MP He Ting Ru
MP Dennis Tan
MP Pritam Singh

Mr Dennis Tan Lip Fong asked the Minister for Sustainability and the Environment (a) what are the mechanisms for overseeing recycling programmes by state agencies and vendors to ensure that recycling is completed as promised; and (b) whether there will be a review to strengthen the system in light of news reports on issues with implementing such a programme.

Ms He Ting Ru asked the Minister for Sustainability and the Environment how does the Ministry overcome challenges that may prevent more regular and public reporting on the efficiency and effectiveness of sustainability programmes that it implements through third party vendors.

The Senior Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Sustainability and the Environment (Mr Baey Yam Keng) (for the Minister for Sustainability and the Environment): Mr Speaker, may I have your permission to take Question Nos 8, 9, 10 and Question No 10 for Written Answer on today’s Order Paper for a combined reply? 

Mr Speaker: Please proceed.

Mr Baey Yam Keng: Thank you. Mr Speaker, Singapore’s recycling landscape includes both national programmes led by the National Environment Agency (NEA) and non-governmental programmes led by corporations and community organisations.

Under the National Recycling Programme, Public Waste Collectors licensed by NEA are required to send collected recyclables to licensed Materials Recovery Facilities for sorting, processing and recycling. Recycling facilities are licensed by NEA and must meet requirements, such as ensuring that their operations do not endanger public health, only receiving and processing the waste stream approved in its licence and submitting records to NEA on the amount of waste received and processed.

Under the Extended Producer Responsibility scheme for e-waste, NEA requires the scheme operator to send the collected e-waste for proper treatment at licensed e-waste recycling facilities. The recyclers contracted by the scheme operator are not allowed to transfer e-waste collected under the scheme overseas unless they are able to demonstrate that the foreign recycler is able to treat the e-waste to a similar or better standard. They must also submit regular reports to NEA on the amount of e-waste received and processed.

Under the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal, which Singapore is a party to, it is illegal to export hazardous and other wastes as defined by the Basel Convention, without Prior Informed Consent from the state of import or transit. Relevant permits are also required from NEA under the Hazardous Waste (Control of Export, Import and Transit) Act.

For the export of recyclables that are not covered by the Basel Convention, such as sorted streams of ferrous, non-ferrous metals and textiles, companies would have to adhere to the relevant domestic regulations of the importing countries. The companies would also have to be accountable to the organisers of the recycling programme and the donors of the recyclables, based on contractual agreements and conditions that were agreed upon.

All segments of society have a part to play in recycling right to achieve our vision of a Zero Waste nation. We need to strike a balance between ensuring appropriate levels of regulation and governance, and not imposing overly onerous requirements which would inadvertently discourage voluntary recycling initiatives.

My Ministry and NEA will continue to monitor our recycling landscape and strengthen our processes as necessary.

Mr Speaker: Mr Dennis Tan.

Mr Dennis Tan Lip Fong (Hougang): I thank the Minister of MCCY and Senior Parliamentary Secretary Baey for their answers. One supplementary question for the Minister. The Minister mentioned that there will be regular checks conducted on the premises. Can I just ask how regular will these checks be?

And I have two supplementary questions for Senior Parliamentary Secretary Baey. One, can the Government encourage more private sector participation to recycle items like sports shoes, like in this case, so that we can minimise the volume of shoes actually being thrown away and being incinerated or in the case of being disposed of overseas, being dumped in landfills? Number two, will the Government consider giving more incentives to companies to attract them to take part in such recycling programmes?

The Minister for Culture, Community and Youth (Mr Edwin Tong Chun Fai): On how regular such checks should be made, I am not going to be able to tell Mr Tan with accuracy as to how much time, how many days or how many weeks and so on. But you got to leave some discretion to the project partners and if Mr Tan heard my answer earlier, Yok Impex was actually a subcontractor engaged by one of the partners. It is not an entity that SportSG deals directly with.

At the same time, the degree of regularity should also depend on the extent to which the number of shoes collected and aggregated at the various centres reach a certain level that makes commercial sense for the partners to then go and collect it.

So, I would say we leave the precise engineering of the timetable to the partners to deal with, but I would like to assure Mr Tan that one of the learning points from this is precisely to conduct these checks often also unannounced, so that there will be not just a check itself but the whole framework and a system, to deter activities that do not comply with the contractual scope of the obligations.

Mr Baey Yam Keng: As part of our Zero Waste Nation vision, we like to encourage all consumers and users to reduce, reuse and recycle. So, we do welcome companies or non-governmental organisations to promote to every one of us to do more of reducing, reusing and recycling.

So, that is why NEA looks at supporting local capabilities, for example, in recycling. Grants are provided for facilities to build our capabilities, like in this case, we supported BT Sports, one of the project’s partners, in building the facility to convert the sport shoes into granules for use in rubber flooring.

On top of that, we also have funds like the SG Eco Fund that will provide financial resources for both corporate as well as community organisations to promote environmental sustainability and the likes of rubber shoe recycling would certainly be something we would be happy to support. Corporations and organisations are welcome to apply or talk to NEA and the Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment (MSE) about their interest, and we can see how we can facilitate that.

Mr Speaker: Mr Pritam Singh.

Mr Pritam Singh (Aljunied): Thank you, Mr Speaker. My question is directed at Minister. This is pertaining to the Reuters report, which I think, really, was addressing the prospect of greenwashing, at least the concern of greenwashing.

I do not really have any objection to the principles behind why this initiative was carried out by Sport Singapore. I think sustainability initiatives ought to be encouraged. But my question pertains to whether Sport Singapore or MCCY made an assessment as to the conversion of sports shoes into rubber granules as being more green or more environmentally sustainable than the existing method which, as I understand also, uses this recycled tyres, for example? So, the question then is, does this initiative move the needle, or is it just a conversion of one recyclable material for another?

Mr Edwin Tong Chun Fai: The short answer is yes, there was such an assessment made. And to take Mr Singh’s comparison, without overly going into technical details, the rubber density of old tyres is quite different from that of the shoes that you see and the extent to which we want a certain density at the running track, on the playgrounds, they rely better and use better the materials from the shoes, rather than old tyres.

Mr Pritam Singh: Thank you, Mr Speaker. My understanding from people in the industry is a lot of these materials are then actually compressed together – tyres are used with rubber soles as well. Because each layer of the surface of a running track is made of different materials. I would not get into the technicalities of it, of course, but I think the principle point remains with regard to ensuring that the method that SportSG adopts is actually more green and sustainable to ensure that programmes like this succeed.

Mr Edwin Tong Chun Fai: I would not get into a debate over the efficacy of which material is best used for playgrounds and sports grounds and so on, but I will ensure that the point that you have raised is fed back to the relevant engineers so that they will study this.

But I will put to Mr Singh this – at the very least, this method does use the shoes as a further source of materials, when the shoes would otherwise be disposed of. So, if nothing else, this facility, the grinding facility, provides an additional avenue for waste material. And I have said earlier in my answer, the number of shoes that are discarded, provides an avenue for these shoes to be reused in public infrastructure facilities.

Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment
20 March 2023

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