Closed Loop Township

Extraction from SIP Journal Vol. 2 Nos. 1 Dec 2009 “Eco-Towns in Japan for Sustainable Growth”

by Ar. Jason Lee Shiuh Liang and co-written with Ar. Loh Kee Soon (2009)

In the 1900s, the Japanese government faced a critical issue of pollution and waste management due to the rising consumption and industrial activity. This spurred the search for a sustainable solution that culminated in the Eco-Towns project jointly developed by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) and Ministry of Environment (MOE). From 1997 to 2006, a total of 26 Eco-Towns were rolled out by the MTEI, MOE and local municipal governments.

In 2009, with the support of the EDAW-SIP Travel Grant, we visited 2 of the Eco-Towns to evaluate their performances, understand the factors that led to their successes and challenges, and assess the applicability of this concept in Singapore.

The Eco-Town model addresses the environmental issue of pollution and waste management by diverting waste away from landfills and finding new life for them in other industrial processes. This creates a material cycle where waste from the city could be re-used to create raw materials, feedstock or other materials for manufacturing and industrial processes. This project is first planned and developed by local municipal governments, before gaining approval and funding from the national government, who is spearheading the initiative. Funding is used to provide initial investments and subsidies to enterprises that are part of the Eco-Town.

In the city of Kawasaki, the Eco-Town project has taken off since 1997 and has since saw the infusion of 25 billion Yen in government funding and participation of 71 enterprises. Through our visit to Kawasaki City, we came to understand Kawasaki City’s 3 stage approach to the project which include waste and emission reduction from companies and enterprises; cooperation between companies to maximize waste material utility; and R&D to develop more advanced methods of waste utilization. We also witnessed the success of the project exemplified by 5 of the Eco-Town facilities, namely:

- Waste plastic to iron ore reducing agent recycling facility

- Wastepaper recycling facility

- PET to PET bottles recycling facility

- Concrete frame panels from waste plastic manufacturing facility

- Ammonia material from waste plastic manufacturing facility

Kawasaki City’s Eco-Town was first driven by locals who bore the brunt of the pollution from industrial activity. Pressure from the local community led the municipal government to engage businesses and develop the Eco-Town. Kawasaki City’s focus on intra-town consumption and production means a reduced ecological footprint from material transportation, and the pre-requisite for new recycling plants to fit into the existing material flow cycle ensured greater industrial symbiosis. Furthermore, the local government’s subsidies for new enterprises and support for existing businesses at risk of obsolescence made the Eco-Town an economically beneficial region for the city.

Tokyo’s Eco-Town was spurred by the government’s need to find a solution to the city running out of space in its landfills and even in those of neighbouring prefectures. Tokyo’s Eco-Town focuses more on diverting commercial and household waste from the landfill by recycling them. General waste form businesses and household is recycled into feedstock while construction waste is recycled to produce raw materials for other industrial purposes.

Through our analysis of both Eco-Towns, we unearthed that the foremost important factor for their success was the driving factor – in the case of Kawasaki City, the locals affected by pollution, and in Tokyo, the municipal government struggling with waste management. The driving force of the locals and the government led to the initiation of the project and forced businesses to re-evaluate their waste management practices. Government incentives and subsidies were also crucial in alleviating fears of the economic hindrance a green project might bring about, and even attracted greater investment in the region.

Furthermore, the attention paid to integrating older infrastructure into the Eco-Town project was crucial in keeping costs and transition time down. Existing industrial plots, pipelines and transportation infrastructures were adapted to fit into the Eco-Town, maximizing the lifespan of these facilities. The government’s educational engagement through Knowledge Centres and frequent field trips was also exemplary in raising awareness and increasing public support.

Through our analysis, we concluded that the Eco-Town concept would be applicable in Singapore with the right legislations in place. A top-down approach where the government initiates the project and enforce legislation is, in our opinion, the best strategy. The government could allocate grants and subsidies for corporations to take up the project and local agencies such as the URA, NEA and JTC could help coordinate the project.

To kick-off the project, and experimental ground could be set up in an existing industrial area. This would allow for data collection, assessment and analysis to evaluate the feasibility and viability of the project in Singapore’s context.

While Singapore is in the midst of reducing waste and becoming a more environmentally aware nation, it is also helpful to implement new strategies to divert existing waste from incineration and landfills as we work towards a greener future.