Educating public, planning infrastructure to sustain Singapore environment

Monica Kotwani Channel NewsAsia 31 May 14;

SINGAPORE: The government's role in charting the next course of an environmentally sustainable Singapore involves educating the public, planning for infrastructure and implementing carefully-studied regulations.

Environment and Water Resources Minister, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan said that at a focus group discussion on Saturday organised as part of a review of the Sustainable Singapore Blueprint.

The Blueprint was unveiled in 2009, and contains strategies on balancing economic growth in an environmentally sustainable manner.

The focus group discussion was attended by some 40 participants, and is the first of five to six focus group discussions that will take place between now and July.

To kick things off, participants from non-government organisations, members of the public as well as the private sector discussed waste reduction.

Some participants spoke about standardising recycling bin colours islandwide.

Others suggested a regulatory body to oversee the packaging of products to cut down wastage -- a move that is both eco-friendly and lowers costs for companies.

Sunny Koh, managing director of Chinatown Food Corporation, said: "When the content is the same, and if the bag size is smaller, you'll save freight costs, you'll save warehousing costs, you'll save delivery costs.

“But on the government's side, they need to do the reaching out. (You need to) reach out to the consumer that in future when you buy a product, don't look at the size of the packaging, look at the content. Smaller bag does not mean less content and bigger bag does not equal to more content."

The discussions are set against the backdrop of relatively low recycling rates in Singapore -- about 61 per cent in Singapore (about 21,500 tonnes a day) and only 20 per cent for households.

Recycling food waste was at an even lower 13 per cent, while the recycling of plastics is only 11 per cent.

Topics such as creating zero waste and segregating household waste were discussed on Saturday.

Participants also discussed getting producers to pay for recycling costs at the end of a product's life cycle, known as Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR).

That concept has been adopted by countries in Europe, as well as Japan and South Korea.

But Dr Balakrishnan said it needs more industry consultation in Singapore.

"I don't think there's a clear consensus here on how formalised we should be on Extended Producer Responsibility.

“Even if we go to EPR, we have to do it in a way that makes business sense that it saves money rather than wastes money -- saves money for producers and saves money for consumers. We need to try and find that formula,” he said.

Dr Balakrishnan added there must also be sufficient regulations to level the playing field in favour of responsible companies.

- CNA/nd