Singapore: Heading for Zero Waste

In October last year, several trade associations and chambers (TACs) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to contribute to a more sustainable living environment and further Singapore’s goal of becoming a zero-waste nation.

The signing of the agreement took place at the presence of Singapore’s Senior Minister of State for Environment and Water Resources, Amy Khor, at the opening of the WasteMET Asia Symposium – according to the organizers, Asia’s only solid waste management platform. As reported by media, the agreement aims to identify industry challenges and develop joint projects and solutions to promote the business prospects of the associations’ sectors as well as best practices in waste management and recycling across industries.

Associations involved are
■ Waste Management and Recycling Association of Singapore (WMRAS)
■ Singapore Water Association (SWA)
■ Singapore Food Manufacturers’ Association (SFMA)
■ Landscape Industry Association of Singapore (LIAS)
■ Association of Property and Facilities Managers (APFM)
■ Singapore infocomm Technology Federation (SiTF)
■ Singapore Industrial Automation Association (SIAA)
■ Container Depot and Logistics Association Singapore (CDAS)

Nearly two months later, Singapore’s Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, Masagos Zulkifli, launched the “Environmental Services Industry Transformation Map (ES ITM)”, unveiling the strategies and initiatives to ensure a “vibrant, sustainable and professional” industry that will provide services and solutions to “help achieve our Zero Waste vision” and a clean Singapore.

At the time, more than 78,000 professionals and 1,700 companies were working in the cleaning and waste management sectors. According to the information, the demand for environmental services continues to rise, but increasing manpower to meet the service demand would not be sustainable. Therefore, “transforming the industry is thus necessary to improve productivity, promote growth and create better jobs for these sectors”.

The ES ITM is one of four Industry Transformation Maps (ITMs) under Singapore’s Built Environment cluster, which includes the construction, real estate and security sectors, a press release said. The National Environment Agency (NEA) – in collaboration with Government agencies, industry, unions and other stakeholders – has developed 33 initiatives across 12 strategies to transform the environmental services industry. These strategies and initiatives are aiming at innovation and wider technology adoption, upskilling the workforce to take on better jobs, improving productivity through better procurement practices and capturing value overseas. “With the implementation of these strategies and initiatives, by 2025, about 30,000 individuals in the environmental services industry can benefit from higher value-added jobs through upskilling and technology adoption by companies,” the Ministry is convinced.

Graphic: National Environment Agency (NEA)

Singapore is also working towards the vision of being a Zero Waste nation, where waste is re-defined and innovative technologies would be deployed in waste reduction, separation, recycling and treatment to enable the country to close the waste loop. “The ES ITM will provide many opportunities for technology collaboration and adaptation across the cleaning and waste management sectors,” the Ministry gave account. “Jobs will be enhanced as the future of delivering services via system-level infrastructure – such as pneumatic waste conveyance systems and autonomous machines – calls for new skillsets. Service buyers will also need to play their part by adopting outcome-based contracting which enables wider technology adoption to improve productivity in the cleaning sector. The shift in industry procurement practices will support more manpower-efficient work processes.” As part of the launch event in December last year, NEA signed Letters of Intent (LOI) with seven partners. The initiative “INnovating and CUrating Better Automation and Technologies for Environmental Services (INCUBATE)” embodies – according to the information – the partnership between the technology providers and service providers, premises owners and the Government, to collectively innovate and curate better technologies, solutions and innovations for the environmental services industry.

A “Skills Framework for Environmental Services” is also launched. It covers five career tracks – cleaning operations, waste collection, material recovery, treatment and disposal, and environment, health and safety – involving 24 key job roles. As reported, it is a reference document for individuals who wish to upgrade their skills and prepare themselves for better jobs in this industry, for employers and for education and training institutions to design programs to address the sector needs.

“The transformation efforts of the ES ITM will ensure that the industry remains competitive and attractive,” the Ministry emphasized. “Businesses, including service providers, technology providers and service buyers, can look forward to opportunities for technology collaboration and adaptation, and optimize allocation of resources through the use of innovative solutions and data analytics.” To encourage greater use of technology and automation, funding schemes that facilitate the development and deployment of innovative and smart technologies are available, the Ministry informed. The Government would also introduce various funding schemes that are open to researchers and industry players.

Furthermore, the Ministry announced that the National Environment Agency continues to work with key association partners, such as the Waste Management & Recycling Association of Singapore (WMRAS) and the Environmental Management Association of Singapore (EMAS), to encourage industry-level collaboration and support the transformation of the environmental services sector. At the same time, it will work with organizations “to enhance enterprise capabilities and drive the adoption of internationally-benchmarked standards, to help more companies capture overseas market opportunities”.

Waste Management and Recycling

In line with the economic growth – gross domestic product (GDP) in 2016: 297.0 billion US-Dollar, real GDP growth: 2.0 percent – and increase in population to about 5.6 million inhabitants, the amount of solid waste generated in Singapore is piling up. In 2016, the quantity of waste was 7.81 million tons, up by 140,700 tons from 7.67 million tons in 2015. The overall recycling rate remained at 61 percent. The volume of waste recycled in 2016 increased by 119,300 tons to 4.76 million tons. According to Singapore National Environment Agency, the rise of recycling volume was largely due to an uptick in amount of construction debris recycled.

Some sectors are showing very high recycling rates. In 2016, 1.59 million tons of construction waste was generated, 1.58 million tons went for recycling and 9,700 tons were disposed of (recycling rate 99 percent). In the same year, recycling rates of nearly 100 percent applied also to ferrous metal (waste generated 1.35 million tons, recycled 1.35 million tons, disposed 6,000 tons) and non-ferrous metals (waste generated 97,200 tons, recycled 95,900 tons, disposed 1,300 tons). The recycling rate of used slag was 98 percent (waste generated 251,100 tons, recycled 247,000 tons, disposed 4,100 tons). The amount of domestic waste generated dropped from 2.13 million tons in 2015 to 2.09 million tons in 2016; but the quantity of waste, which went for recycling, increased from 403,500 tons in 2015 to 435,600 tons in 2016. The domestic waste recycling rate was 21 percent, up from 19 percent in 2015.

Singapore’s solid waste management

Singapore possesses one of the cleanest urban environments in Asia, but there is room for improvement. The country‘s growing population and booming economy have contributed to a about sevenfold increase in the amount of solid waste disposed of from 1,260 tons a day in 1970 to 8,559 tons a day in 2016, the National Environment Agency stated. Solid waste management in Singapore begins at homes and businesses. Prior to the collection, recyclable materials are sorted and retrieved for processing. Then the remaining waste is to be collected and sent to waste-to-energy plants. These facilities reduce the volume of the waste by about 90 percent and produce steam that runs turbine-generators to generate electricity. Currently, Singapore‘s solid waste disposal infrastructure consists of four waste-to-energy (WTE) plants: Tuas, Senoko (divested to the private sector in 2009), Tuas South and Keppel Seghers Tuas Waste-To-Energy Plant (KSTP), which was developed under a Design, Build, Own and Operate (DBOO) model and commissioned in 2009 to replace Singapore‘s first WTE plant at Ulu Pandan.

Ash from the waste-to-energy plants and non-incinerable solid waste is brought to the Tuas Marine Transfer Station (TMTS), where solid waste is unloaded directly from vehicles into long barges. Specially designed tugboats then push the covered barges on a three-hour long journey to offshore Semakau Landfill, located 30 kilometers away from the transfer station, where they are disposed of. The site is currently Singapore’s only landfill facility; covering an area of 350 hectares, the authorities expect that it will meet the country’s disposal needs up to 2035 and beyond. In 2016, the landfill received an average of 2,189 tons of waste every day.

New project

The National Environment Agency (NEA) intends to build an Integrated Waste Management Facility (IWMF) to help Singapore meet its future needs and achieve long-term environmental sustainability. According to the information, its construction will take place in phases with its first treatment facility coming on stream in 2022. As a state-of-the-art flagship facility, it will be equipped with innovative technical solutions that can maximize both energy and resource recovery from solid waste, the information says. As the future integrated waste management facility and the Tuas Water Reclamation Plant (TWRP) will be co-located at the same Tuas View Basin site, various synergies are expected to benefit NEA and PUB (Public Utilities Board), which governs the water resources in the Singaporean city-state. After begin of operation, the IWMF will be able to process – on a daily basis – 5,800 tons of incinerable waste, 250 tons of household recyclables, 400 tons of source-segregated food waste and 800 tons of dewatered sludge from TWRP.

Water and waste water treatment

In this area, the Singaporean Public Utilities Board (PUB) triples as a utility and research development center and export platform for water technology. When it comes to water, Singapore wants to become independent. That is the reason why PUB has developed new water projects such as NEWater (recycled water) and the Deep Tunnel Sewerage System (DTSS) as well as more desalination and rainfall storage. Converted into US-Dollar, around 10 billion US-Dollar, including water recycling and waste recycling from the site Tuas, flows into the tunnel for wastewater (DTSS), which is 40 kilometers long. According to the information of Germany Trade & Invest, the planning phase is going to last until the middle of 2019. The construction phase is said to end 2025.

The tunnel for wastewater, which is being built since 2017, should run in the underground. The already existing waste water system is planned to be bind on the tunnel through appropriate connections (length: around 60 kilometers). The second centerpiece of the project is the Tuas Water Reclamation Plant (TWRP) with an integrated production facility for recycled water, which can be used as drinkable water or as water for the industry. The facility will house the world’s largest membrane bioreactor with a flow path of 800,000 cubic meters per day.

In order to reduce the dependence on rainwater, the construction of the fifth facility is planned for the desalination of sea water. The facility should have a flow path of 120 million liter per day. Furthermore, the facility is going to be built on the island Jurong next to a power plant in order to use synergies.

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