“Plastics: Enough trash talk” – the urgent need for collective action on plastic use in Singapore

An Earth Day 2018 message from 10 NGOs and interest groups, first published as an op-ed in The Straits Times, 18 Apr 2018.

It’s time to end the talk on plastics as trash. It can be a valuable resource for a small country like Singapore. But this is possible only if governments and businesses approach plastics the right way, and when individuals can look beyond waste disposal and realise the real impact of our plastic problem.


A supermarket plastic bag serves its real purpose for 30 minutes, the duration of a journey in Singapore. In a drink, a straw is utilised for just 5 minutes. The use of a plastic stirrer is even more short-lived: all of 10 seconds.

These items have fleeting lifespans, but they outlive us by a long shot – 400 years, to be exact.

Left in our environment, plastics affect ocean health and biodiversity, including corals, seabirds and endangered species. The problem does not simply end there.

Before they even enter our homes, plastics already contribute to climate change. Globally, the manufacturing of plastics consumes the same amount of fossil fuel as the entire aviation industry1.

We are living plastic in every way: eating2, drinking3 and even breathing4 it. Around the world, microplastics have been found in the guts of one out of four fish2, in tap water samples of 14 countries2 and even in air pollution.

Convenience numbs common sense

Little is being done to address this. There was a huge public outcry when the four largest supermarkets in Singapore floated the idea of a plastic bag charge. Recently, the government announced a decision against a plastic bag ban5, highlighting incineration as a solution.

In this all-or-nothing debate that focuses solely on plastic bags, we are missing the point: that we continue to have a major problem with plastic use.

Meanwhile, Singapore generated over 800 million kg of plastic waste last year, only 6% of which was recycled6.

The rest of the world is far ahead in taking action on plastic waste.

More than 40 countries have plastic bag bans or taxes in place, including China, Rwanda and Italy7. Just across the Causeway, Johor is set to ban plastic bags plastics and polystyrene by this year8. Last year, 39 governments announced new commitments to reduce the amount of plastic going into the sea9.

By not taking action to reduce plastic’s widespread use, we are perpetuating this global problem. It is high time for a mindset overhaul on plastic in Singapore.

Use less and “useless” plastic

Rather than an all-or-nothing approach, the key lies in understanding what we should use less of, and what we can and should eliminate.

There are “useless” or unnecessary plastics – those that provide a few extra minutes of convenience but are disposed after use. Most plastic straws, lids, cups and stirrers fall in this category. Refusing these useless plastics is an easy step to cutting down on plastic use.

There are plastics that are useful that we can still reduce. A case in point: plastic bags. Singapore’s current usage of plastic bags borders on the excessive. A person in Singapore is estimated to use about 13 plastic bags a day, much more than any household would need for trash disposal.

Alternatives in the form of reusables are widely available in the market today. A recent study by the National Environment Agency has found that a reusable bag replaces the use of 125 single-use plastic bags in a year10.

A plastic bag charge can be an effective way to reduce plastic use. Consumption of single-use plastic bags fell by 95 per cent when Ireland introduced a levy in 200211.

In Singapore, lifestyle store chain Miniso witnessed a 75% drop in plastic bag take-up rate after it implemented a $0.10 plastic bag charge in April 201712.

Not all plastics are trash

Even as individuals focus on using less plastic, a wider systemic change is needed to make plastics more useful. Globally, 95% of plastics worth up to US$120 billion are discarded after the first use13. Effective recycling ensures that we do not lose economic value from this useful material.

Plastic packaging cannot be eliminated, but it needs to be recovered.

In Singapore, packaging makes up a third of domestic waste. But not enough is being done to hold businesses accountable for the plastics they introduce into the market. In countries such as Japan, for instance, there are laws in place to ensure that businesses do their part to recycle14.

Separating plastic waste at the point of disposal also enhances recycling. Currently, Singapore does not require plastics to be segregated from other types of waste. This model undermines recycling efforts and instead incentivises incineration, including that of plastics.

Singapore has made a name for ourselves globally in recovering value from precious resources. We do this for paper and even the water we drink. Why aren’t we treating plastics the same way? An expensive, highly pollutive method like incineration should only be the last solution when all other options are unavailable.

Stop trash talking, start fixing

We have limited time to turn things around. With the looming global plastics crisis, business-as-usual cannot apply.

Businesses need to be held accountable for used plastic, however useful its purpose. This includes being responsible for the entire life cycle of plastics, from packaging to recovery after use.

On a national level, the channels and infrastructure need to be in place to effectively enable recycling by businesses and individuals. Incentives encourage manufacturers to take more responsibility, while disincentives like a plastic tax help spur much needed behaviour change.

To expedite the move towards a more sustainable future, individuals should also play their part by using less plastic, and supporting business and government measures that help address this issue.

We need to stop pushing the responsibility between individuals, businesses and government.

Everyone needs to step up and take action for a problem we will share with the next 16 generations.
— end —

About – Ahead of Earth Day on 22 April, ten NGOs and interest groups have co-signed this opinion piece, representing their shared view about the urgent need for collective action on plastic use in Singapore. They are:

  1. ASEAN CSR Network is a regional business organisation promoting responsible business practices.
  2. Ocean Recovery Alliance is a non-profit organisation working on solutions and collaborations to improve ocean health.
  3. Gone Adventurin’ is a business consultancy focused on driving circular economy in Asia.
  4. International Coastal Cleanup Singapore coordinates and organises marine trash clean-ups on beaches and mangroves.
  5. Plastic Disclosure Project works to reduce the environmental impact of plastics in products and packaging.
  6. Plastic-Lite Singapore is a volunteer community raising awareness about the over-use of disposable plastics.
  7. NUS Toddycats! is a volunteer group with the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum.
  8. Tingkat Heroes is an initiative working with communities, schools and businesses to go disposables-free.
  9. Team Small Change is a community that champions small individual changes for large environmental impact.
  10. WWF-Singapore is a global conservation organisation protecting the natural environment and resources.

Literature Cited

  1. Neufeld, L., Stassen, F., Sheppard, R., & Gilman, T., 2016. The new plastics economy: rethinking the future of plastics. In World Economic Forum. [link]
  2. Kosuth, Mary, Sherri A. Mason, and Elizabeth V. Wattenberg., 2018. “Anthropogenic contamination of tap water, beer, and sea salt.” PloS One, 13.4: e0194970. [link]
  3. Mason, S. A., Welch, V., Neratko, 2018. Synthetic polymer in contamination in bottled water. State University of New York at Fredonia, Department of Geology & Environmental Sciences, 17pp.[link].
  4. Gasperi, J., Wright, S. L., Dris, R., Collard, F., Mandin, C., Guerrouache, M., … & Tassin, B., 2018. Microplastics in air: Are we breathing it in? Current Opinion in Environmental Science & Health, 1: 1-5. [link]
  5. “Parliament: No plan to impose plastic bag levy, other types of disposable bags not much greener: Amy Khor,” by Samantha Boh & Audrey Tan. The Straits Times, 6 March 2018. [link].
  6. National Environment Agency, 2018. Waste Statistics and Overall Recycling [in Singapore], 2017. [link].
  7. “Kenya imposes world’s toughest law against plastic bags,” by Katharine Houreld & John Ndiso. Reuters, 28 August 2017 [link].
  8. “No more plastic bags in Johor supermarkets,” by anonymous. The Star, 14 Jun 2017 [link].
  9. “Nearly 200 nations promise to stop ocean plastic waste,” by Reuters Staff. Reuters, 07 Dec 2017 [link].
  10. National Environment Agency, 2018. Factsheet on findings from life-cycle assessment study on carrier bags and food packaging. 12pp. [link].
  11. Convery, F., McDonnell, S., Ferreira, S., 2007. The most popular tax in Europe? Lessons from the Irish plastic bags levy. Environmental and Resource Economics, , 38:1–11. [link]
  12. “Less demand when customers have to pay for plastic bags,” by Samantha Boh. The Straits Times, 24 Sep 2017. [link]
  13. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, with the support of the World Economic Forum, 2017. The New Plastics Economy: Rethinking the future of plastics & Catalysing action. (Combined from the two reports, “The New Plastics Economy – Rethinking the Future of Plastics (2016)” and “The New Plastics Economy – Catalysing Action (2017).
  14. “Japan’s holistic approach to recycling,” by Leon Kaye. The Guardian, 17 Jan 2012 [link].

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Celebrate Earth Day in Singapore by battling marine trash @ Lim Chu Kang East (Sun 22 Apr 2018: 7.30am – 12.00pm)

It’s Earth Day on Sunday 22nd April 2018, with a focus on the battle against plastic pollution. Join International Coastal Cleanup Singapore on a mangrove cleanup on Sunday, 22 April 2018: 7.30am to 12.00pm at Lim Chu Kang East [see site details here].

IMPORTANT: please read the advise to participants and safety guidelines here: http://coastalcleanup.nus.edu.sg/participants/

To join us, sign up on Eventbrite by Thu 19 Apr 2018 – be sure to indicate if you need transport by selecting the correct ticket type.16169774964_c2d8d74bb9_z

We will tackle marine trash at Lim Chu Kang EAST mangrove. This is a precious patch of wetland located in the northwest of Singapore, Lim Chu Kang’s non-recreational beach and mangrove is besieged by trash from numerous land-based sources deposited into the western Johor Straits, as well as from offshore fish farms.

Trash accumulates in this precious mangrove and we are determined to unburden this site to assist the health of the ecosystem there. The sensitive efforts of the past 22 years in the mangroves of Singapore have reduced the burden on these shores, and we will continue our efforts.

Around the world, coastal cleanups conducted by volunteers to unburden the ecosystem, raise awareness of the plight of our oceans, and motivate us to rethink our habits in daily urban living to promote sustainable practises. We have to bring about change, and let us motivate ourselves with an intimate experience with the problem.

Thanks for taking an interest to protect our environment!

Thanks to NParks, SLA, PCG and NEA for help with permissions and trash removal.

Event details

Meeting Point: Participants can meet at the bus stop outside Kranji MRT (Bus code: 45139) and will be transported to the cleanup site at Lim Chu Kang Lane 9 (park along the side of the road), or meet us at the venue itself – please choose the right ticket for transport.

Itinerary

  • 07.45am – Bus pick up at bus stop outside Kranji MRT (Bus code: 45139)
  • 08.15am – Bus arrives at the Lim Chu Kang Lane 9. Apply insect repellant, collect gloves and trash bags. Safety and procedure briefing.
  • 08.30am – Cleanup begins
  • 09.45am – End of cleanup; move trash bags to Trash Collection Points.
  • 10.00am – Trash is weighed and moved to the Trash Disposal Point outside gate at Lim Chu Kang Lane 9; debrief.
  • 10.15am – Participants clean up; there are no public amenities in this area and your legs must be clean to enter the bus. So bring some additional water.
  • 10.30am – Bus departs for Kranji MRT.

Things to note:

  1. Transport to Lim Chu Kang East (LCK Lane 9) for 40 volunteers are provided; and gloves, trash bags and weighing scales will be provided for all.
  2. You must wear hard-soled covered shoes or booties to to protect your feet from hazards, else you will not be allowed to work in the area.
  3. A change of clothes is recommended after a sweaty workout.
  4. You must be clean to enter the bus – bring a cloth and extra water to do this.
  5. Long pants are recommended to protect your legs from insect bites – there are plenty of mosquitoes.
  6. We will continue the cleanup in rain (bring rain gear) but cease if there is threat of lightning.

Things to bring:

  1. Water bottle (with at least one litre of water)
  2. Hat and/ or sun block
  3. Reusable raincoat / poncho (we will continue to work in light rain)
  4. Towel to wipe off sand and mud
  5. Change of clothes for public transport.

Be prepared:

  • Sleep early the night before
  • Have a decent breakfast – it’s hard work!
  • Be punctual – the bus is unable to wait for latecomers; and the tide waits for no one!
  • Refer to this recce report of Lim Chu Kang East mangrove [link].
  • Please read our advice to participants to prepare yourself for the cleanup!

Thank you for caring for our planet!

Apr 2018 sampling events for NUS–NParks Marine Debris Monitoring Programme

 

SE group photo

Participants of the 14 Jan 2018 sampling at Selimang Beach.

Are you concerned about marine trash and want to do more than just a cleanup? Then join us in the 2017–2019 NUS–NParks Marine Debris Monitoring Programme!

Join us in the upcoming sampling events for April 2018!
No prior experience is required, just your interest! Briefing and sampling supplies would be provided. Please click on the links below to register.

1. Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal Beach on 07 April 2018, Saturday, 8:30am – 11:30am:
https://marinedebrissampling07apr2018.eventbrite.sg
2. Pasir Ris Park Beach on 14 April 2018, Saturday, 3:00pm – 6:00pm:
https://marinedebrissampling14apr2018.eventbrite.sg

What is it about?
It is a citizen science programme that is recently initiated to engage volunteers, schools, and organizations with an interest to survey and collect data on marine debris found on Singapore’s beaches. Click on this link or the tab above to find out more!

What will we collect and why?
Data on both macro-debris (>5 mm) and microplastics (1 – 5 mm) will be collected from nine sites every month. These data collected would provide recommendations to decision-making by forming the national baseline of marine debris for Singapore and supplementing the annual ICCS data.

SJI-mp sampling

Collection of microplastic sample using household sieve.

How can I get involved?
For individuals who are interested in participating in the data collection exercises, please sign up with this form to receive updates of monthly sampling events.

For schools / organisation, sign up with this form for the programme with 20‒40 participants and you will be guided through the data collection exercise. A research sampling kit and cleanup supplies could be loaned as required

For more information on this programme, please contact Joleen at joleen.chan@nus.edu.sg

Thank you for caring for the coastal and marine environment!

Feb 2018 sampling events for NUS–NParks Marine Debris Monitoring Programme

TFnov2018

Participants of the 25 Nov 2017 sampling at Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal.

Are you concern about marine trash and want to do more than just a cleanup? Then join us in the 2017–2019 NUS–NParks Marine Debris Monitoring Programme!

Join us in the upcoming sampling events for Feb 2018!
No prior experience is required, just your interest! Briefing and sampling supplies would be provided. Please click on the links below to register.

  1. Pulau Ubin on 10 Feb 2018, Saturday, 9:00am – 12:00pm:
    https://marinedebrissampling10feb2018.eventbrite.sg (fully subscribed)
  2. Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal Beach on 25 Feb 2018, Sunday, 8:30am – 11:30am: https://marinedebrissampling25feb2018.eventbrite.sg

What is it about?
It is a citizen science programme that is recently initiated to engage volunteers, schools, and organizations with an interest to survey and collect data on marine debris found on Singapore’s beaches. Click on this link or the tab above to find out more!

What will we collect and why?
Data on both macro-debris (>5 mm) and microplastics (1 – 5 mm) will be collected from nine sites every month. These data collected would provide recommendations to decision-making by forming the national baseline of marine debris for Singapore and supplementing the annual ICCS data.

SJI-mp sampling

Collection of microplastic sample using household sieve.

How can I get involved?
For individuals who are interested in participating in the data collection exercises, please sign up with this form to receive updates of monthly sampling events.

For schools / organisation, sign up with this form for the programme with 20‒40 participants and you will be guided through the data collection exercise. A research sampling kit and cleanup supplies could be loaned as required

For more information on this programme, please contact Joleen at joleen.chan@nus.edu.sg

Thank you for caring for the coastal marine environment!

IYOR2018 Microplastics Analysis Workshop by NParks and the Friends of the Marine Park community

IYOR2018 Microplastics Analysis Workshop

This was co-organised by NParks, SJIML and NUS. The workshop advertisement on NParks webpage, see photos and comments on Facebook (click to see what they say):

Screenshot 831

Screenshot 832

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Jan 2018 sampling events for NUS–NParks Marine Debris Monitoring Programme

TM7 trash 2017

Are you concern about marine trash and want to do more than just a cleanup? Then join us in the 2017–2019 NUS–NParks Marine Debris Monitoring Programme!

Join us in the upcoming sampling events for Jan 2018!
No prior experience is required, just your interest! Briefing and sampling supplies would be provided. Please click on the links below to register.

  1. Selimang Beach on 14 Jan 2018, Sunday, 2:45pm – 5:30pm: https://marinedebrissampling14jan2018.eventbrite.sg
  2. Pulau Ubin on 20 Jan 2018, Saturday, 2:00pm – 5:30pm:
    https://marinedebrissampling20jan2018.eventbrite.sg

What is it about?
It is a citizen science programme that is recently initiated to engage volunteers, schools, and organizations with an interest to survey and collect data on marine debris found on Singapore’s beaches. Click on this link or the tab above to find out more!

What will we collect and why?
Data on both macro-debris (>5 mm) and microplastics (1 – 5 mm) will be collected from nine sites every month. These data collected would provide recommendations to decision-making by forming the national baseline of marine debris for Singapore and supplementing the annual ICCS data.

How can I get involved?
For individuals who are interested in participating in the data collection exercises, please sign up with this form to receive updates of monthly sampling events.

For schools / organisation, sign up with this form for the programme with 20‒40 participants and you will be guided through the data collection exercise. A research sampling kit and cleanup supplies could be loaned as required

For more information on this programme, please contact Joleen at joleen.chan@nus.edu.sg

Thank you for caring for the coastal marine environment!