Singapore - The Resource Sustainability Bill – Are We Going In Circles?
Legal News & Analysis - Asia Pacific - Singapore - Energy & Project Finance
2 September, 2019
Singapore generated 7.7 million tonnes of solid waste in 2018, including an estimated 60,000 tonnes of e-waste, 810,000 kg of food waste, and 530 million tonnes of food waste. The domestic recycling rate was 21% while the non-domestic recycling rate was 76%. Based on the current rate of waste generation and recycling, Singapore’s only landfill, the Semakau landfill, will run out of space by 2035. Mindful of these grim waste statistics, the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources designated 2019 as the Year Towards Zero Waste to raise awareness of waste issues in Singapore; rally Singaporeans to treasure its resources and build a strong reduce-reuse-recycle culture, and pave the way towards a circular economy and a zero-waste nation. Its inaugural Zero Waste Masterplan is expected later this year. The government has also recently (5 August 2019) gone ahead to introduce the Resource Sustainability Bill (“RSB”)1 in Parliament. The Bill presents yet another reason for businesses to go circular and further opportunities for financial institutions to support the transition to a more sustainable economy.
The long title of the RSB says that it is to be an “Act to impose obligations relating to the collection and treatment of electrical and electronic waste and food waste, to require reporting of packaging imported into or used in Singapore, to regulate persons operating producer responsibility schemes, and to promote resource sustainability.” The Bill also has a separate purposes clause that sets out its purposes:2
(a) to implement a framework where persons who profit from the supply of products bear the cost of collecting and treating these products when they become waste;
(b) to encourage producers of packaging to reduce, re‐use or recycle packaging; and
(c) to enable proper segregation and treatment of food waste.
Electrical and Electronic Waste
The National Environment Agency (“NEA”) currently works with industry partners and communities on programmes to encourage e-waste recycling. A voluntary Singapore Standard for the Management of End-of-Life Infocomm Technology Equipment (“ICT”) (SS 587) also already provides guidelines to help companies manage their ICT equipment in an environmentally responsible manner. The Environmental Protection and Management Act manages the environmental impact of e-waste through restrictions on hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment.
Registration of Producers
Under the RSB, producers3 may only supply regulated products in Singapore if they are registered with the NEA.4 A producer who wishes to supply any regulated consumer product5 beyond a prescribed threshold, must join a producer responsibility scheme6 operated by a person licensed to do so for the regulated consumer product.7
According to the government, the scheme is intended to kick in from 2021. Collection targets will be imposed on producer responsibility organisations, with penalties imposed for failure to meet collection targets enforced from 2024.8 However, there is no indication of any intention to impose any targets for the re-use or recycling of the products collected.
Collection of E-waste
A producer of a regulated non-consumer product9 must within a reasonable time after being presented or receiving a request by any person to collect the product from any premises specified by the person, accept or collect the product if directed by the NEA to do so. Regardless of whether the NEA has directed the producer to comply with the request, the producer cannot demand or require the person to pay any consideration for doing so.10 The regulated non-consumer product collected by the producer must not be disposed of as waste except through a licensed waste collector or e-waste recycler.
A retailer11 who in the course of supplying a regulated consumer products delivers the product to any premises specified by the consumer, must at the time of delivery, also collect and dispose from the premises another regulated consumer product that is of the same prescribed class or type as the supplied product, if required to do so by the consumer. He cannot demand or require the consumer to pay any consideration for doing so,12 and must not dispose as waste, the unwanted product collected other than through a person operating a licensed scheme.
Where a prescribed regulated consumer product is brought to a large retailer’s (ie a retailer whose premises exceed 300 m2 from which prescribed regulated consumer products are supplied) premises for disposal as waste; and the product is of the same prescribed class or type of consumer product as that supplied at those premises, the retailer must accept the product for disposal.13
Unauthorised Collection and Disposal of E-Waste
Except where otherwise authorised in the RSB, a person other than an individual must not provide a receptacle in a public place or a service to the public for the collection of any regulated product for disposal, unless the person is doing so in the course of a licensed producer responsibility scheme, or in accordance with the approval of the NEA; or unless the collection of the regulated product for disposal as waste is incidental to the person’s collection of general waste as a licensed waste collector.14 A person other than an individual, must also not dispose of a regulated product other than through a person authorised in the RSB to collect it.15
Current initiatives on reducing packaging waste include the Singapore Packaging Agreement, a joint initiative launched by the government, industry and NGOs in 2007 to reduce packaging waste from consumer products, raise community awareness on minimising packaging waste, and introduce supply chain initiatives to foster the sustainable use of resources in packaging. Under the voluntary non-binding agreement, signatories commit to collective targets for reducing packaging waste and recruiting new signatories; collectively producing and submitting sector annual progress reports to the secretariat; contributing to the collection and reporting of packaging consumption and recovery/recycling data; and applying the Singapore Environmental Code of Practice for the Packaging of Consumer Goods.
The RSB proposes to go further, to introduce mandatory measures. For the purpose of the RSB, “packaging” is defined in cl 19 as any material used for the containment, protection, handling, delivery or presentation of any goods; but importantly excludes any material that remains in the possession of a producer of specified packaging to be re‐used for the containment, protection, handling, delivery or presentation of any goods.16 This gives a producer an incentive to improve the durability for re-usability of his packaging rather than for disposability.
A producer17 of any specified packaging18 who meets the prescribed threshold criteria19 in any year, must thereafter report to the NEA the specified packaging that is imported or used from the following year.20 Such a producer must also submit to the NEA, a plan to reduce, re‐use or recycle packaging in Singapore, whether or not the packaging is imported or used by him.21 According to the government, the reporting requirements are intended to lay the foundation for the implementation of an extended producer responsibility framework in 2025.
Currently, food waste accounts for about 10% of the waste generated in Singapore, with only 17% recycled, and the rest of it disposed of at waste-to-energy incineration plants. The government’s strategy is to apply the waste hierarchy and divert food waste away from incineration by encouraging the adoption of appropriate food purchase, storage and preparation habits for consumers; encouraging organisations and members of the public to donate their unsold and excess food to food distribution organisations; encouraging on-site separation of food and non-food waste items. It is also conducting trials on-site food waste treatment; and the viability of collecting and transporting source-segregated food waste to an off-site treatment facility for co-digestion of food waste with used water sludge.
Separation and Treatment Facilities
Under the RSB, the building manager of a prescribed building must provide within the premises on which the prescribed building is situated, one or more facilities to enable occupiers of the prescribed building to dispose of food waste separately from any other type of waste.22 The building manager of a new building23 must cause all food waste disposed of in such a facility to be treated24 in the building. The building manager of any prescribed building other than a new building, must cause all food waste disposed of within the building, to be treated in the building or within the premises on which the building is situated; or engage a licensed waste collector to send the food waste for treatment at a licensed waste disposal facility.25
An occupier of a prescribed building or part of a prescribed building must not, within the prescribed building, dispose of any food waste generated in the prescribed building in any place other than such a facility; or dispose of any food waste together with any other type of waste.26
The RSB takes Singapore one step closer towards a sustainable economy, but it will not be the last step as we still have some way to go. For a country that is always reminding itself of its lack of natural resources, merely improving our waste recovery is not enough. To achieve resource sustainability, laws may need to be extended upstream to facilitate and promote responsible resource consumption as well. In this regard, it is timely for a closer look at laws that have been adopted for this purpose in other jurisdictions, such as laws against planned obsolescence and right-to-repair laws; mandatory standards for packaging materials and packaged goods (an option which the government had previously considered for consumer goods); and penalties for wasting food.
1 Bill 20/2019.
2 RSB cl 3.
3 For this purpose, cl 7(2) defines a “producer” a person who carries on a business of supplying a regulated product in Singapore; and in furtherance of that business, imports the product into Singapore, manufactures the product in Singapore, or engages another person to manufacture the product in Singapore. Presumably, the “regulated products” will be identified in subsidiary legislation in due course. The “supply of a regulated product” is defined as including the supply of the product by way of sale or hire-purchase; the supply of the product by retail or wholesale.
5 According to cl 2, a “product regulated consumer” is a product purchased or intended to be purchased by an individual for household use or private consumption.
6 A “producer responsibility scheme” is defined in cl 2 as a scheme in which the operator collects, or organises the collection of any regulated product for disposal as waste from the public and causes the product collected to be treated and recycled; and whose operation is financed by members of the scheme.
7 RSB cl 12. Cl 28 prohibits the operation of a producer responsibility scheme without a licence from the NEA.
8 See also cl 32 on financial penalties for breach of licence conditions for a producer responsibility scheme licence.
9 A “regulated non-consumer product” is defined in cl 7 as a regulated product that is not a regulated consumer product.
10 RSB cl 13.
11 For this purpose, a “retailer” is defined in RSB cl 2 as person who carries on a business of supplying regulated products to consumers.
12 RSB cl 14.
13 RSB cl 15.
14 RSB cl 16.
15 RSB cl 17.
16 RSB cl 19.
17 For this purpose, cl 19 defines a “producer” as a person who carries on a business of supplying regulated goods in Singapore and in furtherance of that business imports specified packaging by importing regulated goods that have been packed into or with, or wrapped with, specified packaging; or uses specified packaging by packing the regulated goods into or with specified packaging or wrapping the regulated goods with specified packaging. The “supply of regulated goods” is defined as including the supply of the goods by way of sale, lease, loan, hire or hire‐purchase.
18 Presumably, the waste will be specified in subsidiary legislation in due course.
19 Presumably the threshold criteria will be prescribed in subsidiary legislation in due course. The government has however indicated in its Zero Waste Masterplan that it intends to impose reporting requirements from 2020 on producers with an annual turnover of more than $10 million.
20 RSB cl 20.
21 RSB cl 21.
22 RSB cl 26. Presumably, the buildings will be prescribed in subsidiary legislation in due course. The government has indicated that large hotels and malls, and large industrial developments housing food manufacturers, food caterers and food storage warehouses will be included.
23 A “new building” is defined in RSB cl 24 as one whose application for planning permission is made on or after 1 January 2021.
24 According to cl 24, food waste is “treated” if it undergoes a prescribed food waste treatment process or is treated using a prescribed food waste treatment system. Presumably, these processes and systems will be prescribed in subsidiary legislation.
25 RSB cl 27.
26 RSB cl 25.