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SPEECH BY MR MASAGOS ZULKIFLI, MINISTER FOR THE ENVIRONMENT AND WATER RESOURCES, AT THE CLEAN ENVIRONMENT LEADERS’ SUMMIT (CELS) 2018 OPENING CEREMONY, ON 10 JULY 2018, 8.30AM

Excellencies,

Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

1 A warm welcome to the Clean Environment Leaders’ Summit (CELS) 2018 which brings together government and industry leaders from around the world to discuss solutions to global environmental challenges.  

2 A fundamental challenge for all nations today is how to develop sustainably. To do so, the global community must be guided by the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs), particularly SDG 12 on Responsible Consumption and Production and SDG 13 on Climate Action. 

Circular economy and sustainable development in Singapore

3 As a small city state, Singapore has always been keenly aware of the need to balance economic development and environmental sustainability. Growing our economy consumes energy, water and other resources which we lack, and generates sewerage and solid waste that must be disposed of. Challenges for any country; but especially so for Singapore where resources and land are scarce. Our remaining Semakau Landfill will be filled up within years at our current rate of waste generation.

4 To overcome these challenges and continue to grow sustainably, Singapore must embrace the circular economy. This requires a shift from the ‘use and throw’ mentality, to one where resources are re-used for as long as possible. It can be done. In the water sector, we have closed the water loop by turning our used water into NEWater, and significantly enhanced our water resilience and sustainability.

5 We are now turning our attention to closing the waste loop. The Sustainable Singapore Blueprint outlines part of our strategy to become a Zero Waste Nation and achieve a 70% recycling rate by 2030. We will go further. Upstream – to encourage product design for ease of recycling, and a repair culture among consumers. And downstream – to maximise resource recovery from waste.  

 Opportunities from a global circular economy 

6 The circular economy does not end at our borders. Today’s manufacturing supply chains are global in nature. The same goes for “reverse supply chains” that handle the by-products from production and consumption. When China recently imposed quality standards on imported recyclable materials, cities from America to Australia faced disruption in their recycling operations. A study published in the scientific journal Science Advances, estimates that 111 million tonnes of displaced plastic will end up in landfills or incineration plants by 2030. Conversely, there are also reports of Chinese recycling companies setting up operations in the region, showing us how interconnected our global economy is. 

7 There is an opportunity for us - government and industry leaders - to actively shape a global circular economy. One where clean and valuable recycled fractions can move freely across borders to support economic activity. This will unlock economies of scale to transform waste into feedstock for new products. This is good for the environment as we reduce both the extraction of virgin material and the amount of waste going into landfill. I have seen this in practice in Europe. For example, in Denmark, e-waste from neighbouring countries is disassembled, and recyclable fractions are sent on to other countries for further processing. 

8 But there are challenges. After all, we have many international agreements to limit the movement of waste across borders. These agreements are critical – they make sure that no country ends up as a dumping ground for another’s waste. But I believe we can achieve this objective, as well as our vision of a global circular economy. 

9 This can be done through proper safeguards, such as common standards on the quality of material fractions that can be exported; complemented by effective enforcement of those standards. If we succeed, we will effectively turn our cities into urban mines that provide us with environmentally sustainable raw materials. These are lofty goals; but we can start small, by focusing on a limited number of higher value fractions, as part of bilateral or regional pilots. 

10 I will next speak on how we will prepare Singapore to tap into the global circular economy. These ideas will go into our inaugural Zero Waste Masterplan to be released next year. We will actively engage stakeholders on the development of the Masterplan, as we navigate a path towards the circular economy. 

 Policies and regulations to support a circular economy

11 First, we will review our policies to encourage sustainable production and consumption, particularly in areas where the market fails to take into account environmental externalities. For example, we announced earlier this year that a mandatory system, based on Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), will be introduced by 2021 to manage e-waste. By making producers responsible for the ‘end-of-life’ of their products, they will be incentivised to design products that are more easily recycled, or come up with innovative circular economy business models. 

12 Moving forward, we will study the feasibility of extending EPR to plastic and packaging waste.  We hope to bring about more sustainable use of packaging materials, including single-use plastic packaging, by businesses and consumers.

13 As a start, we will bring forward the introduction of a mandatory reporting framework for packaging data and waste reduction plans, from 2021 as earlier announced, to 2020. Businesses, such as brand owners, importers and large retailers including supermarkets, will need to start collecting data on the types and amounts of packaging they place on the market and submit plans for reduction. We will consult relevant stakeholders as we develop the operational plans to manage plastic and packaging waste in Singapore. 

Transforming the Environmental Services Industry

14 Second, we will support our Environmental Services (ES) industry to seize opportunities in the future economy. The industry faces acute challenges, such as an ageing workforce and low productivity. But our water story shows us that vulnerability can be turned into strength and opportunity. We will rise above our constraints, transform, and seize opportunities for green growth. We launched the Environmental Services Industry Transformation Map (ES ITM) last year, and will push ahead with productivity, digitalisation and innovation. We will grow a vibrant ES sector with good jobs for Singaporeans.

15 As part of the ES ITM, NEA will help companies adopt and scale up commercially available technologies to improve efficiency and manpower productivity. With new capabilities and operating models, our companies will be in a stronger position to internationalise. NEA will provide more details in the later part of the year. 

16 To help companies in the ES industry to digitalise, we are also launching the ES Industry Digital Plan (IDP). Jointly developed by IMDA and NEA, the ES IDP will guide digital technology adoption at each stage of their growth, boosting performance and productivity in their operations. The IDP also provides a Digital Roadmap (Training), developed in partnership with SSG and IHL partners, to chart the training of the industry’s 78,000- strong workforce to apply digital skills in their work.

17 To support innovation, NEA will introduce a Regulatory Sandbox for environmental services, with applications opening from today. Regulations may sometimes hold back the adoption of new ideas in our fast evolving landscape. The Sandbox will enable innovative environmental services-related technologies and solutions to be tested in a safe environment with relaxed regulations. For example, if you have a proposal to safely treat general waste on-site and can find off-takers for the residual, we would welcome you to test your technology in our Sandbox.

Stepping up Research and Development

18 Third, we will step up Research and Development (R&D) to develop solutions. To spur the adoption of emerging Waste-to-Energy technologies, the National Environment Agency (NEA) and the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) are jointly developing a S$40 million Waste-To-Energy Research Facility to support research, translation and test-bedding. Tuas Nexus, our integrated waste management and water reclamation facility will be a key beneficiary. Improvements in technology can also strengthen the economic case for the circular economy, such as by improving extraction methods and reducing recycling costs. Or help us overcome land and manpower constraints, and run more effective operations. For example, the use of sensors to monitor refuse levels in bin centres allows waste to be collected only when storage capacity is nearly full. This reduces the workload of our collection crews, and also the carbon footprint from truck trips.  

19 To support R&D in the ES industry, NEA launched a $45 million Closing The Waste Loop (CTWL) initiative last year. To date, NEA has launched grant calls on managing plastic waste and reusing incineration ash. More grant calls will be made in the coming months. I look forward to the day when we have our very own NEWSand, created from incineration ash, just like how we have created NEWater from used water.

 Building a National Consciousness on the Environment 

20 One more ingredient is required for even the best policy, the best infrastructure and the best technology to work. That is the contribution from every resident and company to sustainable development. We must build a national consciousness on protecting the environment.  This Year of Climate Action is a good time to ramp up our efforts.

21 Some businesses have taken the lead in sustainability, including the 13 Singapore Packaging Agreement signatories that we will be recognising today. To date, our signatories have cumulatively reduced about 46,000 tonnes of packaging waste, amounting to savings of more than $100 million. I hope more companies will be inspired to embark on their own sustainability journey. 

22 I would also like to encourage more ground-up initiatives like Green Nudge, a green group which encourages marathon participants to recycle their drinking cups, plastic bottles and banana peels, and Tzu Chi, a community organisation which holds regular recycling activities. These ground-up efforts play a crucial role in our nation’s transformation towards a circular economy, by strengthening the values and norms that enable sustainability to take root.

 Conclusion

23 To conclude, let me quote Mr Ban Ki Moon, former Secretary-General of the United Nations. He said, and I quote, “Sustainable development is the pathway to the future we want for all. It offers a framework to generate economic growth, achieve social justice, exercise environmental stewardship and strengthen governance.” The Singapore story demonstrates that environmental sustainability and economic growth are not a zero sum game.  As we write the next chapter, the circular economy will allow both to co-exist and reinforce each other.

24 I wish you stimulating and fruitful discussions at the CELS today. 

Thank you.

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