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What is Singapore’s Zero Waste Masterplan?

I came across Singapore’s Zero Waste Masterplan. The amount, scope and depth of information are a little overwhelming. This blog post will attempt to summarize the main points covered in the masterplan. I will also supplement information from other sources to help appreciate the masterplan.

Where Does Our Trash End Up?

First, we need to understand where does our trash end up to.

Where does our trash end up singapore

Trash Production And Collection

Recyclables

  • Recyclables are sent to material recovery facilities.
  • They are further sorted into different materials like plastics, metals and paper.
  • After sorting, they are baled and sent to local or overseas recycling plants to be made into something useful.

Non-Recyclables

  • They are sorted into incinerable and non-incinerable waste.

 Incinerable Waste

  • They are sent to Waste-To-Energy incineration plants.
  • Incineration reduces waste volume by 90%. Energy, ferrous metals and ash are the results of this process.
  • Incineration produces approximately 1.26 million MWH (2015) a year. This powers about 297,000 4-room flats for a year.
  • Ferrous metals are separated and recycled.
  • Ash is sent to Semakau Landfill.

Non-Incinerable Waste

  • Non-incinerable waste and the ash from incineration are sent to Semakau Landfill.

Semakau Landfill

  • Non-incinerable waste and ash are emptied into cells.
  • The cells are covered when they are full.

Singapore semakau landfill map

Source: Medium

Is Zero Waste Ever Possible?

All processes cannot be 100% efficient. There will be some leaks in energy or waste during every step of the processes. Although there can never be Zero Waste, we should not be pedantic. Instead, we should treat Zero Waste as an ideal and aim to move towards it. It is more important to see the concept behind Zero Waste and reduce unnecessary waste.

Singapore’s Zero Waste Masterplan

The Zero Waste Masterplan published in 2019 maps out Singapore’s key strategies to build a sustainable, resource-efficient and climate-resilient nation.

This includes

  • adopting a circular economy approach to waste and resource management practices
  • shifting towards more sustainable production and consumption.

What Is A Circular Economy Approach?

A circular economy is an alternative to a traditional linear economy (take, make, waste). It seeks to reduce waste, recovers resources at the end of a product’s life, and channels them back into production, thus significantly reducing pressure on the environment.

Linear Circular Economy

Source: Towards Zero Waste

Why Is A Circular Economy Approach Important?

A more circular economy will

  • reduce waste and drive greater resource productivity
  • deliver a more competitive economy due to higher efficiencies
  • position Singapore to better address emerging resource security/scarcity issues in the future
  • foster new technologies and industries that transform Singapore into a circular economy
  • reduce the environmental impacts of the economy globally

We will need to rethink and redesign processes to maximize efficiency and minimize wastage.

Every inefficient process results in a leak of resources that does not go into the next process and goes to waste. The higher up the production cycle that we can plug the leaks, the less waste we will produce.

Circular Economy Closed Loop Resources

Source: Zero Waste Masterplan Brochure

Some ways we can move towards zero waste are

  • Reducing unnecessary consumption
  • Making products last longer
  • Enforcing right-to-repair
  • Repurposing end-of-life products

Why Do We Need A Zero Waste Masterplan?

1) #SaveSemakau

Singapore’s increasing consumption levels increasing the waste produced 7 times over almost 50 decades. This puts a heavy strain on our waste management resources.

Singapore’s only landfill, Semakau Landfill, is projected to run out of space by 2035. It is due to the increasing speed of waste disposed of in Singapore. Singapore has limited land for new incineration plants or landfills. Such methods of dealing with waste are also not ec0-friendly.

Singapore plans to build three “Resiliences” to prepare for the climate changing and resource-scarce future.

2) Climate Resilience

We need to address the existential threats of climate change. Rising sea levels directly threaten our island’s existence as Singapore is a low-lying island.

Effects of Climate Change

Climate Change In Singapore

Source: National Climate Change Secretariat

As a low-lying island-state, climate change threatens Singapore’s way of life and existence.

3) Resource Resilience

We will need to ensure a safe and secure supply of critical resources like food and water. We are still heavily dependent on the import of food and water from outside Singapore.

Our planet’s limited resources are increasingly strained by

All these also contribute to more waste.

4) Economic Resilience

We will need to overcome carbon and resource constraints ensures that the future Singapore economy remains competitive.

Rethinking and redesigning how we do things will let us get the most out of the resources we have. The higher our efficiencies, we will be able to bring down the resources needed. This will allow Singapore to become more competitive on the global stage.

Closing Three Resource Loops

The masterplan will focus on the three large waste streams with a low recycling rate.

1) Electrical And Electronic Equipment

60,000 tonnes of e-waste is created annually.

Singapore will put in place the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) framework. This will make companies dealing with EEE to be responsible for the end-of-life treatment of their products. They will need to make sure that licensed companies collect and recycle their products.

Penalties for breaching the framework would include fines and revocation of their licenses.

2) Food Waste

744,000 tonnes of food waste is created annually.

Here are some ways we can achieve sustainable consumption of food

Prevent and reduce wastage at source

Consumers adopting smart food purchases, storage and preparation habits can help save money while reducing food wastage at the source.

Redistribute excess food

NEA encourages both organizations and members of the public to donate their unsold and excess food to food distribution organizations.

Donate edible excess food that is still safe at food distribution organizations here.

On-site food waste treatment systems

Food waste is converted into different usable resources at hawker centres.

Off-site waste treatment

generating electricity from used water and food waste

Source: Towards Zero Waste

Food waste and sludge water are used to generate electricity at Tuas Nexus.

3) Packaging

Encouraging Sustainable Consumption Of Packaging

Under the Singapore Packaging Agreement and Zero Waste SG’s Bring Your Own campaign has reduced tonnes of waste and packaging costs.

Encouraging Sustainable Production Of Packaging

From 2020 onward, under the Resource Sustainability Act, producers of packaged products and supermarkets with an annual turnover of more than $10 million will have to report packaging data and submit 3R (reduce, reuse and recycle) plans for packaging.

Singapore aims to have a framework for managing packaging waste and plastics by 2025.

What Do We Need To Do?

Singapore plans to tackle the waste problem using a multi-pronged approach.

1) Sustainable Production

We need to focus upstream towards the source. Companies have to better manage their resources and reduce waste starting from the production stage.

Sustainable Design

Products and packaging have to be designed with their end-of-life and packaging waste in mind. The ideal would be a durable product that is easily repairable and recyclable with minimal recyclable packaging.

Resource Efficiency

Companies should audit their processes to identify waste reduction and efficiency improvement opportunities.

Industrial Symbiosis

Processes in a company can make use of the waste output from another company. This helps to reduce costs and waste.

2) Sustainable Consumption

Our consumption habits are far from ideal. We often

  • Over-purchase during meals and grocery shopping
  • Buy items on impulse that we hardly used
  • change our smartphones and electronic products frequently and unnecessarily

We can do the following to consume sustainably

  • Purchase based on needs and not on impulse
  • Use till end of life and repair if possible
  • Donate if you no longer need the product
  • Choose products that are more environmentally friendly

3) Sustainable Waste & Resource Management

We will need to manage the waste products efficiently after optimizing the upstream of the production cycle.

Optimizing Infrastructure For Maximum Resource Recovery

The Pilot Mechanical Biological Treatment Facility will efficiently recover recyclables and convert waste into fuel.

Also, the conversion of ash into NEWsand to use in non-structural applications.

4) Transforming The Environmental Services Industry

Singapore will focus on four main areas to transform the environmental services industry

  • Technology and innovation to increase efficiency and less waste while utilizing less manpower and other resources.
  • Creating jobs and upskilling workers to prepare them to make use of new technology.
  • Raising land productivity per area to optimize land use
  • Collaboration with international partners to gain know-how and develop capabilities

5) Shaping a greener future with science and technology

Programs like the Closing the Waste Loop R&D initiative and Waste-To-Energy R&D Program provides resources to explore new ways and technologies to create more sustainable solutions for the future.

6) Working Together Locally And Across Borders

The Singapore government has worked with multiple stakeholders to co-create solutions for a sustainable Singapore.

Co-creating solutions with the community

Source: Zero Waste Masterplan Brochure

Targets To Hit

zero waste targets

Source: Zero Waste Masterplan Brochure

  • Extend Semakau Landfill’s lifespan beyond 2035
  • By 2030, reduce the amount of waste sent to Semakau Landfill per capita per day by 30%
  • By 2030, achieve a 70% overall recycling rate
    • 81% non-domestic recycling rate
    • 30% domestic recycling rate

TL;DR

We estimated that our only landfill is to be full in 2035. There is not much time left. Climate change especially affects Singapore as we are a low-lying island. The Singapore government has come up with a Zero Waste Masterplan to extend the lifespan of our landfill and to build a sustainable, resource-efficient and climate-resilient nation. The move towards zero waste is a direction in the right way. It creates many opportunities that individuals and corporations make use of. Corporations and individuals both have a part to play to make sure we can achieve the targets.

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