Govt urged to take concrete action over plastic waste

A total of 824,600 tonnes of plastic waste was generated last year, almost 11 per cent of the total amount of solid waste generated, NEA statistics show.
TOH EE MING Today Online 3 Jun 16;

SINGAPORE — Rather than wait for businesses and consumers to go green on their own accord, the authorities should take “bold action” and develop “concrete plans” — such as introduce regulations and targets to phase out plastic disposables over time — to address the mounting pile of plastics thrown away by Singaporeans each year.

In a position paper on single-use plastics issued ahead of World Environment Day — which falls on Sunday — Zero Waste SG, a non-profit group here, said that efforts to reduce plastic waste have not shown encouraging results.

Plastic disposables such as takeaway containers, cups, plates and bowls, and utensils still make up the most common form of waste disposed at incineration plants, followed by food waste and paper, said the report.

A total of 824,600 tonnes of plastic waste was generated last year, almost 11 per cent of the total amount of solid waste generated.

Of this, only 7 per cent was recycled. And these rates have remained “persistently low”, hovering around 7 to 13 per cent, despite a nearly 42 per cent rise in volume of plastic waste from 2003 to 2015, the group said, citing National Environment Agency (NEA) statistics.

“Right now, the approach is still very much left to businesses and consumers to take action … There’s no real commitment or mandatory (guidelines) … But this approach is not really fruitful and we think it’s time to lay down some concrete (policies),” said Mr Eugene Tay, executive director of Zero Waste SG, which submitted its paper to the authorities on Wednesday.

To tackle this problem, the Government could set a quota on plastic disposables used or phase out certain plastics over a certain period, such as over 12 years, or reduce them by 8 per cent every year.

“This would allow companies time to adjust to the new regulations and switch to more green alternatives,” said the group in its report.

The Government could also work with major retailers and F&B companies to implement a “structured incentive scheme”, by rewarding consumers who bring their own reusables with cash discounts or through points.

Other suggestions involve setting up a committee spanning several industry sectors to tackle the problem holistically or providing more guidelines and information to help both companies and consumers decide which green alternatives to opt for.

For instance, it could conduct more research on the various environmental impact and costs, or provide a list of retailers or F&B outlets which offer discounts for using reusable items.

Funding schemes could also be set up for F&B companies or extended to plastic manufacturers and suppliers to allay costs of developing environmentally-friendly alternatives.

In response to queries, the NEA noted that plastic disposables in Singapore are incinerated, and not disposed in landfills.

“There is value in reducing the amount of disposables used in order to conserve resources”, the agency said, adding that it will study Zero Waste SG’s suggestions.

Businesses here that encourage consumers to use less plastic include NTUC FairPrice, which gives a rebate to shoppers who bring their own bags with a minimum purchase of S$10.

Asked about the impact of its Green Rewards scheme, FairPrice said it saw a record 10.1 million plastic bags saved last year.

Since its launch in 2007, it has seen an estimated total of 56.6 million plastic bags saved and S$2.8 million in rebates given out, said a spokesperson.

As for IKEA’s adoption of reusable blue IKEA shopping bags in 2013, IKEA Tampines sustainability manager Marcus Tay said: “IKEA was very pleased to note very little resistance from the shoppers in adopting this practice.”

While most either brought their own bags, went bag-less or carried purchases in their hands, the company also saw a drop from 32 per cent to 18 per cent in its shoppers buying the blue shopping bags from 2013 to 2015, he said.

Since March this year, it has also replaced the disposable takeaway boxes in its restaurants with reusable storage containers, which cost 80 cents or S$1 each.

“So far there has been very little complaints from our customers about the switch,” Mr Tay added.

Zero Waste SG is looking to hold a public forum to discuss the proposals.