SINGAPORE (Aug 27): Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli says Singapore must work together to help mitigate climate change, even as the country explores solutions to adapt to "a new normal".

“Even as we discuss what the government and businesses can do to reduce waste, we must recognise the need for all sectors of society to contribute to our journey towards zero waste and environmental sustainability,” Masagos says at the Singapore Environmental Achievement Awards (SEAA) on Tuesday.

The minister adds that Singapore will later this week launch its inaugural Zero Waste Masterplan as the nation seeks to raise awareness of waste issues and the need to conserve resources.

The masterplan is expected to examine the waste management cycle for three major streams of trash: Food waste, packing waste and e-waste.

“Food waste will be one of the areas we will put special focus on, as it is one of the biggest waste streams in Singapore,” Masagos says.

Food for thought

A joint study published by the Singapore Environment Council (SEC) and Deloitte Singapore found that some 342,000 tonnes of food loss occurs within Singapore each year – even before reaching retail and consumers.

This translates to an estimated $2.54 billion lost each year from farm to market.

In addition, food waste further downstream, comprising unconsumed and uncooked food discarded by consumers, amounted to some $342 million each year.

According to the study, close to one-third of respondents say they throw away more than 10% of food weekly.

See: $2.54 bil worth of food loss incurred in Singapore annually even before reaching consumers: study

“When we waste food, we not only lose food that could have fed others. We also waste the resources used to grow, harvest, transport and package food,” Masagos says. “Today, we tend to take, make and throw away without a second thought to our impact on the environment. This will become increasingly unsustainable.”

Drawing on the example of how Singapore has adopted circular economy strategies in water management, the minister adds that the country must likewise “close the loop” in dealing with other resources.

“By endlessly recycling the water we use into NEWater, and putting it back into the system, we have closed the water loop,” Masagos says. “Going forward, we will pursue the circular economy in the waste and material resources sector with the same determination.”

To this end, SEC and Deloitte say the study has pointed out that the circularity of food will help reduce food loss and waste to possibly create a fourth “food basket” that could enhance Singapore’s food security for the foreseeable future.

The first three food baskets refer to food imports, local food production, and companies expanding overseas to export their produce back to Singapore.

“There is an urgent need to reform the current food supply chain in Singapore,” says SEC chairman Isabella Huang-Loh. “The findings from our study will help to sharpen our focus on the urgency of food loss and prevention as part of climate change mitigation.”

“The study also looks at possible solutions to improve the situation. Based on the value drivers identified in our study, it is recommended that Singapore look towards an economy for the food chain to be both sustainable and circular,” she adds.

This, she says, can help Singapore achieve its “30 by 30” goal to produce 30% of the population’s nutritional needs by 2030.

Businesses lead the way in green efforts

Meanwhile, Masagos on Tuesday also presented 11 corporations with environmental awards to honour their commitment to sustainability and environmental excellence.

Award winners came from a wide range of industries such as banking, shipping, logistics and transportation, engineering and technology, community living, real estate, and venue management.

DBS Bank emerged as the top performer across all award categories, clinching the prestigious SEC-CDL Outstanding Singapore Environmental Achievement Award.

It also won the SEC-STATS Asia Pacific Singapore Environmental Achievement Award under the services category, sharing the honour with Keppel Corporation.

See: Keppel wins environmental award, secures inclusion in FTSE4Good Index

In his speech, Masagos commended DBS for driving energy efficiency through the optimisation of electricity consumption at its data centres.

“Besides incorporating circular economy practices in its operations, DBS has also committed to using 100% renewable energy in all its markets by 2030,” he adds.

Also winning praise from the environment and water resources minister was Asia Pacific Breweries, which was one of the first in Asia to install a Water Reuse Treatment Plant to conserve water and reuse it for cooling, cleaning, and landscaping.

APB won the SEC-SETSCO Singapore Environmental Achievement Award under the manufacturing category.

“I hope that these efforts will inspire other organisations to strive towards environmental sustainability,” Masagos says.

Other winners of the Singapore Environmental Achievement Award this year include Dyna-Mac Holdings, Frasers Property, and Golden Agri-Resources.

“Purposeful action by these organisations to be more green in the way they operate can have a ripple effect on their employees and the wider community to help secure a greener and more liveable Singapore for today and future generations,” says Jen Teo, SEC’s executive director.

Tackling climate change at home

The environmental sustainability debate has heated up in Singapore, after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his National Day rally speech on Aug 18 estimated that it could cost $100 billion or more over the next 50 to 100 years to protect the island nation against rising sea levels brought about by climate change.

Lee stressed that Singapore must treat its battle against rising sea levels “with utmost seriousness” — likening it to the Singapore Armed Forces, which protect the country’s sovereignty. Both are matters of “life and death” for Singapore, he said. “Everything else must bend at the knee to safeguard the existence of our island nation.”

Already, national water agency PUB has plans to build a second pump house at the opposite end of the Marina Barrage, where water is pumped out of Marina Reservoir into the sea when it rains heavily, thus preventing the city area, including Singapore’s financial centre, from flooding.

Further inland, new developments will be built on higher platforms, at least 4m above mean sea level. Critical infrastructure such as Changi Airport Terminal 5 and Tuas Port will be raised at least 5m above sea level.

Along the eastern coastline, Lee said Singapore is also examining other alternatives, noting that while there are good engineering solutions to tackle the problem, “they will all cost money”. One such alternative would be to reclaim a series of islands offshore — stretching from Marina East to Changi — that will be connected by barrages to create a freshwater reservoir.

Lee also revealed that Singapore has looked at other low-lying countries for inspiration. The Netherlands, for instance, uses polders and dykes to keep the land dry.

See: Climate change debate heats up for businesses as Singapore shores up defence against rising sea levels [Subscribers only]

“By planning ahead and investing well, I am confident that Singapore will remain a vibrant and liveable city for our future generations,” Masagos says.