SINGAPORE: The Ministry of Environment and Water Resources (MEWR) will implement a mandatory electrical and electronic waste management system by 2021, Senior Minister of State Amy Khor announced on Tuesday (Mar 6).
The system will cover five main categories of products - information and communications technology, like mobile phones and computers; solar panels; batteries; lamps and large household appliances like refrigerators, air-conditioners, washing machines and dryers.
“Together, these products make up close to 90 per cent of e-waste in Singapore,” said Dr Khor.
The system works through an Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) approach - used in countries like Sweden and South Korea - where manufacturers and importers are required to take back a proportion of the products they put on the market. Together with Producer Responsibility Organisations (PROs) licensed by the National Environment Agency (NEA), they must organise the collection, transport and proper treatment of e-waste.
Producers of electrical and electronic equipment may work together to form their own PROs.
Dr Khor explained: “For example, PROs will work with large electrical and electronic retailers to set up in-store e-waste collection points. All retailers must also provide free one-for-one take-back service for their products.”
Companies such as Courts, Harvey Norman and Gain City are coming on board, she said.
“We will set collection targets in consultation with the industry and review them before implementing a penalty framework eventually,” added Dr Khor, noting that European Union member states, for instance, are currently required to collect 45 per cent of electronic goods sold on the market, by weight.
NEA will also license e-waste recycling facilities, to ensure high safety and environmental standards during disassembly and processing. E-waste contains small amounts of hazardous heavy metals such as mercury and cadmium.
“The mandatory e-waste system will help both the environment and the economy,” said Dr Khor. “EPR systems have generated new business opportunities and jobs in the e-waste management and recycling industries in other countries. In France, for instance, more than 3,000 e-waste recycling jobs were created since EPR was implemented in 2005.
“We will integrate and support smaller industry players so they can benefit from our national system, including the karang guni men who provide collection services.”
MEWR will also study practices in other countries to design a cost-effective system, and consult relevant stakeholders to work out legislation and implementation details, said Dr Khor.
In the coming months, NEA will also conduct market sounding on the industry’s interest for the formation of PROs and will call for ideas on feasible service models for the EPR framework.
A GROWING PROBLEM
Singapore generates about 60,000 tonnes of e-waste annually - a figure expected to increase with rising affluence and technological advancements.
“That is like every person in Singapore throwing away 73 mobile phones every year,” said Dr Khor.
“E-waste contains heavy metals and hazardous substances that can seriously harm the environment and public health if not properly handled. Some heavy metals can also be extracted from properly recovered e-waste and re-used, which is more sustainable than mining for virgin metals.”
An NEA study uncovered that around 6 per cent of residents place their e-waste in e-recycling bins. The e-waste recycling rate by businesses is estimated to be higher, but “more needs to be done”, said Dr Khor.
NEA also found out that in the hands of scrap traders and rag-and-bone men, e-waste either ends up refurbished for sale if reusable, or dismantled and traded.
Many of these collectors do not have the capability to maximise resource recovery from e-waste and, only recycle components of significant value, said NEA in a media release. In Singapore, e-waste that is not recycled is incinerated, which results in the loss of resources as well as in carbon emissions that contribute to global warming and climate change.
The processing of e-waste by these collectors can also result in workplace hazards and poor environmental practices - including the venting of refrigerants from refrigerators and air-conditioners to the environment, and discarding of potentially hazardous unwanted components with general waste. Heavy metals in the e-waste also contaminate the incineration ash which is landfilled at Semakau Landfill.
A regulated system is therefore needed to ensure that consumers are provided with convenient means to recycle their e-waste, and the e-waste collected is channelled to proper recycling facilities where safety and environmental standards are adhered to.