How Singapore’s Private Sector Is Pursuing a Zero Waste Future
The country's only landfill site is set to reach capacity in 2035.
Singapore’s Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources (MEWR) has designated 2019 as the "Year towards Zero Waste" to increase awareness around waste reduction and promote the 3 Rs (Reduce, Reuse and Recycle).
For Singapore, economic growth and environmental sustainability have generally gone hand-in-hand. As a resource-scarce island, the country has been conscious of its constraints in terms of energy, water, and waste management. But the country's resource limits have come into sharp focus in recent years.
According to present projections, the country’s Semakau Landfill, its only waste disposal site, will reach full capacity by 2035. Located approximately 8 kilometres from Singapore, the landfill has been plagued by a rise in the national consumption of disposable goods.
In 2018 alone, over 7.70 million tonnes of solid waste was generated in Singapore and while domestic recycling increased by 1% between 2017 and 2018, there was a drop in recycling by non-domestic parties from 76% to 74%. An estimated 1.76 billion plastic items are used in the country annually and less than 20% of this plastic is recycled.
As trash piles up, citizens are increasingly looking to the private sector to fix the problem.
In 2018, a report released by YouGov found that 88% of Singaporeans believed that businesses had a fundamental responsibility to “do social good” and 53% said that businesses should prevent environmental harm through more responsible supply chains. Moreover, out of every 10 Singaporeans, more than four said that businesses should be charitable and contribute to community upskilling practices.
If Singapore wants to achieve a zero waste future, the business community has to step up to the plate. In addition to increasing the availability of recycling facilities and changing behavioral perceptions around recycling, Singapore can begin incentivizing businesses to improve their approach to waste management.
Through adapting innovative services like New York-based Loop, an e-commerce platform seeking to “leverage the sustainable, circular milkman model of yesterday,” Singaporean companies can allow their consumers to choose more environmentally-friendly products. By providing reusable containers made of glass and steel, which require a small but refundable financial investment by the everyday consumer, Loop allows businesses to use more eco-friendly packaging.
Additionally, companies can spur innovation in other areas of sustainability. For example, companies can invest in efforts to better manage e-waste, a growing environmental concern. Singapore produces 60,000 tons of e-waste annually with only 6% being recycled. Companies that generate e-waste have an opportunity to design products that are easier to recover and recycle while not relying on toxic chemicals.
A new policy rolled out by the Government of Singapore will allow for experts to re-think how e-waste is managed. Inspired by countries like South Korea, this new e-waste management system, following an Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) approach, will require any manufacturer of electrical and electronic equipment to also manage the collection, transport, and treatment of their products, as overseen by a Producer Responsibility Organization (PRO). More so, while this policy will generate increased employment and economic growth prospects for larger business actors, there is also a strong emphasis on ensuring that micro-level industry contributors such as waste collectors are supported.
Through a more cohesive and regulatory waste discussion, Singapore’s business community can play a better role in shaping how the country transitions from a linear to a circular economy, one in which sustainability across business becomes the norm rather than the exception.