Thursday 2 August 2018

Singapore uses at least 1.76 billion plastic items a year: Singapore Environment Council survey 2018

Most are plastic bags from supermarts, under 20% recycled
By Jose Hong, The Straits Times, 1 Aug 2018

Singapore uses at least 1.76 billion plastic items a year, or almost one item per person per day. But fewer than 20 per cent of these are recycled, according to the Singapore Environment Council (SEC).

The bulk of these items are plastic bags taken from supermarkets, according to an online survey it did from last December to May this year.

The non-government organisation yesterday said the poll of more than 1,000 people found that 820 million plastic bags are taken yearly from supermarkets.

Only 2 per cent are recycled by consumers. Two-thirds are used for the disposal of waste.

It also found women are almost twice as likely to take a reusable bag to the supermarket as men, and those aged 41 and older are most likely to take at least six plastic bags from the supermarket on each shopping trip.

The survey, done with the help of global consultancy Deloitte, also found that Singapore used 467 million polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles - like those that hold soft drinks - and 473 million plastic disposable items like takeaway containers a year.

The survey did not include plastic bags given out by establishments other than supermarkets.

SEC executive director Jen Teo said the council's estimate is conservative when compared with previous estimates of each person in Singapore throwing away 13 plastic bags a day.

She explained: "We wanted to focus on the most easily measurable usage."

In March this year, a survey of 2,000 people by the World Wide Fund for Nature Singapore found 80 per cent would support a plastic bag levy.

Its spokesman said yesterday: "There's still a huge dark hole when it comes to the plastic bags given out by other retailers. They aren't only supermarkets, but also bubble tea shops or bakeries that give multiple plastic bags."

Deloitte's sustainability leader in South-east Asia Mohit Grover said: "We will see how we can incorporate this into future studies."

The SEC intends to launch a campaign this month to educate people to use fewer plastic items. It will team up with businesses such as FairPrice and Coca-Cola.

The campaign could involve, among other things, cashiers being trained to pack groceries more efficiently and customers being educated in using fewer plastic bags.

The SEC noted that Singapore's plastic recycling rate lags far behind those of other developed countries.

The country recycled only 6 per cent of its plastic waste last year, said the National Environment Agency (NEA).

In contrast, the rate in Europe is around 30 per cent.

To help improve the situation, SEC urges everyone in Singapore to use one fewer plastic item each day. "We intend to encourage shoppers to use not more than two plastic bags per trip, " Ms Teo said.

An NEA spokesman noted that SEC's surveyrefers to the number of items consumers use while NEA's data is the overall weight of plastic waste generated or disposed of.

But NEA supports SEC's efforts to raise awareness of the trade-offs of plastic use, "and will explore how we can support its campaigns to effect positive change", the spokesman added.

* E-waste a bigger problem than plastic waste, says Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli
Toxicity of e-waste underestimated; solution to plastic use not levy, but reducing demand
By Jose Hong, The Straits Times, 3 Aug 2018

While there is plenty of focus on plastic waste, the more pressing issue facing Singapore is electronic waste, Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli said yesterday.

"E-waste is very toxic, people underestimate the toxicity of the e-waste that we dispose, and for the longest time, we weren't processing it," he said.

Plastics, on the other hand, were being collected properly and then incinerated, the minister said. "And we scrub all the toxic dioxins when we incinerate," he added, explaining that dioxins, which are highly pollutive chemicals that are released into the air by burning, are removed during the process.

He was responding to chief executive of real estate firm CBRE Pauline Goh during an on-stage discussion at the annual Singapore Green Building Council Leadership Conversations meeting.

This week, the Singapore Environment Council revealed that Singapore used at least 1.76 billion pieces of plastic a year, the majority of which is made up of bags from supermarkets. Referring to this figure, Ms Goh said: "Singapore's recycling efforts have yielded very limited results. For example, only 2 per cent of the 820 million plastic bags taken yearly from supermarkets is recycled by consumers. How do we ensure that our efforts go a longer way?"

Mr Masagos replied: "When you try to do everything, you will end up doing nothing, so do the most important things first - and right now, we are tackling e-waste."

He talked about the extended producer responsibility law, due to take effect by 2021, that would force producers of electrical and electronic equipment here to ensure their products are collected and recycled or disposed of at the end of their lifespans.

He also said that the authorities were focusing on tackling packaging waste. Last month, he announced that companies in Singapore would have to report on the packaging used in their products in 2021, a year earlier than the previous deadline.

Mr Masagos said that the issue with plastic waste here was not about improper disposal, which affects the waterways and seas, but about reducing the demand.

He said imposing a levy and fine for using plastic bags was not the solution, and said that it was everybody's responsibility to deal with the issue of plastic waste. "If you want me to charge for plastic bags, I can. But I don't think that is how we want to be as a society," he said.

He called instead for a revolution in how Singapore society addressed plastic waste, with everyone working together instead of waiting for someone else to take action.

Mr Masagos also recalled that plastic bags solved a problem the Republic used to face in the 1970s.

"Back when we didn't bag our trash, we just threw food into our rubbish chutes and caused pests to come, and at the same time it would corrode the linings of chutes, and we had to repair them so often. This problem got mitigated when we started bagging our trash."

He said: "The issue is to make sure we don't take more bags than we need, don't use more bags than we can, and dispose of them properly. And at the same time, how do we reduce our trash so that we don't have to bag more of it?"

"If we reduce our trash, we reduce our bags," the minister added.

** How Singapore is tackling plastic bag problem

We thank Mr Eddie Lee Wai Seng for his letter (Focus on plastic waste too; Aug 10).

The Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources and the National Environment Agency (NEA) adopt various strategies to reduce waste generation and encourage recycling.

Our efforts focus on three waste streams - food waste, e-waste and packaging waste, which includes single-use plastics.

There have been calls for a plastic bag charge or even a total ban on single-use plastic bags in Singapore. But our view is that encouraging households to use fewer plastic bags is more practical.

Many households reuse plastic bags to dispose of their household refuse in a hygienic manner.

Household refuse in Singapore, including plastic bags, is incinerated rather than landfilled directly. This averts many environmental problems associated with plastic bags, such as marine litter or landfill pollution.

A recent NEA life-cycle assessment study found that alternatives to plastic bags, which include paper bags and biodegradable bags, also have negative environmental impacts.

For example, the production of such bags may consume more water or result in deforestation.

Substituting plastics with these alternatives may not lead to better environmental outcomes.

Our approach is therefore focused on reducing the overall use of single-use plastics and packaging.

We are studying regulatory measures to minimise plastic waste from the onset, and recently announced that the implementation of mandatory reporting of packaging data and reduction plans will be brought forward to 2020.

We are also working with manufacturers to see how single-use packaging and plastics can be reduced.

Individuals can also make a positive difference by consciously choosing to use fewer plastic bags, using reusables instead of disposables, recycling plastic waste, and choosing products with reduced packaging.

We welcome ideas from passionate individuals like Mr Lee on how we can further encourage businesses and consumers to reduce, reuse and recycle.

Ng Chun Pin
Director, Environmental Policy Division
Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources
ST Forum, 16 Aug 2018

*** Seven in 10 Singaporeans unaware of which plastics can be recycled: Singapore Environment Council report
Inconvenience and ignorance key obstacles to recycling
Environment Council spells out six proposals to boost Singapore's plastic recycling rate
By Adrian Lim, The Straits Times, 31 Aug 2018

Non-polystyrene takeaway containers can be recycled after being emptied and rinsed, but styrofoam ones should not be thrown into the blue recycling bins in Singapore.

However, most Singaporeans are not fully aware of such guidelines and which kinds of plastics can and cannot be recycled. This lack of knowledge is why the bulk of plastic products are disposed of as general waste, a report by the Singapore Environment Council (SEC) shows.

The Consumer Plastic and Plastic Resource Ecosystem in Singapore report, released yesterday at the SEC Annual Conference, showed four in 10 cited inconvenience as a reason for not recycling. This is in addition to seven in 10 who indicated they did not fully understand what plastics to recycle. About 20 per cent said they were not aware of the location of the nearest recycling bins.

To tackle the issues, SEC, a non-governmental organisation, has spelt out six recommendations to boost Singapore's plastic recycling rate, which is only at 6 per cent, poorer than for other materials like paper and cardboard, at 50 per cent.

They include giving firms that specialise in recycling technology the opportunity to operate in Singapore.

The council also suggested that public-sector and non-governmental organisations partner major packaging-waste industries, such as food and beverage, to reduce the use of plastic packaging. Another recommendation is to build a market for recycled plastic through innovation, like using recycled plastic to support manufacturing segments such as the electronics sectors. Council executive director Jen Teo said: "In Singapore, our plastic eco-system is mostly linear, which means that plastic goes from producers to consumers, to the waste bin. This places a strain on our waste management systems as well as uses up an enormous amount of natural resources."

For the report commissioned jointly with Deloitte & Touche Enterprise Risk Services, 1,003 people were surveyed from December to May. Despite the lack of awareness on which plastics can be recycled, 45 per cent wanted to learn more.

Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli said the council's efforts to fight plastic waste, and its call for individuals to use one less plastic item a day, are commendable, and he hopes the public will rise to the challenge.

Mr Emmanual Tay, who runs Eco Innovative, which helps clients monitor and analyse their waste data, said that when recyclable plastic is contaminated by food waste, it is hard to recycle. Recyclable plastic is usually collected, baled and sent overseas, which takes weeks. But if it is contaminated, there may be decomposition and health issues.

During the SEC Annual Conference held at the One Farrer Hotel and Spa, 14 firms and organisations were recognised for their sustainable business practices, as part of the 21st annual Singapore Environmental Achievement Awards.

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