How can businesses use their influence to build sustainable industries? Mining urban waste streams for valuable resources is one way to start, said sustainability leaders at this year’s Eco Action Day.
Singapore may be a resource-constrained economy, but there are rich resources in the waste we throw away, said Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources, at this year’s edition of the annual industry roundtable event Eco Action Day hosted by imaging and electronics company Ricoh.
Speaking about Singapore’s waste management systems at the event last month, Khor said: “There is potential for us to turn our country into an urban mine.” Urban mines refer to the continuous waste that is generated in the country that can be harvested and upcycled, thus reducing reliance on natural mining resources.
An example of this is the rare and precious metals that can be recovered from the 60,000 tonnes of electronic waste that is generated in the country annually.
Forty-eight sustainability leaders from the government, civil society and corporate sectors were present at the roundtable to discuss how industry innovation could contribute to sustainable development, an aim embodied by Goal 9 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), “Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure”.
Introduced by the United Nations in 2015, the SDGs are a collection of 17 global goals that seek to protect the environment and establish a poverty-free and prosperous world by 2030.
Rethinking product designs and business models
There was broad recognition among experts of the need for industrial production and waste management to shift towards a circular economy, which is an economic concept that champions material recovery at the end of a product’s lifecycle to channel resources back into production.
Otherwise, experts warned, Singapore will face increasing waste accumulation and problems related to high rates of disposal, and potentially face the same urban waste management nightmare as Hong Kong.
Industry leaders agreed that innovation in product designs and business models was crucial to achieving the circular economy.
One major obstacle to sustainability endeavours in the industry is planned obsolescence, a common and conscious business strategy to design cheap and short-lasting products in order to increase sales, shared Maggie Lee, market transformation manager at World Wide Fund for Nature, Singapore.