Have you ever wondered where your garbage goes? The answer is, after incineration, it goes to the beautiful island of Semakau, just south of Singapore, near Palau Bukom. When I say beautiful, I seriously mean it (without the slightest hint of sarcasm). Island Semakau is the world’s first ecological offshore landfill. Contrary to grimy images of landfills, Semukau Island is an eco-park and home to several hundreds of plants and animals, including a few endangered species. If you must to see it to believe it, the island is open to visitors for permitted activities.
Semakau Landfill commenced operation in 1999, costing over $600 million dollars to construct. You could say, quite literally, that $600 million dollars of Singapore tax payers’ money has gone to waste. Unfortunately, although it is efficiently and ecologically engineered, the landfill is only able to sustain our waste up till 2035.
My question is, do we want another $600 million dollars to go to waste after 2035?
If the answer is “no”, then what can we do?
Perhaps you have heard about Sweden’s recycling and waste management approach that leaves less than 1% of total waste for landfill. The nation is so efficient in its recycling and waste management that its incinerator is running under capacity. As a result, about 800,000 tonnes of waste is imported from other European countries to keep the incinerator busy, turning it in to a lucrative business. The nation recycles approximately half of its waste. Most of the remaining waste is incinerated and converted into energy, a process called waste-to-energy (WTE). Sweden is certainly doing a fantastic job toward zero waste.
According to the National Environment Agency, we generated 7.67 million tonnes of waste in 2015.
Singapore is not dissimilar to Sweden in its recycling and waste management. According to the National Environment Agency, we generated 7.67 million tonnes of waste in 2015. The amount of plastic waste generated in that amount was 824,600 tonnes. Only 7 percent of that was recycled. Plastic was among the highest of waste materials generated but it had one of the lowest rates of being recycled. Like Sweden, most of the unrecycled waste here goes to WTE incineration plants.
The downside of WTE incineration is CO2 emission. We all know the harm CO2 does to our environment. Waste-to-energy incineration produces more CO2 than energy from coals and natural gas. Incineration is also not recycling. This raises the question of long-term sustainability in WTE incineration and WTE still has its critics because it reduces the incentives to recycle.
If we do not want another $600 million dollars to go to waste, we need to look no further than our own backyard for a long term sustainable zero waste future. We need to reduce, reuse, and recycle.
With plastics becoming more and more prevalent in our everyday life, knowing what is recyclable or not is important.
For a start, bin liners, cling wrap and plastic bags are not recyclable. This includes those single-use plastic bags that you tear off from big rolls at supermarkets to put fresh produce in for weighing. Imagine how many of those bags go to Semakau Island.
A clever alternative to single-use plastic bags for fresh produce at supermarkets could be the Onya Produce Bags. Each Onya Produce Bags is made from seven recycled plastic bottles. They are tough and durable, holding up to 2kg of fresh produce per bag. They also last up to 5 years with regular usage.
Onya Produce Bags are multi-use. When you get home from the supermarket, you can wash the fresh produce while still in the bag and then pop it all straight into the refrigerator. It will also keep your produce fresher for longer (decreasing organic waste too)! It has other purposes. Here are some examples:
- A drying bag for herbs
- A laundry bag
- An exclusion bag to keep fruit on trees safe from bugs
- A bag for organizing small items
It is only with a little effort like bringing our own reusable produce bags to the supermarket that we can help reduce the waste we produce. We are the ones who could ultimately benefit from it.
Again, it’s about the little things.
Founder of boxesnthings.com
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