Singapore’s march toward zero waste: an opportunity for Australian companies

waste management

Singapore is looking to pursue a circular model for its economy and wants to increase its domestic food production. Bruce Gosper explains the opportunity this presents for Australian companies with expertise in waste management, water management, packaging and agri-tech to turn ‘trash into treasure’.

Globally, 90 billion tonnes of primary materials are extracted and used each year. Yet, only nine per cent of what we use is recycled. This ‘make-take-dispose’ consumer model is not only unsustainable, but has significant health and environmental impacts. It’s a global crisis and nations are being made to confront their waste realities as developing nations start to refuse any more waste.

Singapore means business when it comes to reducing its domestic waste and becoming more self-sufficient in meeting its food needs. The amount of waste disposed of in Singapore has increased seven-fold over the past four decades. At this rate, Singapore’s only landfill, Semakau Landfill, will be full by 2035. There’s limited land to build new incineration plants – not without its own set of environmental impacts – and limited land for new landfills.

To overcome these challenges and continue to grow sustainably, Singapore is pursuing a circular economy. Singapore’s inaugural Zero Waste Masterplan sets out an ambitious target: to cut waste sent to Semakau Landfill each day by 30 per cent by 2030. The three priority waste streams are food waste, e-waste and packaging. Mandatory packaging reporting starts in 2020 and an Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) for e-waste will be in place by 2021. The ERP will likely be extended to packaging by 2025.

Legislation passed by Parliament earlier this month provides the relevant authorities with regulatory powers to compel large waste producers to reuse and recycle more. The National Environment Agency’s (NEA) ‘Closing the Waste Loop’ research and development initiative is encouraging research-business collaborations to develop technologies and solutions to tackle challenges posed by increased waste and resource scarcity.

The momentum for change and thirst for creative solutions present exciting opportunities. First-movers are well-placed to capitalise on embracing circular supply chains. This means opportunities for Australian companies who already show sustainability leadership in waste management, water management, packaging and agri-tech.

Australia is home to world-class expertise at the forefront of these industries. Companies like Visy, a global leader in the packaging, paper and resource recovery industries that provides high quality, innovative and sustainable packaging products and solutions. Visy’s emphasis on closed loop packaging and recycling solutions based on customer needs has affirmed its reputation as one of Australia’s biggest and most innovative waste recovery companies.

Australia’s national research and science organisation, CSIRO, is using its world-class cross-disciplinary expertise to develop solutions to address gaps in Australia’s circular economy. A key focus is world-leading research into marine debris to help protect ecosystems. CSIRO is also researching more sustainable options for products that often end up in landfill, including research into recovery of metals and materials, battery reuse and recycling and development of new battery materials.

CSIRO has applied digital technology to the waste challenge, recently spinning-out the ASPIRE waste management online marketplace in Australia from its research. ASPIRE intelligently matches businesses with potential remanufacturers, purchasers or recyclers to find new purposes for waste materials. It goes one step further than a passive waste exchange by actively suggesting business-to-business collaborations.

Our expertise is already being acknowledged by Singapore through partnerships and contract awards. Australian built environment company, Leighton Asia, was awarded the design and construction contract for Singapore’s Deep Tunnel Sewerage System (DTSS). This massive integrated Public Utilities Board project aims to meet Singapore’s long term clean water needs through the collection, treatment, reclamation and disposal of used water from industries, homes and businesses.

Australian expertise also forms part of research and strategy firm GA Circular which has been working with the NEA since 2018 to conduct commercial and industrial food waste audits. This is assisting Singapore to define food waste categories, driving policy change to combat food waste.

Reducing food waste is a priority for Singapore. Concurrently, Singapore is looking to increase food self-sufficiency. To focus this effort, Singapore has launched the ‘30 by 30’ initiative to produce 30 per cent of its food locally by 2030.

Australian expertise is already contributing to this national priority. Singapore’s first agri-foodtech accelerator, GROW, is backed by a joint venture between one of the world’s leading investors in food and agri-tech, AgFunder, and Rocket Seeder, one of Australia’s leading agri-food accelerators. GROW is supported by the Singapore Government through its business agency Enterprise Singapore and the Economic Development Board and aims to enhance the local agri-tech and food tech ecosystem. GROW announced its first start up cohort this month with projects ranging from algae-based alternative proteins for plant-based meats to AI tools for monitoring.

It’s an exciting time for innovative Australian companies in waste management, water management, packaging and agri-tech to be in Singapore. The Singapore Government’s strong focus on pursuing a circular economy and achieving targets in relation to waste reduction, sustainability and greater food security present exciting opportunities for Australian companies and potential business and research collaborations between our countries.

Are you an Australian company in Singapore in an industry area that contributes to the development of a circular economy? The Australian High Commission would love to hear from you to learn more about your work. Please contact us at public-affairs-SING@dfat.gov.au.

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