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Singapore passes law in line with global pact to restrict export of plastic that is contaminated, difficult to recycle

SINGAPORE — It will soon be harder for plastic exporters in Singapore to ship out plastic waste that is contaminated, difficult to recycle or mixed with other materials.

Singapore passes law in line with global pact to restrict export of plastic that is contaminated, difficult to recycle

A new law that governs plastic exporting fulfils Singapore's obligations under an international convention on transporting plastic waste.

SINGAPORE — It will soon be harder for plastic exporters in Singapore to ship out plastic waste that is contaminated, difficult to recycle or mixed with other materials.

This comes after the Hazardous Waste (Control of Export, Import and Transit) Amendment Bill was passed in Parliament on Monday (Feb 3).

The Bill was tabled earlier in the year as Singapore had to fulfil its international obligations as a party to the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal — an international treaty covering the transboundary movement of hazardous waste.

Countries party to the Basel Convention agreed last year to expand its scope to include mixed plastic waste and certain non-hazardous plastics.

Previously, only hazardous plastic was covered under the convention.

Speaking in Parliament on Monday, Dr Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources, said that the export of the plastics that are newly covered under the convention can be done only when the receiving countries give prior informed consent.

Before the amendments, exporters could ship contaminated, mixed or non-recyclable plastics across Singapore’s borders without requiring the permission of the country to which they were exporting the waste.

Plastic waste that is clean and homogeneous, has been sorted before being exported and is destined for recycling will not have to go through this new procedure.

“Improper disposal of plastic waste has caused severe environmental pollution, adverse health effects and contributed to climate change. As a responsible global citizen, Singapore joins the international community in supporting the amendments to the Basel Convention which will strengthen control of the transboundary movement of plastic waste,” Dr Khor said.

The changes come as several developing countries have decided to stop accepting waste from developed countries.

Two years ago, China banned almost all plastic waste imports, leading countries such as the United States to dump their waste in other countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia.

WHAT MEMBERS OF PARLIAMENT SAY

Five Members of Parliament (MPs) spoke during the Bill’s debate and raised several concerns.

1. Impact on plastic exporters

Dr Chia Shi-Lu, MP for Tanjong Pagar Group Representation Constituency (GRC), asked how Singapore would be impacted economically by these amendments.

Dr Khor said that the Government does not expect these amendments to disrupt the operations of plastic recyclers and traders.

“To help companies comply with the requirements, the National Environment Agency (NEA) will guide companies through the Basel permit application procedures, particularly in the initial period after the new regulations take effect,” she added.

2. Singapore’s international obligations

Nominated MP Anthea Ong asked for updates on how Singapore has complied with the Basel Convention obligations and the reasons why Singapore has not ratified the Basel Ban Amendment, which prohibits wealthy countries from exporting hazardous waste to developing countries.

Dr Khor said THAT the Government has issued 150 Basel permits every year on average since January 1996, when the city-state became a party to the convention.

The main destinations for Basel exports were France, Japan, South Korea and Thailand, with most of these shipments containing e-waste meant to be recycled.

As for why Singapore did not ratify the ban, Dr Khor said that it is because Singapore intends to build up its recycling capability at home, and a legitimate movement of useful wasteful material would serve as economic opportunities for Singapore companies and allow the country to play its part in the safe handling of hazardous material in the region.

“Many OECD countries (of the intergovernmental economic organisation) have not ratified the ban amendment yet, including countries with strong recycling industries such as Japan and South Korea,” she added.

3. Singapore’s dismal recycling rate

Other MPs, such as Mr Louis Ng, MP for Nee Soon GRC, and Mr Gan Thiam Poh, MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC, brought up Singapore’s very low plastic recycling rate.

In 2018, only 4 per cent of Singapore’s plastic waste was recycled, a figure which Mr Gan called “really pathetic”.

They asked what more can be done to enhance the recycling capabilities and reduce plastic use.

Dr Khor said that Singapore is already studying several mechanical and chemical options to build up the recycling capabilities here.

NEA has also launched a campaign to encourage Singaporeans to use less disposables.

“I would like to clarify that we are doing this not because we contribute to the global ocean plastics problem, but because we want to reduce the amount of plastics that we incinerate. Singapore does not contribute in any significant way to the ocean plastics problem,” Dr Khor stressed.

4. Microbeads

Mr Christopher de Souza, MP for Holland-Bukit Timah GRC, and Dr Chia brought up the issue of microbeads and asked whether they should be banned in Singapore.

Microbeads are tiny manufactured pieces of plastic used in various products such as cosmetics and detergents.

Dr Khor said that there are no plans to ban microbeads yet because there is not enough scientific evidence to assess the impact of digesting plastic in food.

National water agency PUB treats all used water in a way that would remove most microplastics, she added.

However, Dr Khor said that the Government encourages businesses to reduce the use of microbeads in their products.

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