Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources: Committee of Supply 2018 – Cuts by WP MPs and NCMPs

(Delivered in Parliament on 6 March 2018)

Climate Change and Coastal Areas – Leon Perera
As a low-lying nation, Singapore is particularly susceptible to the effects of anthropogenic climate change, chief amongst which is sea level rise.

BCA commenced the Coastal Adaptation Study in 2013 and this was slated for completion in end-2017 but has since been pushed to the second half of 2018.

It is important to consider the impact of rising sea levels on not only beaches and seawall but also, (i) intertidal coral reef zones, (i) sand and mudflats, and (iii) mangroves. These zones are not only biodiverse, but also provide ecosystem services such as buffering from sea level rise. Can the Minister confirm whether the Study is looking into protecting these parts of our coast from sea level rise which are, themselves, sensitive to sea level rise?

In view of the fact that Singapore is not merely an island-nation, but is also a nation of islands, is the Study looking into coastal protection measures on our offshore islands such as Pulau Tekong, Pulau Ubin and the Southern Islands? Are soft-engineering approaches such as planting coastal vegetation where they currently do not exist being studied?

According to the 2nd National Climate Change Study, models reveal that by 2100, monthly rainfall totals during the Northeast Monsoon may increase, at worst, by 42.9% under the Representative Concentration Pathway or RCP4.5 scenario and by 67.5% under RCP8.5. Given that rainfall is a major hydrological input, is the Government taking these projections into account in its plans to mitigate floods in coastal areas?


Water Pricing and Policy – Pritam Singh
Chairman, the old mantra of water scarcity and the danger of the tap being turned off as a result of a breakdown in relations with Malaysia are in need of an upgrade. Circumstances have changed – and the desire of earlier generations of leaders to diversify our sources of water has proved to be a boon many Singaporeans are thankful for. The development of Newater and desalination has contributed to this.

However, the pricing of such purification methods are not totally transparent to members of the public, unlike raw water. While the costs of these new methods of purification can be significant, I believe there is scope to share more details of pricing both upstream and downstream in order to drive home a message of the preciousness of water. I acknowledge that sharing such information with the public requires accounting for the cost of upgrading and building transmission networks while there are other costs such as R&D, amongst others. But that does not mean it cannot be done. Such an approach will give members of the public greater understanding about why water tariffs need to rise and hopefully even moderate in future.

Water consumption trends for households are on a downward trend. I believe there is scope for to lower our per capita domestic water consumption even further than the 140l per person by 2030. PUB’s water closet replacement project for flats built between 1987 and 1992 for residents in small flats on community assistance programs provides a foretaste of the significant opportunities available for a Whole of Government approach to improve water conservation.

While the initiative is provided free of charge, can we not look at extending such initiatives when major HDB upgrading exercises such as HIP are carried out in view of the scale of benefits that can be achieved potentially resulting in lower water consumption? A significant number of upgraded flats where toilets are completely renovated can potentially host a variety of new water saving features.

Separately, can the Ministry consider if there is scope to fine tune or incentivize the Water Efficiency Labelling Scheme (WELS) with a view to nudge consumers to choose appliances with the highest number of ticks. Mr Chair, if every drop is precious, can more be done to alter consumption patterns? The opportunity provided by HDB upgrading may be a very useful entry point.


Water Conservation and Water Pressure – Png Eng Huat
Sir, low water pressure is one of issues I encountered in my estate visits. One resident shared that her family members have to take turn to shower despite having 2 bathrooms in the flat. She said when one bathroom is occupied, the other would be unusable due to water pressure.

I filed a PQ in 2015 asking PUB to consider setting a minimum pressure for the supply of water to individual HDB flats. The minister then replied that PUB is reviewing the issue.

Last November, it was reported that PUB had finished the review and concluded that it was not useful to stipulate a minimum pressure requirement across all residential units. It went on to say, “Setting a minimum pressure may result in fixtures not being able to achieve its water conservation objectives”.

Sir, the low water pressure problem only affects units on selected floors with gravity feed water supply. Is the authority saying we are only depending on these residents, who happened to live on those floors, to help achieve its water conservation objectives? The rest of the floors are enjoying adequate water pressure.

Furthermore, setting a minimum water pressure does not mean people will waste water. There is a water valve outside each flat unit which the owner can adjust to control the water pressure to suit the needs of the household.
Last Saturday on Singapore World Water Day, one of the pledges to save water is to take shorter showers. When water pressure is low, you will end up taking a longer shower.

In an answer to my PQ in 2017, the national average water consumption for households for that year was about 11% lower than a decade ago, and about 60% of households consume less water than the national average. These numbers do say a lot that most Singaporeans do play their part to conserve water.

I urge the PUB to review its decision and set a minimum pressure for the supply of water to individual HDB flats, for it is not right to expect selected residential units to be the poster boy for water conservation only.


Microplastics – Leon Perera
Ubiquitous in marine sediments and waters, microplastics have been detected in 4 beaches and in 7 mangrove habitats in Singapore.

They bear potential risks to marine life and human health by transferring persistent organic pollutants (POPs) up food chains, and into marine organisms which we may consume. Some argue that microplastics, themselves, should be considered POPs.

Is the Government studying (i) microplastic prevalence in locally sourced and imported fish, and (ii) the extent to which coastal activities like recreational sports and shipping contribute to microplastic prevalence in coastal areas?


Primary sources include microbeads used in the plastic industry and in care products like toothpastes and exfoliating facial washes. Will the Government consider imposing labelling requirements, or a ban on industrially-produced microbeads as in the US and UK?

What are the Government’s plans to reduce overall plastic consumption given that a secondary source of microplastics is the disintegration of larger plastics?


Reducing and Recycling Plastic Waste – Dennis Tan
2018 has been declared as the year of climate action in Singapore. In 2015, 824,600 tonnes of plastic waste was generated but just 7 percent were recycled – a proportion roughly unchanged since 2001. Plastic waste is the most common type of waste disposed at our incineration plants. It is well known that single-use plastic disposables pose a serious environmental problem.

At present, more than 40 countries tax or limit the use of plastic bags. Evidence shows that even modest policy interventions can have significant impact. In Britain, usage of plastic carrier bags fell by 83 per cent after the introduction of a plastic bag charge.

It may understandably be difficult to do away with plastic bags completely. We still need plastic carrier bags for everyday use like bagging our rubbish. Countries which introduce charges for plastic carrier bags frequently have designated plastic refuse bags which people still have to pay for them.

Taiwan has just announced a blanket ban in single use plastics including straws, cups and shopping bags by 2030. Prior to that, there is a progressive plan to make people pay for plastic products like plastic bags, straws, disposable food containers and disposable utensils in the interim.

The Ministry of Environment and Water Resources has recently carried out a study of the life cycle assessment of single use carrier bags and disposable food packaging. Will the Minister share with the House your findings?

Does the Ministry have any intention to roll out a progressive plan to reduce the use of plastic disposables in Singapore involving either the restriction or the banning of single use plastic carrier bags, straws and disposable cups, containers and utensils?

Has the Ministry studied the recycling viability of biodegradable plastic carrier bags in Singapore and if they are viable, will the Government consider encouraging or requiring the use of biodegradable plastic carrier bags? If so, perhaps the Government can ask NTUC Fairprice to take the lead in using biodegradable plastic carrier bags.


Food Delivery Services – Daniel Goh
Chairman Sir, there have been news reports about a food delivery app war in Singapore with tech companies Deliveroo, UberEats and Foodpanda ramping up their food delivery services here. It was reported in the Straits Times in November 2017 that Deliveroo created jobs for 4,000 riders and planned to create 3,000 more. Deliveroo and Foodpanda are also investing in delivery-only kitchens to create and meet demand. This is good news for the F&B sector and consumers, but there are environmental costs and possible public health risks we need to tackle:

First, on environmental costs. The rapid growth of food delivery services in China had led to a crisis of mounting waste of food boxes, wooden chopsticks and plastic cutlery. The National Environmental Agency’s study of disposable food packaging materials and their environmental impact was supposed to have been concluded in late 2017. Can the Minister share the results and implications of the study? Further, is NEA monitoring the waste produced by the growing food delivery services?

Second, on public health. Currently, NEA regulates food caterers through licensing and publishes guidelines for consumers ordering catered food for events. Catered food must come with a time stamp and delivered in hot boxes and insulated bags to minimize food poisoning risks. Food delivery services are now reaching a similar scale that could adversely affect public food safety. Is the Ministry planning to regulate food delivery services in the same manner as food catering?