consumers, while food delivery service providers generally transport smaller quantities of food from various eateries to customers for immediate consumption. These service providers therefore do not pose the same level of risk as caterers.

41.          Food delivery service providers do have the responsibility to ensure that delivered food is not contaminated during delivery, and that the interiors of their delivery vehicles are clean and free of pests. Failure to do so is an offence under the Environmental Public Health Act. If there is food poisoning arising from malpractice during delivery, such as if the delivery person mishandles or deliberately tampers with the food, the delivery person can also be charged for possessing food which is unclean or unfit for consumption.

42.          Given these, we have no immediate plans to introduce additional regulations over food delivery services. We will however continue monitoring the industry closely, and if necessary, tighten food hygiene requirements to maintain high food safety standards.


F.            Hawker Centres

43.          Finally, I will speak about hawker centres. Chairman, many Singaporeans have told me that hawker centres and the food they offer are what they identify with and miss most when they are overseas The Government has invested significantly in developing and enhancing hawker centres over the years to ensure that we and future generations can continue to enjoy our unique hawker culture.

Improving Hawker Centre Infrastructure

44.          To achieve this, hawker centres undergo cyclical repair and redecoration works about once every 7 years. In 2001, the government also started a $420 million Hawker Centres Upgrading Programme (HUP) and upgraded more than 100 hawker centres by the end of the programme in 2013. We announced in 2015 that we will build 20 new hawker centres by 2027, and since then, 7 new hawker centres have opened, including three last year in Woodlands, Yishun and Jurong West and one in Pasir Ris this year. These naturally-ventilated centres have better layout with wider stall fronts, larger circulation spaces, family seating areas with lower tables for young children, and even spaces for performances and other community events.

45.          The remaining new hawker centres will be built in areas like Sembawang, Sengkang, Punggol, Bukit Panjang North and Bukit Batok in the coming years. We will continue improving the design of our hawker centres as we develop new ones and renovate existing ones to meet the changing needs of Singaporeans.

New Management Models

46.          Besides hardware, we also continually seek new ideas to better manage our hawker centres. One way we are doing this is by implementing alternative management models for new hawker centres.

47.          We have appointed socially-conscious operators to manage our new hawker centres, tapping on their experience managing other F&B operations to enhance the dining experience for patrons. They introduce new concepts and ideas and improve operational efficiency while ensuring affordability of food.

48.          These operators must also monitor food prices at their centres to prevent unreasonable price hikes, and ensure hawkers offer at least a few affordable entry-level meals. In almost all the new centres, more than 90% of the stalls offer such meal options at $3 or below. 

Hawker Centre 3.0 Committee Recommendations

49.          We must also sustain the hawker trade by both attracting new entrants and supporting existing hawkers. The Government accepted the Hawker Centre 3.0 (HC 3.0) Committee’s recommendations last year, which focused on addressing hawkers’ manpower constraints, reducing their workload and improving productivity. Ms Cheng Li Hui and Mr Liang Eng Hwa asked about the progress of these recommendations. I am pleased to say that we have made significant progress.

50.          We have opened up training opportunities and pathways for aspiring hawkers. NEA collaborated with the People’s Association to successfully launch the first season of the Hawker Fare Series of culinary classes for close to 100 participants from May to August last year. The second season has already started this year. NEA and the Institute of Technical Education also jointly developed an “Introduction to Managing a Hawker Business” course, and more than 100 students participated in the inaugural class last year. 4 more classes will be held this year. 

51.          Two weeks ago, we launched the Incubation Stall Programme to give aspiring hawkers a chance to try out as a hawker. We have offered 13 incubation stalls in hawker centres across the island. 3 stalls have been taken up so far, with another 3 applications received.

52.          The Government has set aside about $90 million to enhance productivity in hawker centres through stall- and centre-level initiatives. This includes stall-level initiatives like the Hawkers’ Productivity Grant (HPG), launched last year to promote greater use of kitchen automation equipment, and help hawkers overcome manpower constraints and reduce their workload through greater productivity. Hawkers can be reimbursed 80% of the qualifying cost of equipment, up to a sum of $5,000, within 3 years. 58 hawkers have been awarded this Grant as of last month, such as Mr Tay Chen Boon, a 74-year old hawker who has been selling popiah at Block 93 Lorong 4 Toa Payoh for the past 45 years. His new continuous feed vegetable cutter saves him almost 2 hours of preparation time daily, as he does not have to chop vegetables by hand.

53.          At the centre-level, the Government has funded initiatives like automated tray return systems (ATRS) and centralised dishwashing (CDW) services in existing hawker centres undergoing renovation. So far, we have introduced these initiatives to two existing hawker centres, working with the Hawkers’ Associations. We intend to roll-out these systems in phases to up to 25 existing hawker centres over the next few years. We thank Mr Liang for expressing his support for these new initiatives at the upcoming Hawker Centre in Senja.

54.          These centre-level initiatives allow hawkers to focus on preparing and cooking their food, saving them time spent collecting and washing crockery or employing someone to do so. They also do not have to invest in the crockery as these are provided by the centralised dishwashing vendor. Taken together, these savings should offset the fees they pay for centralised dishwashing services. The Government also co-funds up to 70% of the operating costs of the initiatives for two years to lower the initial adoption cost.

Tray Return

55.          There has been much public discussion about the rationale and merit of encouraging tray return. We started encouraging tray return in 2012, primarily to ease the work of cleaners so that they can concentrate on cleaning tables, allowing for faster turnover of the tables which will benefit patrons. This also benefits hawkers as faster turnover means they can serve more patrons. Removing leftover food from the table addresses the bird nuisance issue and creates a cleaner, more hygienic dining environment. Returning trays with used crockery after meals is a small gesture of consideration for the next diner. 

56.          Some people have said encouraging tray return deprives cleaners of their job. That is not the case. Cleaners are not going to lose their jobs, just because we become more considerate and return our trays. Cleaning is not an easy job that attracts many, especially locals. Cleaning companies cannot hire enough cleaners and existing cleaners have difficulties coping with clearing crockery and cleaning the tables, particularly during peak hours. By returning our own trays, we allow cleaners to focus on cleaning tables, improving productivity and the quality of their jobs.

57.          We are trying various ways to improve our tray return rates. At the same time, we piloted a project at Zion Riverside Food Centre and Adam Food Centre using behavioural “nudges” and visual cues to improve tray return rates.

58.          Under this project, cleaners encourage patrons to clear their own trays after meals, and they wear aprons displaying a message reminding patrons to return their trays. There are also posters on the tables with similar messages. The results at both hawker centres have been encouraging. At Zion Riverside Food Centre, the tray return rate increased by about 20 percent. These initiatives benefited cleaners at these centres, like 65-year old Mdm Chin, a cleaner at Adam Food Centre who said she could concentrate on cleaning tables, making her job easier. NEA will roll out such initiatives to more hawker centres this year.

59.          We have also piloted an ATRS with a deposit system at two of our existing hawker centres to “nudge” patrons to return their trays. We hope that over the longer term there will be no need to have such a system, after tray return becomes second nature. In the meantime, we also plan to introduce behavioural nudges and cues at these 2 hawker centres to further reinforce the message.

60.          Mr Chairman, with your permission, I would like to say a few words in mandarin.

61.          [In Mandarin] The Government has continually upgraded and improved hawker centres in terms of the design of the facilities, the way they are run and the approach to tendering stalls. This is done so that everyone can benefit – diners can enjoy affordable food, while stall holders have a clean working environment.

施,改 式。这 益,食 可以 肴,而 境。

62.          We also introduced productivity initiatives such as CDW and ATRS to help the stallholders address their manpower issues and reduce their workload. They do not take away work from the cleaners, but actually makes their work easier so they can focus on cleaning tables and improving their productivity. Diners also benefit as they can access clean tables quickly, and enjoy a more pleasant, hygienic dining experience.

统和 施,以 问题,减 量。

并不 工,反 使 他们 更能 桌,提 力。食客 ,因 地找 ,并在 餐。

63.          All these initiatives ultimately benefit all Singaporeans – diners, cleaners as well as the stall holders.

益,包 客、清 主。

Vibrancy of Hawker Centres

64.          Another recommendation of HC 3.0 relates to enhancing the vibrancy of our hawker centres as social spaces. NEA launched the ‘Vibrant Hawker Centres’ programme last June to encourage individuals, teams, organisations or institutions to organise regular activities at hawker centres. The response has been enthusiastic, and some 19 events have taken place across 12 hawker centres in 2017.

65.          Hawker centres will continue to prosper as a key part of our social fabric, if everyone plays their part – hawkers, private operators, and patrons like you and I. Together, we can continue enjoying tasty local food in our beloved hawker centres for years to come.



66.          Chairman, to paraphrase the Minister of Finance’s words during the budget debate when he was referring to reserves, we are stewards of our environment, just like reserves, preserving and enhancing it for our ourselves and for future generations, just as our forefathers had done for us. Everyone can play a part and benefit from Climate Action. We hope that what we do collectively helps reverse the global tragedy of the commons, and ensures Singapore’s development remains on a sustainable path. No action is too small or inconsequential.

67.          For a start, I hope that all Members of this House - besides Er. Lee Bee Wah and Associate Professor Faishal Ibrahim - will lead by example and take the Climate Action Pledge online, and encourage your friends, families and constituents to do so too. I will even send the QR code to your phone now if you wish, so that you can take the pledge. Together we can build a liveable and sustainable environment now and into the future!

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