Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment Committee of Supply 2021 – Cuts by WP MPs and LO

Plastic and Styrofoam Materials – Dennis Tan Lip Fong

Mr Chairman, with Singaporeans increasingly aware of the need to be environmentally conscious, we should bolster our fight against the use of plastics. In the Green Plan, one of the key pillars is Sustainable Living, where policies will be geared towards propelling us into a zero waste nation powered by a circular economy.

Physical recycling is the main channel to reuse plastics but our current recycling rate of only 4% for plastics is poor. To tackle our plastics waste issue, we will therefore also need a reduction of plastic consumption, especially single use plastics.

When we are just focusing solely on recycling, this neglect on reducing our waste is what drives production, which in turn creates carbon footprint. To put matters into perspective, a recent research by researchers from NTU and their colleagues in Finland have shown how single-use plastic bags have a global warming potential 14 times more than a reusable plastic bag.
I understand that a Citizens’ Workgroup on Reducing Excessive Consumption of Disposables was convened, and it called for a fee for each plastic bag if they take three or more of them at supermarkets. I wish to lend my support to this call and ask that the Ministry also study a single-use plastic charge across retailers and F&B outlets, phased in over 5 years, to encourage a reduction in plastic waste and look for alternatives.

Concerns raised on the potential negative effects to lower-income households can be tackled by having a rebate scheme. The authorities can also work with charity groups and non-profit organizations to give out complimentary reusable bags.

I would repeat my call in my budget debate speech last year for mindsets to shift in the way we consume to only use what we need to use. In supermarket or retail shops, can we use more good quality re-usable shopping bags like this, something I have been doing in the past nearly 20 years? If we only need to use say 1 or 2 plastic bags for refuse disposal a day, can we take not more plastic bags than we need? In this way, we may end up using fewer plastic bags and may still have enough bags for our refuse.

Toilet Improvement Programme – Mr Pritam Singh

Mdm Chair, NEA’s newly launched Toilet Improvement Programme extends grants to Town Councils at an amount capped at between $60,000 to $90,000. The grant seeks to raise the hygiene and cleaning standards of public toilets. A corollary aim of the TIP is to encourage the removal of smoking corners. For the grant to be disbursed, Town Councils will have to ensure that renovation works to their toilets, provided they are approved for renovation, are completed by 31 March 2022.

Sir, I seek clarity on the policy reasons behind tying the upgrading of toilets with the removal of smoking corners at hawker centres. While the grant can be tapped upon should a smoking corner not be removed in the hawker centre, the quantum of the grant is quite significantly reduced.

In designing the grant parameters, what impact does the NEA foresee in the event of the removal of smoking corners from hawker centres with existing smoking corners? Specifically, what is the assessment of the displacement effect of smokers from hawker centres out into the community? While I appreciate NEA and the medical advice would lean on the very reasonable hope that some smokers would quit the habit as a result of the removal of smoking corners, there is a greater likelihood, at least in the immediate term of smokers migrating from hawker centres to other areas in the community. This includes smoking in the comfort of their homes potentially leading to more nuisance complaints from their fellow neighbours.

To this end, what is the policy connection between toilet upgrading and removal of smoking corners at hawker centres? Quite simply, the TIP grant and its objectives, while independently commendable, will create the prospect of new disamenities in other TC-managed areas and possibly between HDB flat dwellers. Town Councils may well have to create new smoking areas somewhere else close to the hawker centres shortly after the grant is given to the Town Council or even reinstating a smoking corner in the market after the grant has been disbursed.

Would it not be better policy for NEA to tie the TIP grant with specific, compulsory criteria related to the renovation of toilets that are energy saving, green and come with lower life cycle costs in line with Government’s Green Plan and targets?

To this end, some of the recommended features in the TIP include the toilet feedback management system, something I believe is akin to those found in shopping centres or the airport where users rate the toilet cleanliness. Other additions NEA has recommended include the installation of toilet pedestal mounted bidets. Sir, public toilets at hawker centres are heavily utilised – it is open to question whether some of the recommended features under the TIP are practical in the long term. It is difficult to imagine how much care must be taken by a cleaner to hygienically clean a toilet pedestal mounted bidet, and separately, how easily such a feature can be damaged in a heavy-use setting.

I would like to make two suggestions to the scheme along some other questions. First, extend the program beyond Mar 2022 by when toilets are expected to be completed to qualify for the grant. Secondly, NEA should conduct a pilot scheme at a very heavily utilised public toilet in a busy hawker centre to field trial and assess the viability of the recommended TIP features. It would be important to assess the steady-state condition of the pilot toilet at this hawker centre which should be perceptible after a few months of use, allowing for a better perspective on the effectiveness of the features proposed. With hawker culture recently added to UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, it would be important to get this done right so that a broadly consistent toilet hygiene standard is consistent across all hawker centres in Singapore. Thirdly, the TIP also envisages an enhanced maintenance regime, the details of which have not been communicated to TCs. Does the NEA envision an increase in manpower to achieve the cleanliness standards required?

Finally, can I also check whether Market Associations or committees were spoken along with Town Councils that manage NEA markets for their feedback before the TIP scheme was considered. And, in light of the tiered nature of the grant, how many hawker centres in Singapore currently do not have smoking areas and out of these, how many were newly constructed hawker centres and how many are legacy hawker centres?
Hardship Scheme for Hawker Centre Stalls – Mr Muhamad Faisal Abdul Manap

Mdm, I would like to suggest to make our Hawker Culture and industry more inclusive and compassionate by reintroducing the Hardship Scheme for Hawker centre stalls.

This scheme was started in mid 1970s and was meant for those aged 40 and above, whose family income fell under a stipulated threshold, and who had dependents to support – rent hawker stalls at subsidized rates.

I have made the call to reintroduce this scheme in 2016. The Ministry responded that the scheme was discontinued in the early 1990 as it was deemed ineffective due to low take-up rate and there is no intention to revive it.

I am repeating my call today, as within the last 4 years, I have met a number of needy residents, a couple of them are ex-offenders, who shared that they have culinary skills and expressed their aspiration to run a hawker stall with an affordable operating cost.

The Hardship Scheme may not be a standalone scheme. It could be a sub-scheme under the Incubation Stall Programme (ISP), specifically targeting two groups, needy Singaporeans and ex-offenders specifically beneficiaries of ComCare scheme and Yellow Ribbon Project.

I suggest that this scheme be reintroduced and implemented under the Socially-conscious enterprise hawker centres (SEHC) model as it will be in congruent with its ‘social mission’, a point which SMS Dr Amy Khor has alluded to before in this house.

Providing such opportunity and support to needy individuals and ex-offenders among us via the Hardship Scheme for Hawker centre stall is indeed a very noble ‘social mission’. Thank you Mdm.

Green Plan 2030 Targets – Chua Kheng Wee Louis

Chairman, the Green Plan is an important step forward, not just for the environment, but also for our overall social and economic health as a nation. I would like to take this opportunity to applaud the introduction of new initiatives, such as the Enterprise Sustainability Programme, moving up Singapore’s EV charging point target from 28,000 to 60,000 by 2030, as well as strengthening sustainability curriculums and programmes in schools.

However, apart from these, the Green Plan mostly outlines many existing initiatives and targets that were previously already announced. For example, the aim to green 80% of all buildings over the next decade, is a target that was set back in 2011. It has been a decade since then. Chairman, the Government has now declared climate change a global emergency. To demonstrate our seriousness on treating climate change as the global emergency and existential threat that it is today, we need to continue pushing the boundaries and set bold, ambitious target for ourselves.

As I mentioned during the debate on the climate change motion, Singapore’s updated NDC target submitted in 2020 does not genuinely limit emissions growth beyond what was already committed to under our first NDC, which was submitted in 2015.

There is room for us to strive for even more. The next NDC submission is due by 2025. Does the Government intend for Singapore to set a more ambitious emissions target for this next submission? In addition, will the Government consider setting a more specific deadline to reach net zero emissions, taking into consideration IPCC’s recommendations of net zero by 2050?

Fossil Fuel Industry Workers – Leon Perera

Mr Chairman, OPEC forecasts that the green transition and shocks like COVID-19 place a big question mark over the future for oil markets.
Last year, Shell announced its intent to axe 500 jobs, or 38% of its Pulau Bukom workforce, and aims to reduce its global workforce by up to 9,000 by 2022. Today, ExxonMobil announced that it will be cutting 7% of jobs in Singapore.
No doubt these developments owe something to Covid. But jobs affected by changes in fossil fuel demand over the longer term may eventually go beyond the refineries and include those in bunkering, rig-building and other businesses.
In a PQ reply to my Parliamentary colleague Ms He Ting Ru, MTI said that the shift to low-emissions mobility would not result in significant job losses for Singapore.
But can the government share its expected outlook for jobs in the oil & gas and petrochemicals industry clusters as a result of the longer-term global decarbonisation trend?
Could we also consider making career conversion programmes more targeted for workers affected by this green transition, through proactive pushing out of awareness campaigns and targeted ad campaigns? Workforce Singapore has implemented career conversion programmes like the PCP. But re-skilling can be more proactive, and should not happen only when the transition is in full swing and jobs are already being lost.
Lastly, even if the majority of our workers in potentially affected industries are able to transition successfully, I expect some will fall between the cracks into unemployment and under-employment through no fault of theirs.
As has been argued by members of this House such as my Parliamentary colleague, the Hon Ms Sylvia Lim, in the past, I urge the government to implement measures of under-employment so that we can track this and refine our tools against bad employment outcomes.