“Stepping forward – into the trash,” by Shobana Kesava.

“Stepping forward – into the trash,” by Shobana Kesava. The Straits Times Blogs, 20 Sep 2007.Shobana Kesava tells of those who pick up trash voluntarily and not on a CWO.

OVER 2,500 people descending on Singapore shores in one day, not to enjoy the sun, sand and sea but to pull out other people’s rubbish sounds like a bad release of piled-up littering corrective work orders.

But no one was being forced to do it on Sep 20 this year.

And, the thousands doing the collecting weren’t just collecting rubbish but data which will be sent this week to the Washington-based Ocean Conservancy which organises the annual international coastal clean-up.

The Non-Governmental Organisation wants to understand what makes up the world’s shoreline litter to help change behaviours.

Singapore residents have been at it the last 17 years: Collecting other people’s trash as a voluntary activity. They feel part of a good cause – understanding what exactly constitutes Singapore’s trash on the shores.

What a dedicated bunch.

They get knee-deep in mangroves, pull out an old drink can, note it on a datasheet as a food container and carry it back to civilisation in full trash bags.

The input goes online to the International Coastal Clean-up Singapore.

One group quite happy to get dirty in the name of cleaning up is The Raffles Museum ToddyCats. The group of 10 volunteers with the National University of Singapore all have full time jobs but still make time for their mission of coordinating the annual trash assessment.

Their website is a passive advertisement for those willing to organise themselves into groups and take part on Sep 20 every year.

Students, corporate citizens, civil servants and altruistic adults: Step forward.

Their motives for taking part may be varied but their committment to cleaning up is the same.

Some volunteers want to chalk up points for their community involvement programmes in school. Others hope to get the next generation of Singaporeans to avoid becoming another trash-producing generation. These days, some even say they want to offset their company’s carbon footprint.

This week, the results of their efforts will join the global data from other clean-ups around the world.

It seems wherever you are in the world rubbish is a pretty universal object.
Styrofoam, (really Dow Chemical’s trademarked name for polystyrene), plastic bags and cigarette butts always turn up. So do heavy items like truck tyres which are hauled up, rolled out one at a time and stacked up for disposal company Sembenviro to carry away.

Even dumped refrigerators and toilet cisterns possibly washed up from foreign shores and ships are carted out of mangroves.

Trash collected here and elsewhere is on the rise with eight pieces of trash picked up per metre of shoreline, compared to just three pieces, five years ago.

Blame it on enduring consumerism and poor disposal habits, but volunteers are undeterred and hope to make even the most incorrigible get the message:

– Garbage destroys wildlife which share the planet with us.

– It entangles or suffocates marine life. It fills their gut making them die a slow death from malnutrition.

And, if altruism doesn’t work there are other resons: It damages ecosystsems that provide food resources, traps fresh rainwater great for dengue-breeding and destroys our tranquil escape to sun, sand and sparkling sea.

For many who take on the task, it’s done in the hope that education and not punishments like corrective work orders will encourage other Singaporeans to quit littering.

ICCS2007 in the Straits Times again today

Shobana Kesava’s second story, “The coast is not clear: tyre and table among trash found” is out in the Straits Times today (her first story appeared in The Sunday Times, a day after the cleanup).

Check ST Online if you have a subscription or buy the paper. Its quite a nice spread across the middle of the page with stalwarts Singapore American School hard at work in Kranj mangroves.

“The coast is not clear: tyre and table among trash found,” by Shobana Kesava
The Straits Times, 20 Sep 2007

IT TOOK six men to hoist the unwieldy plastic road barrier out of the muddy mangroves, another three to weigh it and one more to record their find. Jotting down the figure, teacher-volunteer Steve Early said: ‘This one weighs in at 19kg.’

Hauled out in the next 10 minutes were a 46kg tyre and a wooden table that could seat eight which needed dismantling before it could be weighed. They were duly recorded under ‘dumping activities’ on the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore’s (ICCS) data card of human-made debris, trash and litter.

The 150 teacher and student volunteers from the Singapore American School were at the Kranji mangroves cleaning up a short 400-metre stretch of shoreline over the weekend. They were part of a larger group of 2,856 volunteers who covered about 15km of Singapore’s coast.

Said first-time volunteer Shazwani Mustaffa, 16, of St Andrew’s Junior College: ‘It’s very dirty. I don’t know how all this ends up here. ‘I found plastic, styrofoam, glass bottles and mattresses.’

The National Environment Agency’s Environmental Health Department head of operations, Mr Tai Ji Choong, said flotsam which comes in with the tide is particularly bad during the south-west monsoon from May to October. ‘We had our cleaners throw away a toilet bowl washed ashore,’ he added.

On beaches across Singapore where the public has access, the NEA has about 40 cleaners removing rubbish before most beach-goers arrive. On the popular 11-km stretch of East Coast Park, about 15 of them sweep, pick up and toss out trash on any given day, starting from 7am.

The volunteers took over their job on Saturday and collected 16,819 items weighing 2,600kg at East Coast Park alone – the highest amount of trash collected on any beach open to the public.

In an indication that beach-goers were making a significant impact, cigarette butts made it to the list of top three items collected on all beaches open to the public.

Canadian Sandra Johnson, in her 30s, who takes weekend walks along East Coast Park, said: ‘I find the most trash near barbecue pits, close to rubbish bins. ‘Guests from overseas often comment on how clean Singapore is. If they saw the East Coast Park on a weekend morning, I don’t think they’d feel the same way.’

“Big pile of litter”
The Straits Times, 20 Sep 2007

ONLY those who visit the beaches at daybreak know its dirty secret. Singapore’s sandy shores are covered in litter, while garbage bins nearby remain half-empty.

Cleaners took a break on Saturday for the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore held annually on the third weekend of September.

This is the trash that never came close to the bins:
Styrofoam pieces – 27,460 (24.8%)
Bags – 14,470 (13.07%)
Cigarettes / cigarette filters – 11,613 (10.49%)
Food wrappers / containers – 11,504 (10.39%)
Straws, stirrers – 11,051 (9.98%)
Beverage bottles (plastic) 2 litres or less – 4,495 (4.06%)
Plastic sheeting / tarps – 4,431 (4.0%)
Caps, lids – 3,817 (3.45%)
Cups, plates, forks, knives, spoons – 3,394 (3.07%)
Glass beverage bottles – 2,002 (1.81%)