Law on refund-based recycling of beverage containers by 2022

Recycling drink bottles and cans will soon be more rewarding, with a scheme that refunds people for their beverage containers set to be made into law next year.

The deposit refund scheme for beverage containers will be legislated by 2022, said Minister for Sustainability and the Environment Grace Fu yesterday during the debate on her ministry’s budget.

In 2023, the scheme will be implemented after a transition period for consumers and industries to adjust, and for designated return points and recycling systems to be set up. It builds on a recycling initiative introduced in late 2019, where “reverse” vending machines take in empty bottles and cans, and dispense vouchers such as FairPrice discount coupons and non-monetary rewards.

As at December last year, the rewards-based recycling programme had seen close to four million beverage containers collected by 50 reverse vending machines islandwide.

“We need a paradigm shift from a linear ‘take-make-throw’ economy to a circular economy where waste is turned into resource and used over and over again,” Ms Fu said.

Packaging waste, including plastics, is one of the priority waste streams in Singapore, making up about a third of domestic waste.

The other two major waste streams that the country wants to tackle are food waste and electronic waste (e-waste).

Ms Fu said that from July this year, there will be more options for people to recycle their e-waste. More places such as shopping malls and community clubs will have e-waste recycling bins.

Under the Singapore Green Plan 2030 announced last month, the Republic plans to cut daily waste sent to the landfill by 20 per cent per capita by 2026, and by 30 per cent per capita by 2030.

The country generated 744,000 tonnes of food waste in 2019. Less than one-fifth of this was recycled.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) is exploring a reporting framework for owners and occupiers of large commercial and industrial premises to measure and report the amount of food waste segregated for treatment.

This is similar to what companies that produce and sell packaged products must do for packaging from next year. Their report should include the amount and types of packaging they use.

More details on the reporting framework will be released after NEA consults the food industry in the second quarter of this year.

Commercial and industrial premises such as large food manufacturers and malls produce around 40 per cent of the country’s food waste each year.

Ms Fu yesterday also announced that NEA and national water agency PUB are planning to co-locate a food waste treatment plant at PUB’s Changi Water Reclamation Plant. This builds on Tuas Nexus, which will consist of two mega facilities – a water reclamation plant and an integrated waste management complex.

“The co-digestion of food waste and used water sludge generates additional biogas, providing more electricity for Changi Water Reclamation Plant,” she said. “Co-location reduces the carbon footprint, as food waste collected in the east can be sent to Changi, instead of to Tuas Nexus in the west.”

NEA expects to embark on the preliminary design study for the food waste treatment facility at Changi Water Reclamation Plant in the first half of this year.

Ms Fu also said the public service is considering measures to reduce the use of disposables like single-use plastics, and will be announcing more details later in the year.

Coastal protection strategies in four areas to be ready by 2030

Singapore will be looking into how to shore up more of its coastline against rising sea levels, with protection strategies in four coastal areas to be completed by 2030.

The four areas are along the City-East Coast stretch, Lim Chu Kang, Sungei Kadut, and around Jurong Island, Minister for Sustainability and the Environment Grace Fu told Parliament yesterday.

“This year, national water agency PUB and (industrial developer) JTC will embark on site-specific studies at the coastlines of City-East Coast and Jurong Island,” she said.

These two areas had earlier been identified as being vulnerable to rising sea levels due to their highly urbanised and industrialised nature.

Potential measures to be examined include sea walls, polders and nature-based solutions like planting mangroves, Ms Fu said.

As for the remaining areas in the north-west – Lim Chu Kang and Sungei Kadut – PUB told The Straits Times that it plans to call for tenders for studies there this year.

The studies, which are expected to commence next year and be completed in 2027, will run con-currently with the studies on Jurong Island and the City-East Coast stretch.

PUB said coastal protection is a massive and long-term undertaking that requires careful planning.

“We are commencing in-depth studies on the different segments of our coastline progressively, prioritising regions based on factors such as the potential impact of a flood event, presence of critical installations and/or high-value economic activities, and the opportunity to dovetail with up-coming developments,” said the PUB spokesman.

The north-western coast, for example, houses a few coastal reservoirs, including Kranji Reservoir, and other assets like the Woodlands Checkpoint.

Moreover, Sungei Kadut is also home to a number of industries – such as timber, furniture, construction and waste management – with plans to develop the area into an agri-tech hub.

The north-western coast, for example, houses a few coastal reservoirs, including Kranji Reservoir, and other assets like the Woodlands Checkpoint. Moreover, Sungei Kadut is also home to a number of industries - such as timber, furniture, construction and waste management - with plans to develop the area into an agri-tech hub.

The accelerating pace of sea-level rise is tied to global warming, which scientists say is caused by human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation.

These activities produce greenhouse gases which are released into the atmosphere, trapping heat on the planet.

As oceans warm, water expands, contributing to sea-level rise.

Rising temperatures are also causing ice sheets to melt, further nudging up sea levels.

Climate change will also lead to erratic rainfall, such as dry spells and bouts of more intense rainfall, which can contribute to flooding.

Ms Fu said PUB will be developing a coastal-inland flood model this year to manage both inland and coastal flooding risks.

PUB will also invest another $1.36 billion on drainage works over the next five years, she said.

Over the past decade, $2 billion has been pumped into such projects. Ten projects will start this year, Ms Fu said, including drainage works at Seletar North Link and Serangoon Avenue 2 and 3.

During the debate, Mr Desmond Tan, Minister of State for Sustainability and the Environment, said Singapore is also doing more on the food security front.

A new $60 million Agri-Food Cluster Transformation Fund will help farmers here better harness technology. This will replace the existing Agriculture Productivity Fund.

“The new fund has been designed with several improvements. It will better cater to farms of different scales and development needs, from start-up to growth and expansion,” said Mr Tan.

“It will also have a higher co-funding quantum and wider scope in support of farms that adopt advanced farming systems which improve productivity and resource efficiency,” he added.

Mr Tan said the Singapore Food Agency under his ministry will also be launching new sea space tenders on leases within the next few years to provide farms with greater certainty on the use of sea spaces.

14 million tonnes of microplastics on seafloor

CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency, has provided the first ever global estimate for microplastics on the seafloor, with results suggesting there are 14 million tonnes in the deep ocean.

This is more than double the amount of plastic pollution estimated to be on the ocean’s surface.

Justine Barrett from CSIRO’s Oceans and Atmosphere who led the study published on 5 Oct 2020 said the research extended our understanding of the amount of plastic pollution in our oceans and the impact of plastic items, both large and small.

“Plastic pollution that ends up in the ocean deteriorates and breaks down, ending up as microplastics,” Ms Barrett said.

“Our research provides the first global estimate of how much microplastic there is on the seafloor.

“Even the deep ocean is susceptible to the plastic pollution problem.

“The results show microplastics are indeed sinking to the ocean floor.”

Millions of tonnes of plastic enter the marine environment annually, and quantities are expected to increase in coming years, despite increased attention on the detrimental impacts of plastic pollution on marine ecosystems, wildlife and human health.

The samples used in this study were collected using a robotic submarine in depths to 3000 metres at sites up to 380 kilometres offshore from South Australia.

The amount of microplastics recorded was 25 times higher than previous deep-sea studies.

Based on the results of deep-sea plastic densities, and scaling up to the size of the ocean, we calculated a global estimate of microplastics on the seafloor.

Dr Denise Hardesty, Principal Research Scientist and co-author, said plastic pollution of the world’s oceans was an internationally recognised environmental issue, with the results indicating the urgent need to generate effective plastic pollution solutions.

“Our research found that the deep ocean is a sink for microplastics,” Dr Hardesty said.

The number of microplastic fragments on the seafloor was generally higher in areas where there was also more floating rubbish.

“We were surprised to observe high microplastic loads in such a remote location.

“By identifying where and how much microplastic there is, we get a better picture of the extent of the problem.

“This will help to inform waste management strategies and create behavioural change and opportunities to stop plastic and other rubbish entering our environment.

“We can all help to reduce plastic ending up in our oceans by avoiding single-use plastics, supporting Australian recycling and waste industries, and disposing of our rubbish thoughtfully so it doesn’t end up in our environment.

“Government, industry and the community need to work together to significantly reduce the amount of litter we see along our beaches and in our oceans.”