ISWA WORLD CONGRESS 2022

Extended Producer Responsibility frameworks embody ‘polluter pays’ principle: Grace Fu

THE Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) policy approach Singapore adopted, which will soon cover more packaging producers, is an extension of the "polluter pays" principle undergirding the introduction of the carbon tax, Minister for Sustainability and the Environment Grace Fu said.

Speaking at the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA) World Congress on Wednesday (Sep 21), she said the government sees it as a priority to "get our economic policies right, to signal that there is a high environmental cost to unsustainable practices".

While "right-pricing" carbon through a carbon tax is key to incentivising investors, businesses and consumers to contribute to efforts to cut emissions, EPR frameworks will make businesses responsible for sustainable end-of-life treatment of their products, she said.

Fu was speaking a day after the National Environment Agency (NEA) proposed a new beverage container return scheme, which is likely to add a small deposit of between S$0.10 and S$0.20 to the price of all pre-packaged drinks in plastic bottles and metal cans between 150 millilitres and 3 litres by mid-2024. 

The public is still being consulted for their views on the scheme, but the NEA had said that the extra cost can be redeemed if customers return their empty bottles and cans for recycling at any of the beverage container return points islandwide.

Elaborating on this scheme on Wednesday, Fu said the scheme is integral to "closing a resource loop". This is because the scheme will aggregate a steady stream of clean and high-quality plastic and metal recyclables by encouraging the return of beverage containers for recycling. These, in turn, can be used to produce new beverage containers, she said. 

The beverage container return scheme is the "first phase" of an EPR scheme the government is developing with respect to packaging waste, she added.

Giving an update on the first EPR scheme rolled out to cover e-waste last July, she said the scheme managed to collect about 6,000 tonnes of e-waste in its first year, which was 5 times the yearly amount collected through voluntary schemes prior to its implementation.

The e-waste, collected by Alba E-waste Smart Recycling - which was appointed as the producer responsibility scheme operator, are recycled locally, at facilities that can recover up to 95 per cent of materials used to make the appliances, she added.

The 6,000 tonne amount is just roughly a tenth of the e-waste load Singapore generates each year, however. When launching the new nationwide e-waste management system last year, NEA had said Singapore generates around 60,000 tonnes of e-waste annually.

Fu made her remarks as Norway's Circular Packaging Cluster chief executive officer Ola Roness, another conference speaker, decried the lack of incentives and consequences as one of the key challenges preventing the packaging sector from embracing circularity.

"We know what basically to do, but the incentives for making right, circular, sustainable choices do not have enough incentives to do that. On the other hand, consequences of making short-term choices are not very harsh," he said.

To solve this, stronger regulations have to be in place, he said. There is also a need to invest in knowledge so that those who design packaging understand the value of total circularity, he added.

While governments must set the stage for a green economy to flourish, Fu said businesses must relook their operating models to incorporate sustainable practices as well.

Stressing that the waste and resource management sector must decarbonise itself, she said this will entail investments in research and development, and the pursuit of new technologies and processes.

Carbon capture, for one thing, can be a needle-mover in decarbonising waste incineration, she said, as she noted that Keppel Seghers recently signed a memorandum of understanding with NEA to study the feasibility of carbon capture at Singapore's waste-to-energy plants.

The feasibility study will explore opportunities to close the carbon cycle loop through offtake and sequestration of the carbon captured from the plants, she added.

Fu said businesses should also "systematically" look for opportunities to decarbonise the whole waste value chain. 

To do so, the 3 appointed public waste collectors here - 800 Super Waste Management, Alba W&H Smart City, and Sembwaste - are leveraging technology and innovative solutions, she highlighted. 

This includes replacing mobile refuse compactors with stationary ones. This lets the same truck consolidate waste from multiple locations on a single trip, thereby reducing the overall number of trips to the incineration plant, she said.

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