Even though they operate in the consumer market, a number of shops and eateries worldwide are making it a point to draw attention to the need to reduce waste.
For instance, in February, supermarket chain Ekoplaza introduced a plastic-free aisle in a store in Amsterdam in the Netherlands where all items displayed are free from plastic in their packaging.
In 2016, a Danish organisation opened WeFood, a supermarket that sells items that are past their “best before” date or have damaged packaging but are still deemed safe to eat. The sale of such items is permitted under Danish law.
Such businesses are part of a global movement known as the “zero waste” concept.
While “zero waste” may be an impossible target, the philosophy is to minimise or reduce waste as much as possible. Viewed from the lens of the 3Rs – reduce, reuse, recycle – the movement focuses on the front end of how to deal with waste.
As local green group Zero Waste Singapore states on its website: “The sequence is important, as source reduction is usually the best way to minimise waste while recycling still has some impact on the environment and should be done last.”
The “zero waste” term has been used by governments and environmental groups in setting targets and in calling for action to deal with the world’s waste problem.
Based on United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) figures, an estimated 11.2 billion tonnes of solid waste is collected worldwide each year. The decaying organic elements in the solid waste are contributing about 5 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.
Waste covers a number of categories but some types, such as plastic waste, food waste and e-waste, are of particular concern.
Consider these global numbers:
- The UNEP has said that eight million tonnes of plastic, which could include bottles, packaging and other waste, is dumped into the ocean every year, killing marine life and entering the human food chain.
- The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation said nearly 1.3 billion tonnes of food is wasted every year, more than enough to sustain the one billion people suffering from hunger globally.
- The amount of e-waste, or electrical and electronic equipment that was thrown away, hit 44.7 million tonnes in 2016, said the Global E-waste Monitor 2017, a report produced by the United Nations University, the International Telecommunication Union and the International Solid Waste Association. It is a waste of resources.
HOW COUNTRIES ARE ACTING
In response to burgeoning waste and its negative effects, governments have set goals or action plans to cut waste. For instance, many of them have specifically targeted plastic waste, which is non-biodegradable.
In January, British Prime Minister Theresa May called for supermarkets to have plastic-free aisles, where items are not sold in plastic packaging, and other measures in a speech outlining a 25-year environmental plan.
That same month, the European Union, which has 28 member states, rolled out a plan to make all plastic on the European market recyclable by 2030.
In Asia, officials in Taiwan – a place known for takeaway bubble tea and street snacks – said in February that the island was planning a blanket ban on single-use plastic items including straws, cups and shopping bags by 2030.
Already, more than 40 countries, including China and Rwanda, have fully or partially banned, or taxed single-use plastic bags.
However, Singapore is not taking that approach. A 2011 study by the Singapore Environment Council found that three billion plastic bags were used here that year. There have not been further studies but the number has likely gone up over the years.
Dr Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources, noted last month during the debate on her ministry’s budget that plastic bags are necessary for responsible and hygienic bagging of waste in Singapore’s moist, tropical climate.
She said: “In Singapore, a more sustainable approach is to tackle the excessive consumption of all types of disposables.”
By 2021, businesses will have to report on the type and amount of packaging and their plans for reduction.
Singapore produced about 557,000 tonnes of packaging waste last year, an amount that is the equivalent of filling up more than 1,000 Olympic-size swimming pools.
Currently, one of the measures to address packaging waste here is the voluntary Singapore Packaging Agreement, which started in 2007 and is now in its second iteration. It was signed by various companies, industry associations, non-governmental organisations, the Waste Management and Recycling Association of Singapore, public waste collectors and the National Environment Agency. As of June 28 last year, there were 199 signatories that had collectively cut 39,000 tonnes of packaging waste.
Singapore has also been trying to tackle food waste and e-waste.
Figures from the National Environment Agency show that the amount of food waste generated here has increased by about 40 per cent over the last 10 years. It hit 809,800 tonnes of food waste last year.
In terms of e-waste, Singapore generates about 60,000 tonnes a year. To address that, the Government is taking the cue from countries with e-waste legislation such as Sweden, which uses the Extended Producer Responsibility approach. It makes producers responsible for collection, reuse and recycling of their products. In this way, half of Sweden’s e-waste is reused or recycled.
Beyond government action and legislation, ground-up efforts by individuals or green groups towards a “zero waste” lifestyle or culture have also sprung up worldwide, including in Singapore.
Here, there is the Bring Your Own initiative, where customers receive discounts, rebates or incentives if they take along their own bag or container in lieu of using disposable ones from the shops.
And then there is the global “Zero Waste” challenge. All you need to do is to reduce waste to the extent that trash generated in a year can fit within a glass jar.
Giving recycling efforts a boost
Latest figures from the National Environment Agency show that Singapore last year generated 7.7 million tonnes of solid waste, down slightly from the 7.81 million tonnes in 2016.
However, the overall recycling rate remained at 61 per cent. Both the non-domestic and domestic recycling rates also remained at 76 per cent and 21 per cent respectively.
Domestic recycling generally refers to recycling waste produced by households and trade premises, while non-domestic recycling generally refers to recycling waste produced by industries and corporations.
The Republic lists “Towards a zero-waste nation” as one of the five broad areas under the Sustainable Singapore Blueprint 2015, which contains a series of environmental goals to be met by 2030.
To address the issue of waste, the recycling goals are: to hit a national recycling rate of 70 per cent, a domestic recycling rate of 30 per cent, and a non-domestic recycling rate of 81 per cent.
NATIONAL RECYCLING PROGRAMME
Singapore’s National Recycling Programme was launched in 2001 to carry out fortnightly collections of recyclables from Housing Board blocks and landed homes.
In 2009, this was extended to cover all households when condominiums were required by law to provide recycling receptacles within their estate grounds.
From 2011 to 2014, standardised blue recycling bins – labelled with information on what can and cannot be recycled – were introduced.
All HDB blocks and landed homes are now provided with a recycling bin each, with more frequent collections. And since 2014, all new public housing developments launched have been fitted with dual chutes for refuse and recyclables.
From April 1 this year, dual chutes will be extended to new non-landed private residential developments taller than four storeys.
From Aug 1, all existing condominiums will also have to provide one recycling bin per block.
Currently, public waste collectors also carry out Cash For Trash collections where residents can exchange recyclable items for cash.
WHERE WASTE GOES
In Singapore, most waste is incinerated, except for those forms that cannot be burnt because they would cause too much pollution to the environment or damage to the incineration plant. The non-incinerable waste, as well as the ash from the incinerable waste, would then be transported to Singapore’s only landfill on Pulau Semakau.
Opened in 1999, the landfill was expected to last until 2045, but projections based on Singapore’s current rates of disposal show that it may now last only until 2035.
Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Permission required for reproduction
Date of publication: MONDAY, APRIL2,2018 | Page A16