While most Asian countries continue to struggle to manage growing piles of plastic and other waste on land and in the surrounding oceans, Singapore is trend setting in the highly emotive area of effective disposal. Compared to others, Singapore’s streets are spotlessly clean. Nationally, it is the accepted norm with a zero tolerance approach to dumping and thoughtless pollution.
Moreover, its parks and beaches are pristine and free from the trash that plagues neighbouring countries in the region. Virtually all of Singapore’s non-recyclable waste finds the incinerator, with the ash and some solid waste shipped to a purpose-made island constructed nearby. Incredibly, this now serves as a nature reserve.
How Sustainable is ‘Trash Island’, Singapore
The impressive pollution solutions offered to date appear to be running out of steam (pun intended). Originally designed to absorb Singapore’s dumping habits through to the year 2045, facts are that the tip on Semakau Island is simply filling up too fast.
This is according to environment ministry documents, which claim a massive uptake of disposable products is causing the problem. Rubbish is accumulating at such a rate that the ministry’s most recent estimates show that Semakau could be full a decade sooner than planned.
Plastic was by far the largest waste group in Singapore in 2018, with more than three quarters of a million tonnes of rubbish collected for disposal. The bad news is that only around five percent of plastic waste collected found its way into the recycling process.
Moreover, plastic waste volumes in Singapore have increased more than 20 percent in the last decade and a half. Moreover, the 2016 discard rate of plastic waste translated to an average of a dozen bags per resident every day.
Somewhat amazingly, the government has not responded with outright bans or implemented taxes on single-use plastics such as drinking straws. Neither have the Singapore authorities revealed any plans in terms of what happens as the Semakau dump fills to its maximum capacity.
More Interventions Required
The National Environment Agency stated that “More needs to be done to prolong the life of Semakau landfill beyond 2035” in terms of contingency planning. The agency noted that recycling incentives were helping to stabilise the volume of trash destined for incineration. This despite greater volumes of waste generation due to economic growth and population expansion.
Protecting Tourism by Safeguarding Marine Life
Southeast Asia is one of the world’s prime tourism targets. Concurrently, the area is also home to four of the worst marine pollution countries on the planet – no names mentioned here. Some plastics will remain at the bottom of our oceans for a very long time. What makes this more worrying is the waste import ban imposed by China, which used to welcome the world’s recyclable rubbish with open arms.
Lobbying for More Action
The city-state of Singapore traditionally enjoys good support from the electorate. However, climate groups in the country are driving a campaign to urge the government to invest more capital on waste and pollution controls. The government takes the challenge seriously. In a wealthy nation where the delivery of convenience food has become the norm rather than the exception, it is easy underestimate the burgeoning waste pollution problem.
The “Zero Waste” Challenge
As most of us know, Singapore is an island city-state off southern Malaysia. It is an important global financial centre with a tropical climate. Its multicultural population numbers over 5.5 million people living in an area of 280 square miles.
These numbers demand constant reviews of initiatives aimed at increasing recycling rates and reducing waste at the source. These include increasing the number of recycling bins, and public awareness campaigns as the government strives towards becoming a “zero waste” nation. The world watches with interest!