Speech by Mr Masagos Zulkifli, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, at the opening of CleanEnviro Summit Singapore (CESS) Catalyst 2019 on 6 June 2019

Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen

1. Good afternoon. It is a pleasure to be here with you today to talk about opportunities in adopting circular economy strategies for sustainable development.

Changing Global Landscape

2.  According to the United Nation’s estimates, the world’s population is growing by 1.1 per cent every year, and expected to reach an astounding 9.8 billion in 2050. More than half of the world’s population now reside in cities, and this is projected to grow. By 2050, seven in 10 people will live in cities.

3.  This trend is of concern because cities account for over two-thirds of global resource usage, more than 70 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions and about 2 billion tonnes of municipal solid waste generated annually. There is an urgent need to change current practices on a global scale, if we do not want to risk depleting finite resources, and worsening the climate crisis.

Circular Economy Approach

4. Singapore is committed to doing our part to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, in particular Goal 12 on responsible consumption and production. As a city state that is land- and resource-scarce, we are keenly aware of the need to develop sustainably. We are particularly aware of the limited space we have left in our only landfill. At our current rate of waste generation, Semakau Landfill is expected to run out of space by 2035.

5. This is why we declared 2019 Singapore’s Year Towards Zero Waste. This campaign seeks to rally our households and industries to treasure our limited resources and make it a norm to reduce, reuse and recycle. Later this year, we will be launching our inaugural Zero Waste Masterplan. It will detail our upcoming policies and plans to close our waste loop and move Singapore towards becoming a Zero Waste Nation.

6. Some of you may be familiar with our water story and how we have closed our water loop. We did this by collecting and treating every drop of wastewater and transforming it into NEWater – our ultra-clean, high-grade reclaimed water. We intend to close our waste loop the same way, by adopting a circular economy approach, and reusing our resources for as long as possible.

7. We will do this by pursuing strategies which have worked for us in the past. First, we will invest in research and development, and harness technology. Second, we will enable companies to try out innovative solutions.

Harnessing Technology

8. In December 2017, we introduced the Closing the Waste Loop Research and Development Initiative to fund innovative waste management technologies. The Initiative fosters collaboration between institutes of higher learning, research institutes and private sector partners. The aim is to develop technologies and solutions to tackle challenges posed by increasing waste generation, scarcity of resources and land constraints for better waste management. This would include the development of solutions to extract resources from key waste streams like plastics, food and e-waste and residues such as incineration bottom ash.

9.  We have successfully concluded two grant calls. Two projects have been awarded to the Institute of Chemical and Engineering Sciences and Temasek Polytechnic to treat and extract resources from plastic waste. Another two projects have been awarded to the Nanyang Technological University and Republic Polytechnic, to explore the reuse of incineration bottom ash. I look forward to seeing the outcomes of these projects. 

 Regulatory Sandbox

 10. To enable companies to try out innovative solutions, the National Environment Agency, or NEA, introduced a Regulatory Sandbox for the environmental services industry in July 2018. With our fast evolving landscape and the emergence of new disruptive technologies, regulation can sometimes stifle promising innovations, especially where it is less clear whether a new technology or solution complies with the existing regulatory requirements. The Regulatory Sandbox enables companies to innovate in a safe environment with relaxed regulations, without compromising public health and safety. Once an experiment has been successfully conducted in Singapore, companies can scale up and fully commercialise locally, or use it as case reference in their efforts to internationalise.

11. One company that has taken this up is Alpha Biofuels, one of Singapore’s clean energy companies. It has developed Singapore’s first digital platform for reverse logistics, and is leveraging its logistic partners’ vehicles to collect used cooking oil from food and beverage operators during their usual delivery runs. This could potentially encourage the recycling of good used cooking oil, reduce vehicular emissions and enable efficient tracking of used cooking oil.

12.  Another company that is trying out an innovative solution is the Singapore Power Group, or SP Group. It piloted a Micro Auto Gasification System, or MAGS, for onsite waste-to-energy treatment at Gardens by the Bay. The system harvests energy from the treatment process to produce heated water which is used by F&B tenants at Gardens by the Bay. It also generates solid carbon material for possible horticultural R&D. The system reduces carbon footprint by reducing the transportation of waste to the incineration plants. This is a good example of how waste can be converted to usable resources. I hope more companies can seize the opportunities offered by the Regulatory Sandbox to put forth innovative ideas.

Environmental Services Industry Transformation Map

13. Investing in R&D and enabling innovative solutions are key building blocks for a circular economy. For us to succeed, however, we must also transform the waste management sector and the environmental services industry. The industry today is labour intensive, low in productivity and unable to attract enough talents. This is clearly unsustainable, given our manpower constraints.

14. This is why my Ministry launched the Environmental Services Industry Transformation Map, or ES ITM, in December 2017. We want to help the industry move towards higher productivity, and equip its workers and businesses with the capabilities to meet future challenges. This will enable us to create better jobs to attract talents to join the sector.

15. The implementation of the ES ITM is progressing well. One of the newest initiatives is the launch of a $30 million Productivity Solutions Grant or PSG, by NEA last year. The Grant provides companies with support to adopt commercially available and proven technologies to reduce manpower reliance and achieve operational efficiency and productivity. NEA has approved 32 applications with a total grant commitment of about S$1 million; another 24 applications are under evaluation. This could bring the total potential grant commitment to about $2 million. Examples of solutions supported include smart waste compactors and workforce management digital solutions.

16. To ensure the industry remains relevant, NEA is also expanding the list of equipment considered for the grant to include solutions such as the ride-on carpet extractor and industrial crusher cum shredder. I encourage the ES industry to tap on this grant to adopt solutions to increase productivity.


17. Let me conclude. Singapore is accelerating our transition towards a circular economy by investing in R&D, trying out innovative solutions, and transforming the waste management sector. We will also play a constructive role in working with the international community to build a circular economy at the global level.

18.  We have many distinguished speakers and participants here today, to share with us the potential of a circular economy for innovation, job creation and economic development. I wish you fruitful discussions on how we can all work together to further the global circular economy.

19. Thank you.

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