Exploring ways to improve our Plastic Karma: Electrolux’s Vac from the Sea

Vac from the Sea – Plastic parts of these vacuum cleaners below were made from plastic debris harvested from the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic Oceans and the Mediterranean, Baltic and North Seas.

“The vacuum cleaners embody the plastic paradox: oceans are full of plastic waste, yet on land there is a shortage of recycled plastic for producing sustainable vacuum cleaners. Electrolux makes Green Range vacuum cleaners from 70% recycled plastic, but wants to reach 100%.”

Vac form the Sea

They are on twitter

Confession of a former plastic bottle junkie

This is the confession of a former plastic bottle addict – I was drinking water regularly from disposable bottles which I would discard them every few days. Spoilt by the conveniences of a throwaway society, there was no excuse for my behavior.

In our current time, groups and organizations encourage this addiction, feeling the need to give out free bottles of water at events, conferences (yes, even environmental ones) and corporate functions. Hospitality at the expense of the environment.

A sea of plastic bottles on Singapore’s shores
Every year, during the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore (ICCS), we get a glimpse of the tip of the iceberg problem with thousands of plastic bottles collected along our shores.

In the morning of 11th September 2010 alone, we collected 4,920 plastic bottles from various locations in Singapore. In another single cleanup at Sungei Seletar on 18th September 2010, 1,208 plastic bottles were taken off the shores! All this in clean Singapore? Plastic bottles, improperly disposed, certainly are the bane of our oceans and coastal ecosystems.

Plastic, plastic everywhere
Disposable plastic water bottles lining the shores of Sungei Seletar

A hazard to marine life
Plastic bottles pose a hazard to marine life. They can be mistaken as food by marine creatures and being non-biodegradable, they accumulate indefinitely – posing a permanent threat. The Wildlife Trusts estimated that in the UK alone, 177 species of reptiles, mammals and fish are at risk as a result of consuming litter at sea [see “Plastic waste threat to marine life,” by Juliette Jowit. The Observer, 16 Sep 2007]. Given its sheer volume, plastic is a significant threat in the ocea. Over a long period of time, plastic can break down into very small pieces which can enter the food chain. Even in Singapore waters, the microplastics are prevalent [Ng, K. L. & J. P. Obbard, 2006. Prevalence of microplastics in Singapore’s coastal marine environment. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 52(7): 761-767].

“How long ’til it’s gone?” (click to enlarge)

Bring your own water bottle?
Going cold turkey can be tough. I am the North East Zone Captain for the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore, yet I have been unable to eradicate plastic bottles completely from my life. I have often succumbed to a the allure of a old bottle of isotonic drink after a workout. While dining out, I try to avoid bottled drinks and my choices are reduced to water – which sometimes comes bottled! And all my favourite drinks which I have mostly given up, such as green teas and fruit juices, all come in pretty plastic bottles.

So how did I reform myself? Well, I simply bring my own water bottle wherever I go!

In Singapore, water out of our taps are safe for drinking! So why are we BUYING water in bottles?

Disposable plastic bottles should be an alternative rather than the standard option. That would reduce the unnecessary impact of manufacturing plastic bottles and reduce littering on our waterways drastically.

Organisers of outdoor events can contribute to this effort to retrain the masses by actively encouraging everyone to bring their own water. They need only keep an emergency supply at hand – we have exhorted ICCS organisers to do likewise and they are responsive.

There are more options indoors – meeting participants can be provided with reusable glasses and jugs of water or be asked to bring their own water. We can’t behave the way we did twenty years ago; our impact on the planet has been excessive!

And if you should drink from a plastic bottle, the least you can do is recycle it. Proper disposal is important for clean plastic water bottles are recycled in Singapore. Do make the effort to collect and dispose them properly in recycling bins – we really don’t want to see them wash up by the tide on our shores, near or far!

Recycling bins for the proper disposal of plastic bottles

Let’s drink to the good health of the oceans!

A year ago, I switched to carrying my trusty red water bottle wherever I go in the process, I no longer use a disposable plastic water bottle each week and have reduced my consumption by at least 52 plastic bottles. If we all doing this, think of our impact – or rather, our reduced impact!

While we drink to our good health, let us, in all good conscience, be able to raise our glasses to the good health of our oceans and seas too!

Article written in support of Blog Action Day

Adventures of Hope at the Chek Jawa cleanup

A “late” Zone Captain

The day didn’t start well for myself, the ICCS Chek Jawa Zone Captain and my entourage of Site Buddies – we were lost in Sengkang trying to pick everyone up! So we were not first volunteers on Pulau Ubin, ready and waiting to greet everyone else, as we are tradition-bound to do.

Instead Sukyo Mahikari beat us to Changi Point Ferry Terminal – they were there by 6.30am! Well, they did not need any hand-holding as they are efficient veterans, but still, it was that Recce Captain Andy Dinesh was on hand so early to greet them.

Programme Sheet of Sukyo Mahikari

The Commando Group
Volunteers from the Land Transport Authority (LTA) too were early, reaching Chek Jawa by 8am. here to tackle a new site – Chek Jawa North 2 – they had to walk more than 400 m from the Chek Jawa gates, past a rocky headland to get to their site.

This headland is the first point to be submerged by a rising tide so in my mind, they became the “commando” group – get in quickly, count, collect and categorise the marine trash they could lay their hands and GET OUT before the tide swallowed the headland.  Despite the limitation of time and extremely long distance to the Trash Disposal Point, they managed an impressive 420 kg!


“Commando Group” – LTA

Meanwhile, NPCC HQ’s site in Chek Jawa North was a 150 m walk from the CJ gates to reach their first data categorisation and cleanup spots – but first they had to brave a really muddy patch – NPCC’s Zhu Lin later reported one her students left his bootie inside the mud!

Rachael Li was new but a great Site Captain at Chek Jawa North – having spent the previous year on Pulau Ubin for hr honours year research project, she is an Ubin veteran. Supporting her was my old friend Dennis, a Site Buddy who is familiar with “heavy load” shores, after years at Lim Chu Kang beach.

The right tool for the right job
Meanwhile, the other “war theatre” saw Site Buddy Shriyanka head off with Juliet and her group from Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s School of Humanities.

Juliet impressed me as she got her students to a 6.45am rendezvous at Eunos MRT – with the warning that she planned to leave late-comers behind. The reason? From last year, she knew that tide certainly waits for no man! With experience from last year, they brought kitchen knives and cutters to tackle the ghost nets common on the Chek Jawa shore and did a great job of removal!


Juliet (far left, wearing yellow in a blue tub) with her students from Ngee Ann School of Humanities

Every two can do the job
Paul of St Joseph’s Institution International was accompanied with only his son, Will.  Unable to get anyone else on this Hari Raya weekend, they turned up gamely and worked well after everyone had ended to collect, count and categorise trash. Kudos to their determination and the reminder to step forward to a good job even in the absence of additional support!

Chek Jawa South – the last “war theatre”
At Chek Jawa South, Site Buddies Fucai, June and myself waited at Ubin’s big Pulai Tree to wait for Dow Chemicals and CHIJ Katong Convent. Fucai who exemplified the “buddy” in “Site Buddy” by hitting it off well with Christopher of Dow Chemicals, taking photos and working well with them.  The Dow Chemicals volunteers too took out the heavy nets along the shoreline which Team Seagrass had painfully dragged all the way from the inter-tidal area on a previous occasion.

Chek Jawa South was tough for coordinators because the access points are not obvious. One organiser even got a little lost with about 40 students in the bush!

Stalwarts CHIJ KC consisted of young girls unfamiliar with the wet inter-tidal environment but still, they got down to dedicated work and categorised over 2,000 items.  The school sends down their entire Secondary 2 Cohort for ICCS, providing them a unique experience at a unique site in Singapore’s environmental history!

Grow a little each year
I’ll end the post, and a tough spell for me as coordinator at this site, with my observations about the growth of the Sukyo Mahikari.

They started out in ICCS facilitated by the Nature Society of Singapore several years ago, at Chek Jawa. Last year, they stepped forward and organise themselves independently and reported at 6.30am with an operations chart with various subgroups defined.

This year, they added further refinements

White Paint Marker to label weight on trash
Pole with weighing scale tied with cable tie


Using Plastic Kapaline Boards to mark out the sub sites


Gloves and plastic boards washed and reused as they wait for debrief! Talk about efficiency!


No money to buy clipboards?  Cheap Plastic Kapaline Boards come to the rescue.


Sukyo Mahikari!

A well prepared group is a heartening sign. By working the same site each year, you can become better prepared, work more safely and efficiently, improve your education programme, increase your independence, improve methods and become a champion of your site and a stalwart of ICCS. What a sustainable and meaningful way to contribute to healing the planet.

In ICCS, we have been providing such groups registration priority and they can register early too. A few groups have evolved to become anchors for the ICCS and Zone Captain for this site, this is a hopeful sign for the continued protection of the precious shore we all treasure so much at Chek Jawa!


The ICCS Volunteer team for Chek Jawa:

From Left: Marcus Tay, Dennis Chew, Shriyanka Nayak, Rachael Li, Kuay Yingxuan, Yan Fucai, June Lim and Andy Dinesh!

Pangaea Young Explorers clear 359kg of marine trash in 40 trash bags from Lim Chu Kang beach



Nicolette Meyer writes,

9th of October 2010 – this was the day that the Pangaea Young Explorers Program held their first ever cleanup in Singapore. Twenty youth from across the island as well as volunteers from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore gathered at Lim Chu Kang Beach, one of the few places in Singapore with mangroves left. It is unprotected and doesn’t get cleared off debris – a perfect location for our cleanup!

At 4pm the enthusiastic Young Explorers started the cleanup: armed with reinforced cotton gloves and black plastic bags, they set off to clear as much rubbish in two hours as possible.

And what strange bits of rubbish we found! A surf board, sofa and even a football trophy were among the usual plastic bottles and bags. As first-time participants of a cleanup, we were thoroughly shocked by the amount of litter that floats to our shores within a month (the site was cleaned just one month ago!) AND the kinds of rubbish people throw into our seas!


With sweat dripping down our foreheads (it was a hot day) and our backs aching from bending over, our hard work and effort paid off when we saw the huge amount of rubbish we collected and the difference it made to the area – 359kg of rubbish in 40 trash bags! The beach looked much cleaner than when we first arrived, which shows that to save our planet, action needs to start at a local level.

Thank you very much International Coastal Cleanup Singapore for helping us organise this highly successful event! We are thoroughly looking forward to future cleanups…


Photos from:
KC Auyeong – link
Pangaea Young Explorers Program – link

About the Pangaea Young Explorers Program
This program is the brainchild of Mike Horn, reknowned explorer who has circumnavigated the Arctic Circle and Equator without the use of motorised vehicles, swam down the Amazon river, reached the North pole in winter without the use of vehicles or dogs.

After visiting the most extreme and beautiful environments this world has to offer and the fragile state it’s in, he realised that he needed to pass down his knowledge and passion for the environment to the youth of today. The end-result? A four-year expedition that aims to bring youths for an all-expense paid trip to EXPLORE the most beautiful places on earth, including Antarctica, the Amazon, the Himalayas and the Gobi desert.

LEARN about the environmental problems these places face through experts in the fields and locals as well as ACT to conserve this planet for future generations. To learn more about the program, visit www.mikehorn.com. If you’re between the age of 15-20, YOU can apply for this life-changing experience today!


Battle marine debris this Saturday, 4pm @ Lim Chu Kang beach with “Pangaea Young Explorers”

Lim Chu Kang mangrove is a lovely mangrove I was unfortunate enough to see halved in 1990. Still regularly visited by researchers, it is a rare gem in Singapore which, like other shorelines around Singapore, is plagued by the problem of marine debris. The site is fronted by a beach on which a trash line is clearly evident.

In order to limit the impact of the trash on that non-recreational shore, volunteers visit the site during the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore and during year-round cleanups in order to limit the problem of marine trash entering that mangrove.

The cleanups for 2010 have been:

  • 07 Aug 2010 – 116 trash bags, 811 kg, 42 volunteers.
  • 11 Sep 2010 – 53 bags, 588 kg, 53 volunteers.

The third cleanup will be conducted this Saturday, 9th October 2010 by the youth group, Pangaea Young Explorers Program. Led by Nicolette Meyer, their cleanup will investigate how much trash accumulates on the Lim Chu Kang beach in a month, in the last quarter of the year. It has been a month since the last cleanup and 15 of the will tackle the beach as the tide recedes.

Lend the group a hand this Satuday- sign up here, thanks!

Meet at Lim Chu Kang Road end (end point for Bus 975 from Bt Panjang Interchange) at 4pm and look for Nicolette. Cleanup operations begin at 4.00pm and will end at 5.30pm with weighing of trash.

Lee Bee Yan & Jessica Ker of the NUS Biodiversity Crew who will be at the mangrove for a research trip will conduct an informal chat with volunteers after the cleanup about the mangrove ecosystem there.

All sizes | 02iccsLCK-11sep2010[lcp-rgstaff] | Flickr - Photo Sharing!

Republic Poly @ Lim Chu Kang beach & mangrove


Yeo Chee Hiong of Republic Polytechnic Conservation Interest Group writes,

11 Sep 2010 – “Republic Polytechnic (RP) headed out to Lim Chu Kang at 10am in very pleasant weather. It was heartening to see some participants getting hyped up as we made our way there. As volunteers picked up and counted marine trash, the tide rose rather quickly. Still, some volunteers ventured some 10-20 metres into the mangroves to retrieve bulky debris, such as tires and oil drums. That was tough work with branches blocking our access, mud lobster mounds to avoid and soft mud into which we sank!

Not all knew each other in the group and it was fun to see them making friends with each other on the shore, having fun while doing their part for the environment. By 11am, the pathway which we had come through was gone! All submerged! So we ended our cleanup before it got any deeper and soon after, we got the volunteers off the shore.

With our combined efforts, we had removed and categorised almost 1,500 items of matine debris and with the bulky items weighed in as well, the total weight of the rubbish was 325.3kg – mind you, all this in just 90 minutes!

Many thanks to those which made this possible!”

Republic Poly after the Lim Chu kang beach cleanup


Ed’s note – Republic Polytechnic has been a regular at Lim Chu Kang beach and mangroves for several years now. Their students lead the effort and conduct the recce by participating in the pre-National Day cleanup alongside the Raffles Museum Toddycats. Along with RGS Staff, Lim Chu Kang beach and mangrove is thus handled by an experience pair of Organisers for the ICCS. Their combined efforts rid Lim Chu Kang of 2,324 items of marine trash weighing more than half a tonne; yeah!

“Johor MP: Discard plastic bag habit” The Star (04 Oct 2010)

“Johor MP: Discard plastic bag habit, ‘learn from recent Singapore flood’.”
The Star, 04 Oct 2010; hat tip to WildSingapore.

JOHOR BARU: The people here must learn from the recent flood in Singapore and discard the use of plastic bags because these items choke up the waterways when it rains, said Johor Baru MP Datuk Abdul Shahrir Samad.

“If this (flood) happened in the middle of Johor Baru such as at Jalan Yahya Awal, people would remark that it is normal and that the irrigation plan in the city is bad.

“But this happened in the middle of Singapore, which is known to have the best development plan,” he said when launching the “No Plastic Bag Every Saturday” campaign by Aeon Co (M) Bhd at the Aeon City Tebrau mall on Saturday.

Shahrir warned that if such a thing could happen in Singapore, the people in Johor Baru would have to be more vigilant and not clog drainage systems with rubbish.

He proposed that the use of plastic bags be made illegal as a step to reduce pollution.

Shahrir said plastic bags were the main pollutants, especially in the city centre, as users would usually just chuck these at the roadside.

“This is a common sight, especially in Sungai Tebrau,” he said, adding that global warming had made it worse by increasing rainfall.

Aeon human resources and administration senior general manager Isao Yamaguchi said the campaign at its Tebrau mall marked the fourth phase of its nationwide drive at Jusco stores, covering Johor, Negri Sembilan, Malacca and Perak.

“Many innocent animals are being killed by the litter we throw into the sea” – LCP Hannah Cheuk from Hua Yi Red Cross @ Pulau Ubin

LCP Hannah Cheuk Jia Yun of Hua Yi’s Red Cross Unit writes:

18 Sep 2010 – I had fun taking part in the coastal cleanup activity at Pulau Ubin. We rode the bus for an hour from Jurong , alighting at the Changi Point Ferry Terminal to hop into a num boat for Pulau Ubin.

We joined the Commonwealth Red Cross Unit already at work along the Pulau Ubin Village Beach. We collected the litter, organised it into groups (e.g. plastic, glass) and record what we collected. As we worked, I recognised four of my former primary school mates, amongst the Commonwealth Secondary Red Cross Unit.

Later, we played bonding games. There were 2 groups-Alpha and Bravo and I was in Bravo. I managed to remember all the names that were in my group. We had to create a cheer too. Coincidentally, both groups were using the same cheer, but Alpha won. We gathered for this group picture at the beach:

Huayi Red Cross @ Ubin

We were very tired but we had a lot of fun. By clearing litter along the coastline, we helped prevent innocent animals living nearby from being killed by plastic. Many innocent animals are being killed by the litter we throw into the sea. I’m glad that I could help in some way. The data that we recorded, will be analyzed and will help to bring positive impact to the environment.

I felt that this activity is very meaningful and we had at least contributed something. This is the first time that I had experienced these things and I would like to participate more of these activities in the future.”

Coastal cleanup, nature hunt and ‘makan kechil’ – a Nature Society (Singapore) tradition at Kranji Bund mangrove & mudflats

25 Sep 2010 – Sixty people gathered on the afternoon of this Saturday at an unnamed track off Kranji Road for a briefing. This was an unusual sight amidst the peaceful air of an industrial area during a weekend.

Kranji Bund gathering

Nature Society (Singapore) - Home

The group consisted of members of the Nature Society (Singapore) and their friends and family who had made their way down to Kranji that afternoon, as well as volunteers from amongst the members of the public who had read about cleanup efforts in Singapore, searched and found the society webpage to sign up for this effort to aid the environment!

This group was about to embark on some sticky work as part of the world-wide International Coastal Cleanup to collect, categorise and count the marine debris that plague our shore. And we were going to carry this mission out in the sticky and muddy environment of Kranji Bund’s mangroves and mudflats where we do our regular horseshoe crab rescue and research work.

Working hard during the short window of the low tide, we cleared 1,812 items of marine trash filling some 80 trash bags. There were many assorted items which were too large for the bags such as automobile parts and electrical appliances. All in all, the trash which we had collected, catergorised and counted weighed 648.5 kg!

Typically, even after this amount, we had not completely eliminated trash on the mudflats by the time the tide rose once again. As wit other mangrove sites, we do not want to bring an army of people down as this would cause too much impact. So it is steady and committed work every year, coupled with education efforts over the years, which will help us battle this blight on our shores.

Kranji Bund Trash, 25 Sep 2010

Kranji Bund data, 25 Sep 1010

As is traditional for this event, we added a few more activities to the data-collection exercise and the Plant Group conducted a Nature Hunt with mangrove flora and fauna. Three students from Kranji Secondary School introduced horseshoe crabs to everyone, how these ancient creatures were affected by marine trash and talked about the school’s participation in NSS’ Horseshoe Crab Rescue & Research Project.

We ended the evening with a sing-along and a ‘makan kechil’ session. The winners of the Nature Hunt were announced and each received a copy of the Nature Watch magazine.


By Cheryl Lao & Anu Jain,
Nature Society (Singapore)