Thu, Jun 07, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Singapore faces a plastics problem

REGIONAL ISSUE:Southeast Asia is home to four of the world’s top marine plastic polluters and a Chinese import ban on waste might exacerbate the situation


A man tosses a plastic bag into a pile of trash after an event in Singapore on Monday last week.

Photo: Reuters

As countries around Southeast Asia struggle to cope with growing piles of plastic and other waste on land and in their waters, Singapore is one country in the region that appears to have things figured out.

Singapore’s streets are glistening clean, its parks and beaches mostly free from the trash that plagues neighboring countries like Malaysia and Indonesia.

Almost all of Singapore’s nonrecyclable waste is incinerated, with the ash and some solid waste shipped to an artificial island nearby that doubles as a nature reserve.

However, that solution looks as if it is running short on time.

The tip of Semakau Island was supposed to meet Singapore’s dumping needs until as late as 2045, Singaporean Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources documents showed.

However, with the use of disposable products growing at a rapid rate, the ministry’s most recent estimates showed that Semakau could be full a decade earlier.

Plastics was the largest category of waste disposed of in Singapore last year — 763,400 tonnes — Singaporean National Environment Agency data showed. Only 6 percent of the 815,200 of plastic waste generated was recycled.

Analysis of the agency’s data showed that plastic waste per capita has increased nearly 20 percent over the past 15 years.

A report by the local Straits Times newspaper in March said each person in Singapore threw away an average of 13 bags per day in 2016.

So far, the government has not adopted any bans or charges on plastic bags or single-use plastic items such as straws and plates. It has also not disclosed any plans to replace the Semakau dump.

“More needs to be done to prolong the life of Semakau landfill beyond 2035,” the agency said in an e-mail, when asked about plans for the dump.

Recycling initiatives had helped stabilize the amount of trash sent for incineration, despite increases in waste generation caused by population and economic growth, it added.

Southeast Asia is home to four of the world’s top marine plastic polluters, a trend some think will be exacerbated by last year’s waste import ban in China, which used to be the world’s top destination for recyclable trash.

Singapore, which plays host to the 10-member ASEAN this year, is planning a special ministerial meeting on climate action next month.

However, climate groups have urged the government of the wealthy city-state, which enjoys broad support from its electorate, to spend more political capital on tackling waste in a convenience culture where deliveries and take-out meals are common.

Singapore has said it aims to become a “zero waste” nation, meaning it would eventually not send any waste to landfills.

However, it has yet to set a date for achieving that goal.

The agency said it was implementing initiatives aimed at increasing recycling rates and reducing waste at the source.

These have included increasing the number of recycling bins and awareness campaigns.

Singapore has offered research grants for companies and organizations to develop sustainable waste management technologies, and plans to make it mandatory for large generators of packaging waste to report the types and quantities they use and their reduction plans by 2021, the agency said.

The local recycling industry has yet to feel the pinch of China’s waste ban, the agency said, adding that for now it was still able to find overseas markets for recyclables.

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