From the adoption of technology to making cleaning and waste management jobs smarter, safer and easier, to helping local companies go global – the environmental services industry is getting a facelift to sparkle with higher productivity and capabilities.
They keep roads, housing estates, schools
and offices clean. But the labour-intensive
Environmental Services (ES) industry suffers
from an image problem. The industry,
comprising 1,280 licensed cleaning firms, 450
waste management companies and over 300
pest management companies, is often viewed
as low-skilled and low-tech, and overlooked
by young job seekers due to the lack of career
But that will soon change. With the adoption
of a circular economy approach in waste and
resource management, we will require the
support of relevant enterprises and
a skilled workforce. This will require the
ES industry to become sleeker and more
sophisticated with a makeover.
This is the aim of the Environmental Services
Industry Transformation Map (ES ITM), which
focuses on four main areas: technology and
innovation, jobs and skills, productivity and
standards, and internationalisation. These
areas will be supported by enablers.
By 2025, we expect about 30,000 people
from the industry to benefit from higher-value
jobs through skills upgrading and technology
ITM FOCUS 1: Technology and innovation
By ramping up the use of technology, the
industry will find innovative ways to get
the job done with less sweat – raising the
productivity of all employees. This will also
create new and more highly-skilled jobs that
will attract younger Singaporeans to join the
industry. Ultimately, we hope to export these
Here are two strategies to achieve this target:
STRATEGY 1 SPUR INNOVATION
There are four approaches to drive the
development of new technologies
- Develop new ways to perform cleaning and waste management tasks that can be scalable and replicated overseas
- Help companies expand their capabilities and grow by providing opportunities to expand their businesses in global markets
- Promote research and development (R&D) within companies
- Position Singapore as the technology centre of excellence by showcasing locally developed cleaning and waste management solutions, and nurturing companies which innovate
Instead of relying heavily on manual
labour, Singapore aims to automate waste
management processes, including waste
collection and the sorting of recyclables.
Doing so will make the industry less labourintensive,
enable workers to take on more
complex tasks and improve overall efficiency.
To encourage Singapore companies to
develop novel ES solutions that can cut
our manpower needs, bring about cost
savings, and improve the quality of
operations, the NEA and Enterprise Singapore
launched the Gov-PACT innovation calls. The
opportunity to supply such solutions to the
Government will help our local enterprises
build innovation capabilities and track records
when scaling up locally or exporting overseas.
Companies can tap on several funds to
reduce the cost of venturing into R&D,
or automating their processes.
NO LONGER A MAD RUSH FROM BIN TO BIN
There is no longer a need for a two-men
collection crew, running from one recycling
bin to the next, and having to push the
recycling bins to the truck to be emptied.
Now, a truck driver can complete the whole
operation from the comfort of his truck cabin,
thanks to a side loader.
The side loader has a robotic lifting arm
attached to the side of the truck. With simple
button clicks and the use of a joystick, the
driver can lift and empty the recycling bins
into the truck.
Supported by the Singapore Economic
Development Board (EDB), this has helped
waste management firms like 800Super
become more manpower-lean, while
improving the working conditions of its staff.
STRATEGY 2 DRIVE WIDESPREAD ADOPTION OF TECHNOLOGY
To encourage the adoption of technology, we focus on three areas:
- Identify technologies to be used on a wider scale
- Establish partnerships for technology exchanges
- Leverage platforms such as the Whole-of-Government Business Grants Portal to provide a technology repository for ease
of technology adoption, and Technology Connect Sessions to link the technology providers to service buyers
In order to boost the productivity of Jewel Changi Airport, robots developed by Lionsbot International will be deployed to help with cleaning and waste collection. The robot Leopull helps cleaners by transporting waste carts around Jewel Changi Airport, freeing cleaners up to complete other tasks Photo: Lionsbot International Pte Ltd
If we want to create a leaner, more elderly-friendly
and productive industry, we need to change the way we currently clean spaces
and manage waste.
Job redesign is the way forward. The
ES Job Redesign Initiative was a joint
collaboration between the NEA and
Workforce Singapore (WSG), supported by the
Environmental Management Association of
Singapore (EMAS) and Waste Management
and Recycling Association of Singapore
(WMRAS). It provided a list of solutions that
companies were able to adopt easily, as well
as a grant that they could tap on.
The NEA also launched a $30 million
Productivity Solutions Grant (PSG) that funds
the adoption of commercially available and
proven ES technologies, including equipment
and digital solutions that raise productivity.
It is open to both small and medium-sized
enterprises (SMEs) and multinational
ITM FOCUS 2: Jobs and skills
While technology makes jobs easier, it is also
crucial to improve the skills of workers to
take on higher-value jobs within the industry.
The overall goal is to do more with less –
reducing manpower needs through better
infrastructure and building design, as well
as promoting a “self-serve” mindset where
people clean up after themselves.
There are three strategies to achieve
STRATEGY 1 - MODERATE MANPOWER DEMAND
Everyone plays an important part in
minimising the need for cleaning and waste
management services. This can be done
through simple acts of clearing trays after
meals at hawker centres and food courts, or
reducing the waste we throw away.
The load of ES workers can be lightened
through the following measures:
- Design buildings that enable cleaning and waste collection to be done faster, easier and with fewer workers
- Encourage Singaporeans to keep their surroundings clean through ongoing programmes such as the Keep Singapore Clean Movement, Tray Return initiative and the Daily Cleaning at Ministry of Education (MOE) schools
- Promote the habit of reducing, reusing and recycling
STRATEGY 2 - SUSTAINABLE MANPOWER SUPPLY
As we aim to reduce manpower in the
industry, there is still a need to ensure a
steady stream of workers for the future.
Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources, Dr Amy Khor, with recipients of the Certificate of Excellence at the ES Workforce Day in November 2018
We look to improve on six areas:
- Redesign jobs and adopt automation and assistive technology to reduce the physical demands of the job. This will make the work less strenuous for older employees and reduce the total number of workers needed
- Focus on attracting mid-career switches, senior workers, women returning to the workforce and fresh school leavers
- Improve the industry’s image
- Strengthen human resource policies and practices
- Facilitate internship opportunities
- Tap on National Jobs Bank to connect employers with suitable candidates
The NEA is working with WSG, the industry
and solution providers to encourage
companies on these fronts. For instance,
they have organised appreciation events
for ES professionals to recognise their
commitment and excellence in their work.
They also collaborated with Institutes of
Higher Learning (IHLs) to attract the younger
generation to the industry, such as by
increasing internship opportunities.
STRATEGY 3 - SKILLED AND RESILIENT WORKFORCE
Every worker should be given the opportunity
to learn new skills and grow in their jobs.
Four possible ways to do so are:
- Create a Skills Framework for ES together with SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG), WSG and industry stakeholders
- Develop apprenticeship and scholarship programmes to attract and retain talent, especially at Associate Professionals and Technicians (APT) and Professionals, Managers and Executives (PME) levels
- Facilitate Pre-Employment Training (PET) and Continuing Education and Training (CET) Programmes together with IHLs, and the expansion of PET and CET offerings
- Review the Singapore Workforce Skills Qualifications (WSQ) modules to ensure that they are still relevant to the industry,
particularly for rank and file workers
In 2018, Republic Polytechnic launched a
new Part-Time Diploma in Applied Science
(ES and Management), which is a Work-Study
Programme. This diploma course provides
opportunities for participants to deepen their
skills and knowledge needed for a career in
the ES industry, especially in operational roles
from Operations Executives to Hazardous
More PET and CET programmes will be
gradually put in place to address the skills
and training needs of the industry.
Mr Koh Kheng Huat enrolled in the SkillsFuture Work - Study Programme leading to a Part-Time Diploma in Applied Science (ES and Management) by Republic Polytechnic in 2019. The course will prepare him for his job at PV Vacuum Engineering Pte Ltd, a company providing pneumatic waste conveyance system services, by teaching him project management skills and imparting knowledge on environmental operations and environmental sustainability. Photo: PV Vacuum Engineering Pte Ltd
NOT JUST A LOW-SKILLED INDUSTRY
At local SME Biomax Green Pte Ltd, a
dedicated team of professionals leverage
advanced biotechnology to develop innovative
solutions that improve and diversify the
company’s services and offerings. The
company specialises in solutions that
convert organic waste into high-grade
organic fertiliser through the use of digesters
and enzymes, which were developed by
biotechnology research specialists. The
company also employs a qualified team of
sales and operations managers to engage
local and international clients, and manage
projects from around the world.
Biomax laboratory Photo: Biomax Green Pte Ltd
As the environmental impact of plastic
waste takes the spotlight, Plaspulp
Union offers an efficient plastic
treatment solution. Ms Jade Loh
(pictured), works at Plaspulp Union as
an Operations Manager, where she and
her team explore recycling solutions
for complicated waste materials. Using
advanced technology and automation,
plastic waste is segregated and
processed faster, ensuring a better
Ms Jade Loh, Operations Manager at Plaspulp Union, explores recycling solutions for waste materials. Photo: SSG
SembWaste Pte Ltd, one of
Singapore’s Public Waste
Collectors, has adopted a Smart
Waste Collection System (SWCS).
This system leverages sensor
technology to detect the capacity
of waste in compactor bins and
uses this information to plan
vehicle routing and scheduling to
optimise resources. This improves
productivity, while the use of
technology provides higher-skilled
jobs in waste collection.
SembWaste waste collection crew uses a smart device to receive waste collection jobs from SembWaste’s Command Centre, where waste capacity levels in compactor bin centres are remotely monitored
ITM FOCUS 3 - Productivity
To transform the industry, service
buyers have to get involved. By relooking their
procurement practices, they can
facilitate innovation, productivity and
One way is to shift towards performance or
outcome-based contracts, which specify the
service outcomes or performance standards
required. This is unlike the traditional headcount
based approach to procurement, which
states the number of workers required.
Another way is to have a longer contract
period that allows companies to make returns
on their investments in technology.
We are also looking at ways to better
optimise land use and create additional
spaces to raise land productivity. These
include housing various recycling activities
under one roof, in the form of a multi-storied
development, and reusing our closed landfills.
SINGAPORE’S FIRST MULTI-STOREY RECYCLING FACILITY
Slated to be launched in 2021, the Multi-
Storey Recycling Facility (MSRF) will create
space to house recyclers handling different
forms of waste streams like metals, e-waste,
paper and plastics under one roof. The colocation
of these recyclers will support the
circular economy approach by promoting
synergies amongst them.
Developed by JTC, and designed in
consultation with the NEA and the industry,
the facility will offer industrialists heavy
production floor loading, high ceiling and
wide column span, replicating a land-based
operating environment in a high-rise setting.
In addition, shared green spaces and facilities
will be provided for greater community
The MSRF will be located next to JTC’s
TimMac @ Kranji. The MSRF will facilitate the
re-use of wastes and by-products from the
metals, machinery and timber industries that
will be housed within TimMac @ Kranji.
Artist’s impression of the multi-storey recycling facility. Photo: JTC
SARIMBUN RECYCLING PARK
Tucked away in the north-western corner of
Singapore that was once the Lim Chu Kang
Dumping Ground is Sarimbun Recycling
Set up in 1995 to give recycling a boost, it is
home to over 10 recycling plants that handle
a quarter of the country’s recycling.
There, construction waste is turned into
recycled material for roads and buildings,
horticultural waste into compost and
charcoal, and scrap plastic into plastic
pellets that can then be reused to
manufacture new products.
The NEA is now looking at using SRP once
more to push the recycling sector forward.
In 2017, it launched a study into the strength
and stability of the ground, soil and ground
water conditions at SRP. The NEA is currently
working with other Government agencies to
explore redeveloping and intensifying the land
use at SRP so that it can continue to support
the circular economy approach of closing our
waste loops through recycling in Singapore.
ITM FOCUS 4 - Internationalisation
Limited by Singapore’s small market size,
companies can only grow by venturing
overseas. Expanding across borders gives
companies the impetus and opportunity to
gain new capabilities and expertise that will
help them to be globally competitive.
There are three strategies to achieve this.
STRATEGY 1: ENHANCE MARKET ACCESS
Breaking into a new market is difficult,
especially when in a foreign land and up
against household names. To get the word
out about what we have to offer, the NEA
will be collaborating with its overseas
counterparts, as well as participating in
We will also continue to widen the horizons of
our ES companies and trade associations, by
supporting their learning trips overseas where
they can be exposed to the world’s most
Through international platforms and events
that the NEA regularly organises, such as
the CleanEnviro Summit Singapore, we also
help them link up with the international
audience. The key objective of this event is
to serve as a platform for local companies
to showcase their products, solutions and
services to international buyers, distributors
and collaborators. It also offers in-depth
discussions, roundtables and sharing of best
practices. The fourth edition in 2018, held in
conjunction with the World Cities Summit
and the Singapore International Water Week,
attracted over 24,000 visitors from more than
120 countries and regions, with over 1,100
STRATEGY 2: GROW CAPABILITIES TO CAPTURE OVERSEAS MARKETS
Innovation and internationalisation go hand in
hand. To be globally competitive, companies
cannot survive with “me-too” products that do
not top their competitors’ offerings.
We support companies that venture overseas
by developing their capabilities in identified
growth areas with high market potential.
Solutions developed can also be adopted by
other countries with the same aspirations for
a clean and liveable environment as us.
STRATEGY 3 SCALE UP AND OFFER INTEGRATED SOLUTIONS
To be a world leader in providing solutions to
environmental challenges, we need the whole
industry to work together to put ideas into
action. By working with other industry sectors
in the Built Environment Cluster, the NEA aims
to develop integrated solutions, tapping on
the unique capabilities of each sector, for city
planning and development projects overseas.
Strengthening trade associations to support transformation
We look to our trade associations such as
WMRAS and EMAS to spearhead industrywide
collaboration, and support them through
For instance, Enterprise Singapore’s Local
Enterprise and Association Development
(LEAD) programme supports WMRAS
and EMAS in initiatives that build up their
core capabilities to better support industry
transformation in their subsectors. They
include internships for students, which create
a pipeline of talent for the industry, and
overseas mission trips to help enterprises
hunt for opportunities abroad and source for
Artist’s impression of Hong Kong’s first Integrated Waste Management Facility (IWMF). Singapore company
Keppel Infrastructure Holdings Pte Ltd, and China Harbour Engineering Company Limited, through their respective
wholly owned subsidiaries, Keppel Seghers Hong Kong Limited and Zhen Hua Engineering Co. Ltd., clinched the
S$5.3 billion project to design, build and operate Hong Kong’s first IWMF for municipal solid waste. The IWMF will
include a 3,000 tonnes/day Waste-To-Energy (WTE) plant that is capable of generating approximately 480 million
kWh of net electricity/year, as well as a 200 tonnes/day mechanical treatment plant for sorting and recycling
glass, plastics and metals. Photo: Keppel Infrastructure
LOCAL R&D FINDS OPPORTUNITIES OVERSEAS
A microbial treatment developed to break down
food waste at low operating temperature has
produced odourless fertiliser.
Westcom Solutions collaborated with researchers
from the A-STAR Institute of Chemical and
Engineering Sciences to develop the treatment.
Test-bedded in JTC’s Pandan Loop Industrial Estate,
it works under a lower temperature than current
food waste conversion processes.
The company has exported the solution overseas,
and 70% of its revenue is now generated from
Other channels to help companies capture
opportunities overseas include the Environmental &
Water Technology Centre of Innovation (EWTCOI),
which is supported by Enterprise Singapore. It aids
companies in developing and commercialising
technology to meet market demand.
For instance, EWTCOI helped company Regentech
bring the technology to convert unwanted coconut
husks into biochar to Singapore. This solution was
subsequently exported to Thailand.
A Westcom Solutions researcher conducting research
to develop microbes to break down food waste at a low
operating temperature. Photo: Westcom Solutions Pte Ltd
Using regulations and standards to transform the industry
As with any new disruptive technology,
regulation can sometimes hold back new
ideas from taking flight. Hence the NEA
launched a Regulatory Sandbox for ES
in July 2018. This allows companies to
trial innovative ES-related technologies
and solutions without compromising the
environment, public health and safety.
Regulations that previously prohibited the
trial of a solution can be relaxed for a fixed
duration and within certain parameters.
This helps companies develop innovations
that have the potential to become industry
game-changers. Examples of technology
on trial in the Regulatory Sandbox include
a waste management solution that
demonstrates circularity within premises.
Improving safety, quality and productivity
of the ES industry is a critical concern.
The Singapore Standardisation
Programme, administered by Enterprise
Singapore, addresses the issue by setting
standards for adoption by companies.
For example, the new pneumatic waste
conveyance system standard reduces
manpower requirements and enhances the
hygiene and safety of waste collection.
Moving forward, Singapore will continue to
participate in the International Organisation
for Standardisation (ISO) Technical
Committees. New areas where Singapore
will be involved in are waste collection and
transportation management, as well as
solid recovered fuels and circular economy.
By setting and meeting international
standards, we will help smoothen the path
for local companies looking to export their
products and services overseas.
Establishment of demonstration sites
The INnovating CUrating Better Automation
and Technologies for Environmental Services
(INCUBATE) partnership was set up to bring
the public and private sectors together to
prototype, pilot and profile solutions.
We currently have 18 partners.
Our partners are working with the NEA to
explore the adoption of innovative
solutions such as smart compactors, and
the use of in-sink grinders with on-site
food waste treatment systems to increase
RECYCLE FOOD WASTE, AND SAVE MONEY
Several food waste recycling machines
have been tested through the INCUBATE
programme and helped to close the food
waste loop, diverted waste away from our
only landfill and resulted in cost savings.
Nanyang Polytechnic and Republic Polytechnic
have used food waste digesters at their school
food court while Changi Airport Group has
deployed food waste digesters at all its terminals
for tenants to use.
Meanwhile, City Developments Limited
launched a pilot project at the Le Grove Serviced
Residences where food waste is ground
through an in-sink grinder. It is then conveyed
automatically to a food waste treatment system,
where it is converted into compost.
With the wheels of transformation in motion, our goal is to have a competitive and attractive environment services industry by 2025. By harnessing the power of technology and automation, we will create better jobs that are less labourious, and more highly skilled. Through these, we will move closer to our vision of an ES industry that is vibrant, sustainable and professional.