Singapore Passes Bill to Regulate Transboundary Movement of Plastic Waste

Feb 2020

In February 2020, the Singapore parliament passed the Hazardous Waste (Control of Export, Import And Transit) Amendment Bill to comply with amendments to the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal (Basel Convention).

Singapore is a party to the Basel Convention which governs the classification and transboundary movement of hazardous and other waste, via the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) procedure. Exporting states that wish to export any waste stream that is covered by the Convention have to obtain prior consent from the countries receiving the waste, or the states of import, as well as the countries through which the waste transits, or the states of transit.

Amidst global concerns about the environmental impact of unregulated trade in plastic waste, parties to the Basel Convention agreed in 2019 to extend the PIC procedure to the export of certain non-hazardous plastic waste as well as plastic waste with hazardous characteristics. However, most clean and homogeneous plastic waste which has been sorted prior to export and is destined for recycling will not be subjected to the PIC procedure. These amendments to the Basel Convention will take effect on 1 January 2021.

Singapore fulfils its obligations to the Basel Convention through the Hazardous Waste (Control of Export, Import and Transit) Act, or HWA. This Amendment Bill seeks to expand the scope of the HWA comply with the amendments to the Basel Convention. To help companies comply with the requirements, the National Environment Agency will guide companies through the Basel permit application procedures. The government hopes that the local recycling industry will benefit from economic opportunities as clearer regulations on the flow of recyclables develop and facilitate the legitimate flow of recyclables.

Plastic waste in Singapore is either recycled or incinerated. Such wastes are not landfilled. All general waste and recyclables must be collected by licensed collectors. Plastic recyclables that are segregated at source is sorted and sent for recycling either locally or overseas. Plastic waste which is not source-segregated for recycling is incinerated with other general waste at Waste-to-Energy plants. In 2018, approximately 949,000 tons of plastic waste were generated in Singapore, which was about 12% of the total waste generated. Around 4% of the plastic waste generated was recycled, and of this, 7% was recycled locally, while the rest was sorted and exported for recycling. The plastics that are recycled are mainly post-industrial plastics that are clean and homogenous, or recyclables from households that have been sorted and baled at  Singapore’s Material Recovery Facilities.

Singapore hopes to further build up local recycling capabilities to better extract resources from plastic waste. Both mechanical and chemical recycling options are being studied. Based on consultations held by the government with industry players, the main impediments to greater recycling locally are the lack of economies of scale, and low global demand.

(Sources: Ministry of the environment and water resources, Singapore; Straits Times)

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