On the Resource Sustainability Amendment Bill – Speech by Dennis Tan

Mdm Deputy Speaker, this Amendment Bill seeks to introduce three main requirements to the Act: 

  1. Introduce a plastic bag charge scheme starting with the larger supermarkets with annual turnover of more than $100 million;
  2. Introduce a beverage container return scheme;
  3. Require the segregation and treatment of food waste in prescribed buildings with requisite reporting to the authorities.

Plastic bag charge

I will start with the plastic bag charge. Back in 2018 when it was declared a year of climate action in Singapore, I had spoken during the Committee of Supply Debate and asked the Government whether it has 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.  

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

Back then there were already more than 40 countries taxing or limiting the use of plastic bags and that evidence had shown 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.

In 2020, the Workers’ Party called for the introduction of a single use plastic bag charge, phased in over 5 years. I repeated this call in my Budget Debate speech in 2021. I therefore welcome the imposition of the plastic bag charge to be formally included under today’s amendment of the Resource Sustainability Act. I am also heartened that SMS Amy Khor recently cited statistics in Hong Kong, Taiwan and the UK where after the introduction of plastic bag charge in those countries, their usage of plastic carrier bags fell. I quoted the example of the UK in this house 5 years ago. 

I am glad that the Government accepted the recommendations of the Citizens’ Workgroup on Reducing Excessive Consumption of Disposables to impose a plastic bag charge. The Government also announced that the charge to be imposed will come into effect in mid-2023 to I quote “nudge” consumers to shift towards the use of re-usable bags. This nudging is extremely important as we are talking about long term habits of many individuals.   

Mdm Deputy Speaker, I have for the last few years in this house been calling for mindsets to shift in the way we use single use plastic bags to only use what we need to use. 

In 2018, in response to my call for plastic bag charge and comparison with other countries like Taiwan and the UK, SMS Amy Khor said and I quote: “Miss Cheng Li Hui and Mr Dennis Tan asked about our efforts to deal with plastic waste, and specifically whether we will impose a charge or ban on single-use plastic bags. Unlike many of the countries that have imposed a ban or mandatory charge on plastic bags, we do not directly landfill our plastic disposables but incinerate them. Hence, we do not face the land and water pollution issues that plague those countries. Plastic bags are also necessary for responsible and hygienic bagging of waste in our moist, tropical climate. Unbagged household waste attract more pests like cockroaches and rats, creating serious environmental and health problems.”

She also said that and I quote “there are actually good reasons that single-use plastic bags have to be given.. or used by the public for bagging their waste.. And therefore, the issue is really about excessive use; not that you cannot use plastic bags but excessive use of plastic bags”.  

I agree with her then and now that plastic bags are needed for bagging of waste and the issue is about excessive use of plastic bags, I also thought then and now that the fact that we incinerate our rubbish does not remove the need to educate and persuade Singaporeans to try to reduce our plastic bag consumption and to consider greater measures to reduce use of plastic bags hence my suggestion for a plastic bag charge back in 2018. 

In 2020, I said in my Budget Debate Speech that “mindsets must shift in the way we consume, to only use what we need to use”. For single-use plastic bags, I had asked: “Can we take or use what we really need? Can we pack more things into each plastic bag? Do we really need to double bag all our groceries at the checkouts? If we only need to use say 1 or 2 plastic bags for refuse disposal a day, do we need to take 20 bags from the supermarket a week? We can also reduce the number of single use plastic bags we need to take for our refuse by concurrently using good quality re-usable shopping bags. We may end up using fewer plastic bags and may still have enough bags for our refuse.”

In my 2021 Committee of Supply Debate cut for the Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment, I reiterated my call for mindsets to shift in the way we consume to only use what we need to use and call for less use of plastic bags. 

Mdm Deputy Speaker, I would reiterate what I have said previously on the use of plastic bags. Indeed, while the plastic bag charge will certainly nudge behaviours when people feel the pinch of having to pay for plastic bags,   what is more important, I feel, is that we must get all Singaporeans to understand fully why we are doing this, why we need to reduce plastic bag use, how we can reduce  plastic bag production, how we should reduce the number of plastic bags we incinerate every day and most of all to internalise them in our minds so that they instinctively guide our everyday actions. I would like to call on the Government to ramp up on our public messaging to Singaporeans of different age groups. 

Mdm Deputy Speaker, I am also glad that the Government is encouraging reusable bags. I have been using such bags for supermarket shopping for many years, a habit I first had when I was student abroad. In my 2021 Committee of Supply Debate Cut for the Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment, I reiterated the call to use more good quality re-usable shopping bags in supermarket or retail shops. Mr Speaker, last year our Aljunied Hougang Town Council gave a reusable shopping bag to each of the HDB households in Aljunied and Hougang Town. I hope it will be a useful reminder to our residents to use more good reusable bags and minimize use of plastic bags!  

Mdm Deputy Speaker, we have come a long way even in the last few years but I hope that with the plastic bag charge, mindsets will change for those who are used to taking many plastic bags at the supermarket. We need to remind ourselves to only take what we absolutely need. 

I would like to ask the Government whether it has any plans to increase public education to encourage less use of plastic bags in conjunction with the imposition of the plastic bag charge? Can the Government share its staged plans, if any, to extend the plastic bag charge beyond its current category of retailers of more than $100 million turnover?

Beverage Container Return Scheme

Mdm Deputy Speaker, this Bill is also introducing a beverage container return scheme which allows a refund of the additional fee imposed when a person buys a beverage in a plastic bottle or metal can. I support this scheme and I think it can significantly reduce the amount of plastic bottles and metal cans which are currently being disposed of instead of being deliberately recycled via recycling bins and other proper ways. When we are out, there may not always be a recycling bin in sight when we want to dispose of a drink can or bottle after we have consumed the beverage. I can imagine the number of bottles or cans which are thrown into normal rubbish bins every day and taken to our refuse incinerator.   Also, although many Singaporeans have developed good recycling habits or practices, many are still not doing so. Singapore is not even at the stage as some first world countries where households are required to segregate their waste in different categories such as general waste, paper, plastic, glass, metal, etc. We are using one recycling bin for different waste but sadly, it is a common sight to see general waste and contaminated materials being thrown into recycling bins. Sir, there is still much for us to do to improve our public education efforts. 

Sir, I believe that the beverage return scheme will minimise wrongful disposal, encourage more recycling, and inculcate better recycling habits. Like plastic bag charge, beverage container return scheme is, sadly, a form of enforced public education but it will bring certain knowledge to those who are hitherto ignorant or indifferent to recycling. 

I would like to ask the Minister to share with the house how extensive is the projected availability of the beverage return vending machines. This is important as it complements retail outlets at venues where the beverage containers can be returned.   Convenience will certainly enhance greater cooperation and compliance and affect success of the programme.   

Mdm Deputy Speaker, we are told by NEA and MSE that packaging waste constitutes about one-third of domestic waste disposed of and about 60 per cent of this is plastic waste and that in 2021, only 6% of plastic waste disposed of was recycled. I hope to see a significant reduction in the volume of such waste being sent to our incinerators after the beverage container return scheme and the plastic bag charge scheme are introduced. I also look forward to the scheme being extended to glass and beverage cartons soon. I would like to ask the Minister what are the Government’s staged plans for further expansion of the beverage container scheme including the projected time when the scheme will be expanded to glass as I believe that a lot of glass and even carton waste can be further diverted away from incineration and be recycled and Singaporeans can be encouraged to work towards this goal.  

And before I leave this point and as a follow up to my COS cut of 2018 on a similar topic, I am also going to ask the Minister for an update on the Government’s plans, if any,  to reduce the use of styrofoam food and beverage containers which are still widely used. 

Segregation and reporting of food waste   

I will next touch on the segregation and reporting of food waste as required under the proposed amendments to the Act.  

When I was a little boy, I remember being reminded by my parents to finish every bit of food on my plate and being told off for wasting food. Some of us will remember being told by our parents that we have to finish every single grain of rice in our bowl. 

Why is curbing food waste important? It is important to curb food wastage because other resources have been invested to grow the food ingredients as well as the cooking of the ingredients for consumption.  

According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)’s Food Waste Index Report 2021, 17 percent of our food ends up being wasted in retail and by consumers, particularly in households. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), food that is lost (which accounts for food that is grown, harvested and prepared for consumption right up to just before the retail stage) and food that is wasted (ie food wasted at the household, retail or food service stages onwards) could feed up to 1.26 billion hungry people every year.

Nearer home, according to a 2019 Singapore Environment Council study, 1 in 3 Singaporeans throw away more than 10% of food weekly and this amounts to about $342 million of wasted food a year; further, food waste has grown by 20% in the past decade.

According to UNEP’s Executive Director, Mr Inger Andersen, each person is said to waste an average of 74 kilogrammes of food every year in middle and high income countries in the world. 

Why is cutting food waste important? According to the UNEP, 8-10% of global greenhouse gas emissions are associated with food that is not consumed. Wasted food meant wasted efforts and resources in producing them including land, fertilisers, water, packaging, transportation, fuel, etc). Food waste may also be deposited in landfills increasing the production of methane emissions. Even in Singapore where we burn our waste before depositing in landfill, cutting down waste food will also reduce greatly the amount of waste we incinerate and to some extent, ultimately dump in landfill. According to the NEA, food waste account for 12% of our total waste in Singapore by 2021. We need to work on its reduction; reducing food waste will also be of great help in making our progress towards our climate goals including our 2030 emissions targets.     

That brings us to why we need to do food waste segregation and reporting. Segregation and reporting is the first step to help us to realise and account for our food waste. A retailer or food service provider can accordingly be better guided to take actions to reduce food waste and/or even direct food waste to better mitigation measures. Unsold or unconsumed food can be passed on to food banks and charities for consumption by the less privileged. They can also be converted to composts, animal feed or biofuel gases as they are being done in other countries. 

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development calls for the halving of per-capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels and the reduction of food losses along production and supply chains, otherwise referred to as the SDG target 12.3. Achieving this target would have significant implications for the fight against climate change.  The UNEP’s Food Waste Index Report supports the goals of SDG 12.3 with its comprehensive and reliable food waste data collection, analysis and modelling to date and helping countries to measure food waste at household, food service and retail level, to track national progress towards 2030 and to report on SDG target 12.3. I support the proposed amendments in this Bill for food waste segregation and reporting which will complement and support global efforts via UNEP and FAO and through the Food Waste Index Report. Naturally Singapore, Singaporeans and our Government must do our part to support with clear actions the SDG target 12.3. 

UNEP has reported that the true scale of food waste and its impacts have not been well understood until now. I agree. I would argue that we really should educate Singaporeans of all ages and educational levels on the perils of food waste and how we must reduce food waste and channel produced food resources to better uses in mitigation. 

While our Government has through its Zero Waste Masterplan and the guides it produced for F&B outlets, supermarkets and food manufacturers to guide and help businesses to reduce food waste with greater focus on production processes, proper inventory management and effective perishables handling, more must be done to educate domestic households and individuals so that every Singaporean knows about the issue of food wastage and how every Singaporean can consciously minimise food wastage in our daily living habits.  

Mdm Deputy Speaker, I help out regularly at a food rescue food distribution in Hougang which focuses primary on fruits and vegetables. It gives me a frightening glimpse of the potential or actual food wastage at the wholesalers’ level on an every day basis. 

Mr Speaker, to put things in perspective, according to the National Environment Agency, the total amount of food waste generated in Singapore was 817,000 tonnes in 2021, an increase of 23% from 2020. Further there is an increase of food waste by 20% over the past 10 years. 

However, crucially, less than 1 in 6 Singaporeans are aware of the problems of food wastage in Singapore. I call on the MSE to have a multi-lingual public education campaign to educate Singaporeans on the issue of food waste in individual households, food service, retail and wholesalers. Singapore and Singaporeans must all do our part to step up our efforts to help reach the SDG 12.3 target of halving food waste by 2030 within the next 7 years.

Mdm Deputy Speaker, curbing food wastage can go hand in hand with curbing food insecurity especially among lower income Singaporean households. I applaud many different organizations like Food Bank, Wiling Hearts, many less known or less formally organised groups and Singaporeans who are already doing that such as the Red Collective and the various food rescue groups operating in different parts of Singapore, bringing excess food to lower income Singaporeans, reducing food wastage and helping the food-insecured Singaporeans. 


In conclusion, I support this Bill and I would repeat my call in my budget debate speech last year for mindsets to shift in the way we consume single plastic bags and indeed all single use plastic products to only use what we need to use. I also hope that the beverage container return scheme will soon be extended to glass bottles and beverage cartons. Finally, I call on the MSE to have a multi-lingual public education campaign to ensure more Singaporeans will understand the issue of food waste in individual households, food service, retail and wholesalers so that Singaporeans will double our efforts towards reduction of food waste at all levels.