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Budget debate: Refund-based recycling of bottles and cans to be legislated by 2022

SINGAPORE – 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 on Thursday (March 4), during the debate over the Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment’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.

The deposit refund scheme legislation is part of Singapore’s push to become a zero-waste nation.

It builds on a recycling initiative introduced in late 2019, where “reverse” vending machines took in empty bottles and cans, and dispensed vouchers such as FairPrice discount coupons and non-monetary rewards.

As at last December, the rewards-based recycling programme saw close to four million beverage containers collected by 50 reverse vending machines islandwide. By the end of this month, Jurong will have five more of such machines.

“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 stressed.

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 and electronic waste (e-waste).

Ms Fu also added 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.

Ms Fu also set out the ways in which Singapore is looking to reduce the amount of waste it produces, and its plans for turning trash into treasure.

This comes after the release of the Singapore Green Plan 2030 announced last month, under which the Republic plans to cut daily waste sent to the landfill by 20 per cent by 2026, and by 30 per cent by 2030.

Waste reduction

Food waste is a challenge for Singapore, which generated 744,000 tonnes of food waste in 2019. Of this, less than one-fifth was recycled.

But the National Environment Agency (NEA) is looking to see how large generators of food waste – such as owners and occupiers of hotels and other large commercial and industrial premises – can be made to measure and report the amount of food waste segregated for treatment.

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This is similar to what companies that produce and sell packaged products must do for packaging waste from 2022. 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 about it in the second quarter of this year.

If implemented, the reporting framework will be part of a raft of measures to compel commercial and industrial premises – which produce around 40 per cent of the country’s food waste each year – to be more conscious about the amount of food waste that they produce, and work to reduce it.

Since the start of this year, under the Resource Sustainability Act, developers of new large commercial and industrial areas must set aside space for on-site food waste treatment systems in their design plans.

Ms Fu also announced on Thursday that NEA and national water agency PUB is planning to co-locate a food waste treatment plant at PUB’s Changi Water Reclamation Plant.

The co-location builds on Tuas Nexus, she added, 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,” said Ms Fu.

“Co-location also 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, she added.

Meanwhile, Tuas Nexus’ food waste treatment facility is expected to be up and running in 2024, while the whole integrated facility will be ready from 2025.

Touching on the excessive consumption of disposables, Ms Fu said the public service is considering measures to reduce the use of disposables, such as single-use plastics, and will be announcing more details later in the year.

This is part of GreenGov.SG, the new initiative where the public sector will take the lead in sustainable efforts.

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Trash to treasure

Building the country’s local recycling capabilities to turn the majority of plastic waste into reusable, higher-value products is one area Singapore is looking into, said Ms Fu.

She noted that more than half of the country’s domestic packaging waste disposed of is plastics.

For one, the NEA is conducting a consultancy study on a pilot plastic recovery facility to raise the efficiency of separating plastic from general waste that can be used as feedstock for chemical recycling.

The study will identify the technologies and equipment needed to recover up to 72,000 tonnes of plastic waste every year.

Plastics are mainly recycled in two ways – mechanical recycling or chemical recycling. Through mechanical recycling, waste plastics will turn into pellets that are used to make new products.

But contaminated plastics such as soiled plastic bags and single-use disposables cannot be mechanically recycled, and can only undergo chemical recycling, which turns them into chemical feedstock or fuel.

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Giving an update on a feasibility study undertaken by NEA and energy company Shell on chemical recycling in Singapore, NEA said in a statement that the study has found that this form of plastic recycling in Singapore is feasible, and can reduce carbon emissions.

With chemical recycling, more plastic waste can escape the incinerators, reducing carbon emissions and closing the plastic waste loop.

Early findings from the study also shows that the plastic polymer types recovered from domestic trash can be turned into higher-value products such as pyrolysis oil or Newoil, which can replace fossil fuels.

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