Rémi Cesaro
Founder & Director - Zero Waste City
Rémi's Introduction

Founder and Director of the consulting business Zero Waste City, Rémi provides engineering consulting services to large commercial and industrial facilities on waste management, energy efficiency, and packaging design.

He has gained a strong experience as a consultant covering a wide range of industries and technologies in New Zealand, Australia, and Singapore.

He is a certified TRUE Advisor (Total Resource Use Efficiency) by the U.S. Green Building Council Inc. This certification recognised his knowledge in Zero Waste programs and his ability to support businesses to achieve the TRUE Zero Waste certification.

What are the reasons for companies to contact you and how do you start the conversation?

There are two main reasons why companies would contact me: reduce waste or make their packaging more sustainable.

In the first case of waste reduction, either to reduce costs or to be more sustainable business, I would ask them three questions:

  • How much waste do you generate per year?
  • How much do you spend on waste collection per year?
  • What is your current recycling rate?

Based on the answers, I can estimate the potential cost savings and make suitable recommendations on the immediate next steps.

When willing to improve packaging to make it more sustainable, I would ask:

  • What is the practical application of your packaging and who are the end-users?
  • What does matter the most to you: Reduce the weight of packaging? Make packaging out of renewable and local sources? Have the lowest carbon footprint, the lowest water consumption, or make it fully recyclable in Singapore?

Based on the above, we can determine the next steps to get the best outcome for the business.

What are the questions companies often ask you? how do you answer them?

On the waste management side, the typical questions we get are around recycling. We noticed that there are a lot of misconceptions about what recycling means, what can be recycled, and how recycling works in Singapore.

For packaging design, we are often asked to endorse or confirm the soundness of a switch to a new packaging, material, or design. In this field, there are unfortunately a lot of greenwashing, and our first step is to clarify the definition in order, for the companies we work with, to understand what they are talking about. Quite often, they eventually realise that their original packaging was actually pretty good.

What are the new regulations that will impact businesses in Singapore?

As part of its engagements in the Zero Waste Masterplan, Singapore has been and will be enforcing a series of new regulations in the coming years:

  • Mandatory Waste Reporting was extended to large businesses in 2020
  • Mandatory Packaging Reporting to all businesses with a turnover above $10M importing or using packaging started on 1st January 2021
  • Extended Producer Responsibility on e-waste started on 1st July 2021

The coming regulations are:

  • Implementation of a Deposit Return Scheme on containers by 2023
  • Mandatory separation of food waste from large businesses by 2024
  • Implementation of the Extended Producer Responsibility on packaging by 2025

Those new regulations are exciting opportunities for businesses to achieve substantial cost savings and for Singapore to build a more sustainable and liveable environment.

We hear that improving waste management in a company results in cost savings, is it correct? How much waste reduction do you usually observe and how much savings does it represent? Are there challenges specific to Singapore?

Yes, and sometimes, we are even talking about making money out of the trash! The amount of cost-savings depends on the type of waste and the industry. As a rule of thumb, it can easily reach about 60% of the annual cost of general waste collection.

The easier it is to separate the major waste streams (plastic, fibre, organic, metal, glass), the more money the business is likely to save.

In Singapore, the number one challenge is land scarcity. This applies to businesses as well. Utilities (water, energy, and waste) usually represent 10% of the footprint of a facility and anything that can be done to minimise it will be preferred.

Fortunately, Singapore strongly support the local industries in adopting best practices and funding is available for companies willing to implement new technologies to reduce waste, this includes the 3R Fund.

What is important to understand about the Mandatory Packaging Reporting framework?

The Mandatory Packaging Reporting (MPR) is the prequel to the Extended Producer Responsibility on packaging.

An Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) is a framework in which producers are given a significant responsibility – financial and/or physical – for the treatment or disposal of post-consumer products.

Prior to the implementation of the EPR on packaging (expected in 2025), companies are required to comply with the MPR and the first report is due in Q1 2022. Under the MPR, companies will have to report the amount of packaging introduced to Singapore and provide a plan to improve packaging, the 3R Plan. The earlier and the better companies improve their packaging, the cheaper it will be for them in the near future.

You are also leading the L4R not-for-profit organisation in Singapore. Can you tell us more about this initiative?

Label for Recycling (L4R) is an exciting organisation which aims to answer the following question: is this packaging recyclable in the context of Singapore? L4R equips brand owners and manufacturers with tools to design truly recyclable packaging in Singapore and labels to make recycling easy for consumers.

L4R gathers experts from the two ends of the value chain: from the packaging design and manufacturing to the waste collection and recycling. L4R administers the Packaging Recyclability Evaluation Portal (PREP) which provides an evidence-based approach to the recyclability assessment of consumer good packaging.

On one end, brand owners and manufacturers can make evidence-based decisions on how to improve the recyclability of their packaging. On the other end, consumers can rely on an easy-to-understand label and recycle right. Together, each stakeholder can eventually close the loop on waste.

For customers, recycling logos are very often hard to understand, and we end up mixing the recyclables, how L4R overcome this challenge?

We are seeing more and more labelling initiatives around the world with the aim to provide better information to consumers. Unfortunately, a combination of lack of standardisation, poor design, and conflicting messaging, has created a lot of confusion for both consumers and companies.

L4R aims to address all three challenges by promoting the PREP labelling scheme which is currently used in Australia and New Zealand. A centralised organisation can then ensure the proper use of the labels and build trust by the consumer. The PREP labelling scheme has been tested for several years and proved to be easily recognised and understood by consumers. Therefore, it provides clear and transparent information on how to dispose of or recycle pieces of packaging.

We hope that this initiative will eventually become a standard in Southeast Asia.

What are you most proud of?

In 2019, I did two interventions at the ACS International School. As a result of these interventions, and thanks to the leadership of the educational and management teams, the school has implemented several opportunities to improve the use of resources, which include:

  • Installation of e-waste bins on campus
  • Installation of blue recycling (metal, glass, plastic) bins on campus
  • Revision of the whole paper recycling program to use less paper
  • Creation of a Sustainability CCA (Co-Curriculum Activity). Students will now be in charge of collecting data on food, waste, electricity and water, and general waste bins
  • Identification of a group of Year 3 leaders to manage information from each House
  • Parent group to buy bio cutlery and plates and to promote gift which is reusable for Teacher Day.

In 2020, we conducted a full-scale waste audit for a manufacturer in Singapore. As a result of this in-depth investigation, we identified several opportunities which could save 4 times their annual waste collection costs with a payback below 2 years.

Such opportunities included alternative packaging for internal operations (resulting in a reduction of purchase of packaging), alternative outlets for their recyclables (increasing the value of their discards), and technologies upgrade to optimise the use of their consumables.

This was a very exciting project, and we were glad to work with their team. They were very engaged and started implementing some of our recommendations within a few months after the presentation of our report.

What would be your top 3 pieces of advice to The Matcha Initiative (TMI) users?
  • Anything you can do to reduce the environmental impact is a good place to start.
  • Sustainability is about the environment and business resilience. If you have the choice, always favour opportunities that save money.
  • Everybody has an interest in promoting sustainable practices, you just need to speak the right language.
How could you help The Matcha Initiative (TMI) users?
  • Help to navigate the opportunities and identify those with the best outcomes
  • Understand the challenges and technical difficulties around energy efficiency, waste management and packaging.

Rémi kindly accepts to answer your questions.
If you need additional insights, you can send him a message.