Green Nudge Explains: The Resource Sustainability Act and What it is All About
Mar 19, 2021
Heard about the Resource Sustainability Act but not sure what it does and how it will enhance our nation’s sustainability efforts over the next few years? Our intern Audrey breaks it down and shares more about the Act.
The Resource Sustainability Act is a landmark legislation that was officially passed on September 4, 2019. It has been over a year now since the bill was passed by parliament, but what is it really about?
Getting the (Resource Sustainability) Act Together
In short, the Resource Sustainability Act is a law that will help Singapore to become more sustainable by introducing guidelines to reduce and recycle the waste we produce. Although there have been many previous attempts to go green that have focused on consumer behavior, like campaigns to get Singaporeans to raise recycling rates, the Act will shift some of that responsibility up to big businesses that actually profit from those products.
To effectively cut down on waste, the legislation will target three main waste streams that are likely to cause the most problems in the future: e-waste, packaging waste, and food waste.
1. Electronic Waste (E-waste)
E-waste, or unwanted electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) are electronic items that are no longer needed and range from small items like mouse, thumb drives to large items such as washing machines, televisions or refrigerators.
“Why is this important?”
Because they contain numerous components including plastic, metals as well as potentially harm liquids, these are not easily disposed and require additional treatment. Currently, only smaller items such as cables, cameras, mobile phones are bring recycled which extracts the valuable metals to be used, and only if these are being placed in recycling boxes. Larger items like refrigerators are not easily transported and thus are not yet commonly recycled. Most of these waste are still being thrown away as general waste. As a result, there is a lot more that we can do to turn these unwanted equipment into meaningful materials.
“How does the RSA help?”
The Resource Sustainability Act targets manufacturers and retailers of EEE in charge of the recycling of their products in 3 ways. First, all EEE producers have to register with the National Environmental Agency to supply products in Singapore. Secondly, producers that supply more than a set amount of EEE have to be licensed under the Producer Responsibility Scheme (PRS). Finally, the PRS operator has to create a recycling system for consumer products while large retail stores provide on-site e-waste collection centres.
What this means is that instead of allowing any of these items to be randomly thrown and incinerated, suppliers now must take responsibility to ensure that the items are properly managed, right before they are being delivered to users, AND after users have completed using their products.
This is a big deal because producers or suppliers who bring in these products have to decide and create ways for consumers to dispose of their e-waste properly. And the onus isn’t so much on the consumers i.e. us to figure out what we can do with our waste. It doesn’t mean we can now shake off the task of recycling. Rather, it makes it so much easier for consumers to send these items to be properly disposed and treated.
2. Packaging Waste
Enjoying online shopping and the joy of receiving items from your favourite store? In order for them to deliver items to you in good condition, many of them have to package them properly using materials like bubble wrap or cardboard. But these items are often thrown away the moment we receive them.
“Why is this important?”
Packaging material is a huge waste category in Singapore. HUGE. They practically make up one-third of the total household waste produced in 2018. And with more people buying things online, or having them delivered, more packaging will be used. And that’s not just that. That bag you took from the supermarket, that additional box you took from the stall. These all add up at the end of the day.
“How does the RSA help?”
The Mandatory Packaging Reporting (MPR) framework requires producers of packaging materials and packaged goods to report the amount and type of packaging they release in the market. On top of that, producers have to submit plans to reduce, reuse, and recycle the packaging waste they create.
While it’s not going to overhaul the demand of the packaging used (we reckon that consumers will continue to spend if we spy a bargain), it helps companies to make sure that they cut down the packaging before they are even given up. And if there are available channels to recycle, this helps to make it more accessible to recycle. Hopefully we can even see recycling boxes in the shops that we buy the items from!
3. Food Waste
“Why is this important?”
Food waste is a big thing in Singapore because we eat a lot! Think of all the good food that we have in SIngapore, from laksa to lotong, to salad to steaks, to seafood to desserts. We eat so much food that a good portion of them goes to waste. And it seems such a pity that we have to throw away good food to be incinerated. And especially when a lot of the food are good edible food, it just does not seem right.
“How does the RSA help?”
To target food waste, the Act helps to classify two main types of food waste - avoidable food waste and unavoidable food waste. Avoidable food waste is waste that could have been prevented with better management, such as expired food or leftovers. Unavoidable food waste includes foods that aren't meant to be eaten, such as bones or eggshells.
The Resource Sustainability Act focuses on the latter waste stream by creating a framework for food separation. First, new building designs for large food waste generators like hotels and malls have to include an on-site food waste treatment center. Afterall, if they will be generated, then it is best to tackle these items first. Then, in a few years, large food waste generators have to segregate food waste for more effective treatment. The treated waste will eventually be made into things like animal feed, compost, and biogas.
These food waste don’t just disappear into thin air. By treating them, the food waste becomes either useful fertilisers which can now be used for gardening, farming and community use, thus lesser amount of waste is sent to the incineration plant and landfill. Alternatively, they are turned into harmless water which then gets introduced into our water stream. All is well!
Impact on Consumers
So the Resource Sustainability Act appears to be holding big businesses accountable for the waste they produce, but how will this affect you or me as an individual consumer?
Although most of the changes are happening behind the scenes at corporations, there are going to be a few differences that will trickle down to us consumers too. These aren’t necessarily going to be fixed responsibilities though, more like opportunities to reduce the waste you generate as big companies start becoming more sustainable.
For example, consumers can dispose of e-waste through large electronic retailers when collecting a new device, making things more convenient for you, and more beneficial for the environment.
Or, if supermarkets decide to reduce plastic packaging waste at stores by getting rid of plastic bags, you would need to adjust your shopping habits by taking actions such as bringing reusable tote bags. Little improvements like this mean that the way the public consumes will eventually change and affect how you shop as a customer if you aren't willing to adapt.
Our Take on the Act - The Yays
Singapore has a problem with waste, there’s no getting around it. It has been estimated that Pulau Semakau will be completely full by as early as 2035, a full decade earlier than it was supposed to last.
One of the reasons that the Resource Sustainability Act is so important is because it can extend the lifespan of the landfill by recycling materials instead of just dumping them. In other words, Singapore wants to create a circular economy where materials are reused for as long as possible to draw out the maximum value. For example, materials like gold in e-waste can be collected and put back into the economy instead of being thrown in a landfill.
Not only does the Resource Sustainability Act strengthen the economy by closing the supply chain and keeping resources within Singapore, but it also creates more job opportunities as new recycling facilities need to be designed and built.
With a strong focus on economic benefits, it is important to keep in mind that solving environmental issues should be the priority. You might not even notice the consequences of the waste you throw away, but environmental issues are affecting everybody. Even though e-waste makes up less than 1% of the total waste produced by Singapore, electronic equipment can release chemicals like refrigerants that harm our environment and health. When food waste rots, greenhouse gases like methane are produced. And when plastic packaging is incinerated, toxic fumes and carbon emissions are released. These are pressing concerns; however, these issues are only pieces of a larger environmental problem.
Our Take on the Act - More Yays Please
Just targeting three waste streams for economic benefit could potentially backfire if we lose sight of the original goal: making Singapore more sustainable. For example, by emphasizing recycling as an easy solution to reduce waste, we miss the fact that the recycling system doesn’t actually effectively treat our waste.
While it is important to also develop the economy, we have to be sure that our intentions to be more environmentally conscious remain strong so we won’t confine ourselves to focusing on parts of a big problem.
As environmental issues like global warming and plastic pollution get worse, we can’t forget that all our actions have an impact. If individuals, corporations, and the government work together, only then can we make significant changes that will benefit both the economy and the environment. This shift in consumer behavior is still a necessary step to make Singapore more sustainable, and with the support of the Resource Sustainability Act, you can be a part of the journey to go green.
Chertow, Marian R., and Daniel C. Esty. “Environmental Policy: The Next Generation.” Issues in Science and Technology, 11 June 2019, issues.org/esty/