Singapore

E-waste a bigger problem than plastic waste, says Masagos

Minister says people underestimate toxicity of such waste

While there is plenty of focus on plastic waste, the more pressing issue facing Singapore is electronic waste, Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli said yesterday.

"E-waste is very toxic. People underestimate the toxicity of the e-waste that we dispose of and for the longest time we weren't processing it," he said.

Plastics, on the other hand, were being collected properly and then incinerated, the minister said.

"And we scrub all the toxic dioxins when we incinerate."

He was responding to chief executive of real estate company CBRE Pauline Goh during an on-stage discussion at the annual Singapore Green Building Council Leadership Conversations meeting.

This week, the Singapore Environment Council revealed that Singapore used at least 1.76 billion pieces of plastic a year. Much of it is made up of bags from supermarkets.

Referring to this figure, Ms Goh said: "Singapore's recycling efforts have yielded very limited results. For example, only two per cent of the 820 million plastic bags taken yearly from supermarkets are recycled by consumers. How do we ensure that our efforts go a longer way?"

Mr Masagos replied: "When you try to do everything, you'll end up doing nothing, so do the most important things first - and right now we are tackling e-waste."

He talked about the extended producer responsibility law, due to take effect by 2021, that would force producers of electrical and electronic equipment here to ensure their products are collected and recycled or disposed of at the end of their lifespans.

He also said the authorities were focusing on tackling packaging waste. Last month, he announced that companies in Singapore would have to report on the packaging used in their products in 2021, a year earlier than the previous deadline.

REDUCE DEMAND

Mr Masagos said the issue with plastic waste here was not about improper disposal, but about reducing the demand.

He said: "If you want me to charge for plastic bags I can. But I don't think that's how we want to be as a society."

He called instead for a revolution in how Singapore society addressed plastic waste, with everyone working together instead of waiting for someone else to take action.

Mr Masagos also recalled that plastic bags solved a problem the Republic faced in the 1970s.

"Back when we didn't bag our trash, we just threw food into our rubbish chutes and caused pests to come, and at the same time, it would corrode the linings of chutes, and we had to repair them so often," he said.

"This problem got mitigated when we started bagging our trash."

Mr Masagos said: "The issue is to make sure we don't take more bags than we need, don't use more bags than we can, and dispose of them properly. And at the same time, how do we reduce our trash so that we don't have to bag more of it?

"If we reduce our trash, we reduce our bags."

Environment