Industry Articles

Developing A Circular Economy

Developing A Circular Economy Singapore has begun its journey towards a zero-waste future. While the goal seems unattainable with our consumerist lifestyle, it is a road the country must travel. With only a single landfill at Pulau Semakau, Singapore will have to minimise its waste generated to stretch the lifespan of this waste disposal site. Based on current disposal rate, Semakau Landfill will run out of space by 2035.

There are few options available for Singapore. With a total land area of about 721 square metres, it has limited land to build new incineration plants or landfills. Singapore also cannot export itself out of the problem, as countries are tightening up their regulations and curbing waste imports.

Zero waste masterplan
A masterplan was unveiled on 30 August 2019 to outline Singapore’s key strategies in becoming a zero-waste nation. The Zero Waste Masterplan is a holistic strategy, encompassing legislation and regulation, infrastructure, industry development, research and development, and outreach, to shift Singapore towards a circular economy.

Unlike the traditional linear economy with its “take-make-throw” approach, the circular economy tries its levelled best to keep resources in use for as long as possible. In short, Singapore is trying to treat waste the way it treats its water - by wringing value from every last drop.

Incineration ash can be turned into construction material, gold and precious metals can be extracted from discarded electronics and food waste can be used to produce energy. The target is to reduce the waste sent to its only landfill by 30 percent each day.

Mandating recycling and reuse
To provide legislative framework for the measures in the masterplan, the Resource Sustainability Bill was passed in Parliament on 2 September 2019, making it mandatory for some large producers of waste to reuse and recycle more. Speaking in Parliament, Dr Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State for the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources (MEWR), noted, “The shift from a voluntary to mandatory approach in ensuring resource sustainability is not something the Government takes lightly, but only after careful consideration and consultation.”

For the first time the law has put in place a “systems-level approach that mandates key responsibilities to enable reuse and recycling nationwide”.

The new Act targets three priority areas - electronic waste (e-waste), food waste and packaging waste, including plastics - waste streams which have relatively high generation and low recycling rates.

As a nation, we discard an estimated 60,000 tonnes of e-waste a year or 11 kg per person. To tackle it, the new Act has established the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) framework which holds retailers and producers accountable for the waste they produce. By 2021, it will be compulsory for large manufacturers and importers of electronics to collect and treat e-waste.

As for food waste, which comprises one-fifth of the total waste generated in Singapore, the Act is making it compulsory to segregate food waste for treatment. From 2021, new commercial establishments where large amounts of food waste are expected to be generated, such as malls and large hotels, must allocate space for on-site waste treatment. From 2024, large commercial and industrial generators of food waste are required to treat the food waste.

On packaging waste, producers of specific packaging with annual turnover of over S$10 million will be required to report data on packaging from 2020. Under the Act, they will be required to submit plans to reduce, reuse or recycle packaging waste.

In 2018, packaging waste constituted a third of domestic waste of which 55 percent was plastic packaging, 25 percent paper, and the remaining 15 percent other types of packaging such as glass and metal.

Boosting local recycling capabilities and creating jobs
By adopting the circular economy approach in Singapore’s resource loops and turning trash into treasure, the city-state will have a ready supply of resources to buffer it against global supply shocks while creating new economic industries and jobs.

In e-waste for instance, preliminary studies have shown that if Singapore were to recover and reuse materials from e-waste, it can reap a net benefit of S$40 million.

A start is being made. Singapore’s largest e-waste recycler TES is opening two new recycling facilities – TES B in Singapore and Recupyl in France. Costing S$25 million, the new facilities will treat lithium-ion batteries for the Asian and European markets, two regions with large quantities of scrapped lithium-ion battery.

Lithium-ion batteries are used in personal mobility devices, handphones, laptops and power banks. Studies conducted by TES show that Singapore households will generate about a thousand tonnes of waste batteries by 2021, with lithium-ion batteries accounting for half the total. Currently, an estimated five percent are collected and recycled properly.

Operational in February 2020, the Singapore facility TES B can recycle 14 tonnes of lithium-ion batteries - or the equivalent of about 280,000 smartphone batteries - each day.

TES is employing an innovative recycling process that utilises proprietary in-house technology and equipment. End-of-life batteries are broken up with auto punching machines and shredders. Magnetic separators are then used to recover the copper and aluminium, while a chemical treatment process is used to recover cobalt and lithium.

Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Dr Koh Poh Koon was delighted with TES’ decision to establish a lithium recycling facility. Speaking at the Asia Clean Energy Summit on 30 October 2019, Dr Koh remarked, “This is an exciting development as the use of batteries for grid-related energy storage is projected to grow globally to manage the increasing adoption of intermittent renewable energy such as solar.”

By moving from a traditional linear system to a closed-loop cycle, we can reduce the need to constantly source for raw materials, paving the way to a more sustainable future.