According to the National Environmental Agency (NEA), in 2017, Singapore generated 7.7 million tonnes of waste – a sevenfold increase from 40 years ago and enough to fill 15,000 Olympic-size swimming pools. If we’re not going to drown ourselves in trash while destroying the planet in the process, something has to change.
Today, with the sustainability zeitgeist accompanied by a go-getter generation willing to act on change, it appears that we may be well on our way towards a zero-waste world. Local businesses committed to doing their bit are on the rise, and the government has pledged 2019 as Singapore’s Year towards Zero Waste. To see what this means in practice, we’ve tracked down four zero-waste ventures in Singapore and beyond.
Changing shopping habits
Out to save the Earth one grocery run at a time is UnPackt. Co-founded by Florence Tay, 36, and Jeff Lam, 38, UnPackt is Singapore’s first zero-waste grocery store. At this specialty supermarket, customers bring their own reusable containers to store their purchases and pay by weight for the amount they consume. So instead of buying an entire bag of rice and possibly leaving it to waste, you buy just what you need.
“We offer mostly organic and fair-trade products so shoppers can use their cost savings from shopping package-free to access these products,” shares Tay. They also try to source locally as much as possible to reduce their carbon footprint. Apart from food, an assortment of environmentally friendly lifestyle goods such as bamboo kitchenware and organic soaps can also be found at UnPackt.
Tay recognises that there has been an increase in awareness about sustainability over the past year; however most people still have to make a shift in consumption habits. “It can start with conscious consumption by buying just what we need or refusing unnecessary items such as free gifts, or responsible consumption where we stop to think if we should give it a second lease of life before we dispose it.”
Better ways to indulge
Also on a mission to champion a sustainable lifestyle is local cocktail bar, Native. Helmed by eco-warrior Vijay Mudaliar, Native prides itself on using only regional spirits. They practice foraging for ingredients – including ants – by growing their own herbs and sourcing within Asia. All spirits are skilfully created in their “mini mezzanine lab”, as Mudaliar calls it, with the use of a rotary evaporator. Banana peels, old coconuts and pineapple skins are repurposed into cocktails and citrus fruits are replaced with vinegar and kombucha infusions instead. Even the bar’s electricity is harvested from a solar company.
“We’re part of the Food & Beverage industry. As a huge contributor to food waste, it’s our responsibility to pass on a message to our customers and the industry,” the 29-year old explains.
To date, the most trash the bar has generated is a mere 98 grams – majority of which ended up in their bokashi compost, a Japanese system of composting waste to produce anti-bacterial liquid enzyme. Mudaliar and his team then use the finished product to clean up the bar. Native also has a strict zero plastic policy – even their coasters are hand cut from lotus leaves.
We can all make changes in our domestic habits, suggests Mudaliar. He recommends bringing along a tote bag when grocery shopping, using your own cups when getting coffee and making more runs to the supermarket instead of buying in bulk. Small acts perhaps, but they can still make a difference. “In our actions, we can make a lot of difference. If it inspires one other person to do the same, I think that can only be a good thing,” he says.
Electronic waste – or e-waste – is also piling up in Singapore. Statistics show that we generate up to 60,000 tonnes of e-waste annually, which is about the weight of over 200 Airbus A380 superjumbos.
To help combat this issue is a recently announced S$20 million research centre by Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA). Called the NTU Singapore-CEA Alliance for Research in Circular Economy (SCARCE), the centre focuses solely on e-waste recycling and is believed to be a world first.
“The lab is to spur innovative ways to process e-waste and harvest as much recyclable materials as possible,” shares NTU Professor and Co-Director of the centre, Madhavi Srinivasan. Through their research, SCARCE aims to look at safer ways to recycle and recover precious metals from lithium ion batteries, extract silicon from old solar panels and detoxify hazardous plastics from e-waste. As a start, the lab has already produced a shredder to crush batteries more efficiently and developed new techniques to separate metal components.
“For now, our goal is to partner with as many industry players as possible and to work alongside government agencies to find even better ways to process e-waste,” says Srinivasan.
Driving sustainability forward
Audi recognises that resource scarcity, environmental pollution and climate change are among the greatest challenges we face today. We help manage them by manufacturing sustainable products and developing innovative drive technologies as well as starting to reduce its environmental footprint as early as the production stage. That means using resources such as energy and water carefully, and avoiding emissions of carbon dioxide, solvents and waste.
Vehicle manufacturing produces CO₂ emissions at various stages, including the provision of electricity, heating or transportation at the plant. In 2014, Audi was the first premium carmaker to determine its corporate carbon footprint according to an internationally accepted standard. It marked a key step toward transparency in the company’s greenhouse gas emissions. Today, these emissions can be analysed in even greater detail and effectively reduced.
Audi Brussels is the world’s first certified CO₂-neutral high-volume production plant in the premium segment. All production processes and emissions generated at the site are covered either by renewable energies (approximately 95 per cent) or compensated for with environmental projects (approximately five per cent). Since 2018, our site in Brussels is exclusively producing the first fully electric series model: the Audi e-tron.