Straws are going away, but Singapore’s hidden beaches remain decimated by plastic waste

Photo: Ivan Kwan / Twitter
Photo: Ivan Kwan / Twitter

While we’ve been applauding the environmental efforts of KFC Singapore and Starbucks, one conservationist is reminding us all that the coasts and shores of our country remain very much littered with plastic trash.

Ivan Kwan, a former Conservation Projects Manager at the National Parks Board and founder of local nature group Nature Adventures SG, took to Twitter last week to provide a sobering look at the state of our excessive plastic usage. His thread contained dismal images of Singapore’s secluded beaches littered with hundreds of plastic water bottles — scenes that aren’t at all surprising to Kwan and his associates involved in the local branch of International Coastal Cleanup (ICC) movement.

“With the recent discussions about plastics, and people expressing strong opinions about things like straws, plastic bags, and bottled water, I thought it was important to help people realize the seriousness of the problem,” Kwan noted to Coconuts Singapore.

The avid outdoorsman wanted to bring awareness to his fellow citizens that Singapore is not spared from the pressing global issue of plastic trash in oceans, highlighting how it’s easy to ignore the fact that trash continues to accumulate in places not so visible or accessible. The photos uploaded were taken along a secluded stretch of coast on Pulau Ubin — the trash floating in on the very same currents that sustain Singapore’s offshore fish farms, Kwan says.

Citing 2017 data by ICC Singapore, the amount and variety of our seaborne trash are staggering.

“It’s also very easy and convenient to blame neighboring countries for all this trash washing up on our shores, when we should also be looking at our own consumption patterns, waste management systems, and dealing with littering,” Kwan stated to Coconuts Singapore.

In a press release issued by the National Environmental Agency (NEA) earlier this year, Singapore’s growing population and booming economy have resulted in a sevenfold increase in the amount of solid waste disposed — from 1,260 tonnes a day in 1970 to a peak of 8,559 tonnes a day in 2016. The country typically incinerates solid waste in four waste-to-energy plants and transfers non-incinerable waste to a landfill facility in Pulau Semakau.

Even so, those disposal processes might not be adequate enough for the long term. Semakau Landfill is projected to be totally filled up by 2035.

As such, NEA is currently looking into the development of a state-of-the-art Integrated Waste Management Facility that aims to maximize both energy and resource recovery from solid waste.

Of course, Singaporeans could play their part by reducing plastic waste on their own. The Straits Times reported that the average Singaporean disposes at least 13 plastic bags a day, and that’s not including the plastic bottles and containers that could end up in sequestered beaches and coasts.

“Plastics are very useful and important, but we seriously need to take a long hard look at what we’re doing to our marine environment, which will ultimately have an impact on us as well,” Kwan affirmed.

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