Singapore not in a hurry to ban plastic bags, exploring new ways to recycle plastics, says minister

Grace Fu, Minister for Sustainability and the Environment, speaking at an online dialogue on August 12, 2020. — Picture courtesy of Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment via TODAY
Grace Fu, Minister for Sustainability and the Environment, speaking at an online dialogue on August 12, 2020. — Picture courtesy of Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment via TODAY

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SINGAPORE, Aug 13 — A ban on plastic bags is not a move that the government will make “in a hurry,” given that Singapore already incinerates its plastic waste and harvests energy from that process, said Minister for Sustainability and the Environment Grace Fu.

Therefore, unlike other countries that have banned plastic bags, the value of the move to Singapore is “a little bit different,” Fu said yesterday.

She said that the country adopts a pragmatic recycling and waste management approach that factors in the cost on the economy, environment and society. It also rolls out solutions based on scientific evidence.

Ms Fu was responding to questions at an online dialogue on sustainability and plastic recycling hosted by the Singapore-German Chamber of Industry and Commerce.

She was asked for her views on how Singapore can tackle waste collection more sustainably, given the limited space at the Pulau Semakau landfill and the increased emissions caused by incineration.

Fu said that research on plastic recycling has evolved, such that there are new avenues to harness value from recycling plastics. The Government is eager to pursue these proposals.

She cited the example of bottle-to-bottle recycling, where the recycled plastic material still has the same quality as the virgin plastic material after being processed.

This new technology holds more potential than other plastic recycling solutions. 

These include cutting polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles into pellets and transforming them into fuel, which “does not give us a lot of value out of the plastic waste”, Fu said. 

Fu also said that plans are afoot to expand Singapore’s recycling capabilities and reduce its food waste, electronic waste and plastic waste.

“These initiatives will create new jobs in emerging areas, such as engineering, robotics and automation,” she said.

“They will also put local companies in a position to export these solutions.”

Centre of excellence for plastics recycling

At the online event, the Singapore-German Chamber of Industry and Commerce launched a new publication titled Grun Book

It delves into the roll-out of the Extended Producer Responsibility framework, under which producers ensure their products are properly recycled at the end of their life cycles. 

The book also discusses the transformation of waste material into valuables.

Joachim Ihrcke, chairman of the chamber’s sustainability committee, said that the goal is for Singapore to be the regional hub for plastic recycling knowledge.

To achieve this, the chamber hopes to start a Plastics Recycling Association and a Centre of Excellence for Plastics Recycling to enable bottle-to-bottle recycling in Singapore.

It also hopes to get stakeholders, such as small- and medium-sized enterprises in Singapore and Germany, on board.

These companies include “niche players” involved in various aspects of the recycling chain, such as the collection of waste, sorting, bundling, shredding, washing and the final sorting process.

When asked whether the Singapore market for recycled plastics is commercially viable, given the muted demand here, Ihrcke said the chamber’s priority is to establish the recycling plant run by the centre of excellence as a practical example of how PET bottles can be collected and recycled in the region.

“If we find that initially the recycling plant cannot be profitable for the first two or three years, maybe we can find a long-term solution for that (in the future),” he said.

“We live here in Singapore and also have an obligation to contribute towards the solution (of plastic recycling).” — TODAY

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