What’s going upstream? Clean Singapore’s littering problem & Lessons from Taipei [video]

More than half a century of fines and campaigns and we are a “cleaned, not clean city”. Fines for littering in Singapore hit a 6-year high in 2015, with more than 26,000 fines and 70% of the guilty being locals.

What is going on and how do we tackle this?

Taipei turned this problem around, from garbage city to clean streets in just 10 years. This episide of IT Figures investigates – watch the video here.

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Channel NewsAsia’s IT Figures Season 5, Episode 7, “Litter Red Dot” (21 mins) [link]

Happy birthday Singapore! From 90 volunteers who celebrated with a mangrove cleanup!

Once again, members of the public joined NUS Toddycats in commemorating National Day by coming together to clear marine trash from our precious mangroves – 90 volunteers cleared half a tonne of trash (573kg) in 103 trash bags from Lim Chu Kang East mangrove this year.

The cleanup was relocated to this tougher site as our usual site at Lim Chu Kang beach and mangrove has received enough tender loving care of late that it remains relatively clean – encouraging news indeed!

Before the buses from Kranji MRT with most of the buses arrived, a pre-cleanup check of the site was conducted. We identified two beautiful mangrove pit vipers in LCK East mangrove and marked off the area to ensure they would not disturbed by the cleanup crew.


The 90 volunteers were sorted into groups of 10 led by team leaders who were pushed through four insertion points into Lim Chu Kang East mangrove, slowly and carefully. Many hands make light work indeed and the small groups working hard amidst the vegetation also ensured we minimised our impact to the site.

We would not clear all of the trash that morning but the ICCS cleanup in September would take care of the rest. Meanwhile, it was good to realise see that the mangrove plant cover had improved considerably in LCK East mangrove.

I was really happy that I had NUS Toddycats with me – eleven of these experienced field biologists led small groups of volunteers deep into our plastic-ridden but precious LCK mangroves. Thanks to Amanda TanXu WeitingKenneth Pinto, Yang Yi YongFung Tze Kwan, Tan Chia WuTan Kai SceneAirani SAdriane LeeTeo Kah Ming & Theresa Su; also Joys Tan for handling pre-cleanup logistics. 

2016-08-06 10.18.08 pre-ND mangrove clean4p @ LCK East [AS]

It was a delight to see Sonneratia alba sprouting on the northern stream bank once again! We worked hard in this polluted stream to remove embedded plastic bags – the stream was still host to many crabs, fish, prawns, mudskippers and even horseshoe crabs, which still mate in the area.

Mangrover Theresa Su, the soothing sight of a capable field biologist amidst the mud!

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Organic pollutants from upstream was trickling down into the stream and raising an awful smell – this stinky organic effluent must be traced back to its source and eliminated. It pollutes the north-western mangroves in many spots, not just Lim Chu Kang East mangrove.

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Wheelbarrows are critically important in shifting half a ton of trash – we borrowed this from NUS CAPT, used the DBS pickup to bring to over to my RVRC office and rented a GoGoVan to transport it here in the morning – well worth all the effort! They will next be used at Tanah Merah during ICCS on 3rd September 2016.

2016-08-06 09.06.01 pre-ND mangrove clean0p @ LCK East [AS]

At the Weighing Station, volunteers weight and total up the weighed trash carefully! The weight does not reflect the number of items removed (e.g. a high amount of plastics is not heavy), but provides some indication at least of the amount of trash removed.

2016-08-06 10.34.40 pre-ND mangrove clean3p @ LCK East [AS]

A chain-gang of volunteers moved the accumulated half tonne of mangrove trash to the Trash Disposal Point, and thanks to the National Environment Agency’s Department of Public Cleanliness, their contractor will come at midday to help us with trash removal. All of such trash in Singapore ends up in an incineration point and its ash ultimately makes its way to the Pulau Semakau landfill the south.

What an amazing sight to behold once we were done, this is what a macro-trash free mangrove in Singapore would look like – may all our mangroves be as well-loved! #limchukang #mangrove #nationalday (Photo by Fung Tze Kwan)

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Always on hand, my first aid kits were thankfully needed just for one scratch today; sharing the comprehensive advise to participants before the cleanup, the pre-cleanup recce, the safety briefing with critical emphasis at the start, site captains and experienced independents amongst the volunteers, the slow and careful movement by everyone, the thick gloves issued to everyone, and the “gloves on always” rule – all of these help keep cleanups incident-free.

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Back at the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum at the National University of Singapore, a few of us NUS Toddycats see to the cleaning of the muddy gloves and wheelbarrows. These will be set aside to dry and then are packed away for the next cleanup! #reuse

2016-08-06 11.58.04 pre-ND mangrove clean0p @ LCK East [AS]


Always head into tough terrain with some help – I was really pleased with the 11 @nustoddycats who stepped up to be site captains when summoned that morning – they kept everyone safe in the tough terrain! Here, my former honours students are lined up chronologically – Maria, sister of Theresa Su (Hons 2009), Xu Weiting (Hons 2010), Fung Tze Kwan (Hons 2011) & Amanda Tan (Hons 2012).

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Hearty greetings for Singapore’ 51st National Day in the sun from the wonderful volunteers!

2016-08-06 10.43.17 pre-ND mangrove clean2p @ LCK East [AS]

The Straits Times reports ICCS 2008: “S’pore coastline getting dirtier”

ICCS Pandan 2008 ST article

“S’pore coastline getting dirtier,” by Shobana Kesava. The Straits Times, 16 Dec 2008. More than 9,750kg of trash cleared during cleanup in September [pdf]

DESPITE public anti-littering campaigns and annual cleanups involving thousands of people, Singapore’s coasts are dirtier than they were five years ago, according to new data.

Over 9,755kg of waste, from plastic bags to refrigerators, was fished off beaches and mangroves during a mammoth cleanup in September, almost 400kg more than in 2007.

The cleanup was organised by International Coastal Cleanup Singapore (ICCS) and was part of a worldwide drive.

Locally, over 2,500 people – from schoolchildren to business executives and civil servants – took part in the event, fanning out to coastal areas from Changi to Jurong.

The results of the cleanup were recently computed by the entirely volunteer-run ICCS.

Lead coordinator N. Sivasothi said he was not surprised by the volume of trash collected.

He described the cleanup as a stopgap measure, saying the only way to cut down on beach-front trash is to encourage conservation.

‘If we use less, that will mean fewer things we need to dispose of. Proper disposal is important so that trash doesn’t end up in drains which wash into the sea,’ he said.

This year, about 2,530 volunteers participated in the Sept 20 cleanup, down from 2,860 last year. Organisers said the numbers were higher when volunteers who worked on other days of the year were included.

The results of the cleanup show trash trends have varied little over the few years, said Mr Sivasothi.

‘It would take an enormous shift in behaviour to change the kind of rubbish we find. I’d be surprised if there was a significant change,’ he said.

Plastic bags, straws and styrofoam have been a constant on shorelines here and abroad for years. Larger items, such as refrigerators and tyres, have also been found, according to organisers.

While the September cleanup shows littering habits remain a problem, volunteers are undeterred.

Kranji Mangrove volunteer Cheong Wei Siong, 20, said he has seen the shoreline become progressively cleaner over the years.

‘I always feel good visiting the mangroves because they are much cleaner, and I played an important role in it,’ he said.

Mr Yasim Abidin, a volunteer who has cleaned the shores for 10 years, said he is not discouraged by the consistently high garbage load.

Every year, the 29-year-old gets 80 children to pair up with Nanyang Polytechnic students to help clean the shoreline. ‘It’s our small contribution to Singapore and hopefully the children will take the message home and into their future,’ he said.

Registration for next year’s International Coastal Cleanup will open in March at the website http://coastalcleanup.nus.edu.sg


“New cleanup site: Pandan Mangrove,” by Shobana Kesava. The Straits Times, 16 Dec 2008. [pdf]

ICCS Pandan 2008 - photo in ST
Among the peculiar items found at Pandan Mangrove off the West Coast was a muddy toilet cistern, probably washed up by the tides. — PHOTO COURTESY OF KENNETH PINTO

SITUATED off the West Coast, Pandan Mangrove has become the latest addition to the coastline being cleaned up by International Coastal Cleanup Singapore.

Fresh pickings could be the main reason for the unusually high number of bulky items found on just 350m of shoreline. More than the average number of tyres and building materials were found stuck in the mud.

In all, 3,448 pieces of trash were collected by corporate volunteers from Oil Spill Response and East Asia Response Limited (OSRL/EARL) and Wildlife Reserves Singapore – both new to coastal cleanups – and veterans from the Raffles Museum Toddycats of the National University of Singapore, a non-governmental organisation headed by zoologist N. Sivasothi, who coordinates the annual event.

‘We wanted to give them this fresh site, even though they have never done this work before, because they had a great ‘can-do’ spirit and were serious about wanting to do a good job,’ he said.

‘We wanted to cover only a small site because we wanted to minimise the damage to the site,’ said site captain Kelly Ong, 27, a marine biologist.

The volunteers found almost 1,300 plastic bags, 820 food wrappers and more than 440 glass bottles.

‘The most peculiar items found included traffic barrier lights, half of a vacuum cleaner, a rice cooker, a wooden statue of a smiling Buddha, a golf bag and a lot of plastic pipes,’ she said.

A human chain was formed to remove 39 tyres, which easily weighed about 740kg.

Ms Ong hopes this will reduce the places where rainwater can collect, as these can serve as breeding grounds for mosquitos.

Mr Wilson Tan, 28, who headed the OSRL/EARL team, said he had been searching for a way to help his company reduce its carbon footprint.

‘I went online to check if anyone was cleaning the beaches because the footprint is worse if trash is left in the open. It affects the mangroves and the marine life,’ he said.


Note – the volunteers mentioned are Site Captains of Sembawang Beach (Yasim), Kranji mangroves (Wei Siong) and Pandan mangroves (Kelly) and cleanup organiser Wilson.

“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%)

ICCS2007 Coverage on Lian He Zao Bao

ICCS2007 on the Chinese newspaper, Lian He Zao Bao.

You can read the original article from Zao Bao using the link (in simplified mandarin). A pdf version will be available soon on the ICCS main website.

A rough translation is coming soon.
The rough translation of the article is as follows:

Title: Large increase in volunteers for Coastal Cleanup Day

By Chua Hwee Leng.

Main Article:
Food containers, styrofoam pieces, cigarettes, cigarette butts, beverage bottles, as well as clothing items such as shoes and socks … These are trash collected from Singapore’s shorelines and mangroves.

Last Saturday was the day of the International Coastal Cleanup. Over 2500 volunteers from schools, professional and governmental organisations fan out to 13 shores and mangroves, picking up trash to give the coast line a “make-over”. The places include East Coast park, Pasir Ris beach, Changi Beach, Tampines Beach, Kallang Basin and Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve.

Singapore has since 1992, answered the call to participate in the International Coastal Cleanup.

In charge of coordinating the annual International Coastal Cleanup Singapore (ICCS) activities is Mr Sivasothi, a research officer with the National University of Singapore Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research. According to his estimate for this year, volunteers are likely to collect more than 8 tons of trash.

10 tons of trash was collected from last year’s ICCS, with the majority of the trash coming from littering; among the top three trash in terms of quantity, styrofoam pieces leads the list with 23279 pieces, making up 25% of all trash. Food containers comes next with 8881 pieces making up 10% followed by 8840 pieces of cigarette and cigarette butts, making up 9.97%.

Even though the total trash load from this year is less than last year’s, Mr Sivasothi attributed the reason as the ICCS is now in its 16th year; the bulky trash from the mangroves have been cleared by volunteers. However, he emphasized that cleanup in the mangroves will have to continue. The coordinating committee estimates that the complete collation of collected data will only be available by October.

Every year, after collating the data from the cleanup, volunteers will submit the data to the government, in line with the actions from other countries.

There are 70 to 100 countries taking part in the annual International Coastal Cleanup. But other than cleaning the beach, participants also sort and record down the trash collected, with the data being submitted to the Ocean Conservancy, an organization under the United Nations, for further analysis, identifying the sources of marine trash in order to formulate strategies to prevent pollution of the ocean.

Mr Sivasothi told the reporter even though no advertisement for ICCS was made on the media, in recent years, ICCS has been attracting the attention of Singaporeans, with more and more people participating in the event, making the coast of this sea-surrounded Garden City cleaner. There were only 1800 volunteers in last year’s event, less than half of this year’s numbers.

In order to accommodate volunteers who had registered, the coordinating committee will be cleaning up the beaches over the next two Saturdays.

Header: Singapore not just has to recycle but reduce trash from source

While the current situation is heartening, Mr Sivasothi deemed a need in improving the communication of Singapore’s ocean protection and water pollution messages.

He says, “Many people still do not know there are marine life in the waters of Singapore, they do know there are sea turtles, dolphins, otters, dugongs and other larger animals, appearing in Singapore’s shores and waters. Some people also do not realize their shopping habits results in large quantity of trash being disposed of. Singapore no longer has any space for landfills. Even though, in the interest of preventing environmental damage, we had build a landfill on the offshore islands, but in the process, we had also sacrificed some coral reefs and mangroves. What we need to do is not just recycling, but also source reduction (of trash).”

Beach Results out!

See the full data set for beaches on the ICCS Webpage. Mangrove results (still pending one site) were up earlier. Overall results and comparison will follow later.

Total number of volunteers: 2,351
Total number of volunteers working on card: 2,343
Total number of trash bags filled: 912
Total number of items collected: 80,548
Total weight of trash collected (kg): 5,245
Total area cleaned (m): 13,580

Total Shoreline and Recreational Activities: 36,682
Total Ocean/Waterway Activities: 6,282
Total Smoking-Related Activities: 13,875
Total Dumping Activities: 1,114
Total Medical/Personal Activities: 163
Total Debris of Local Concern: 22,432

“The foam on the shore is really styrofoam” (The Sunday Times, 16 Sep 2007)

The article appeared in a free story in the Sunday Times.

“The foam on the shore is really styrofoam”

It tops list of junk washing up on coasts here. What’s worse, it fragments badly and poses threat to marine life
By Shobana Kesava, The Straits Times, 16 Sep 2007.

UNLIKE anywhere else in the world where cigarettes make up the bulk of junk collected on beaches, in Singapore it is styrofoam.

This material has been picked up in increasing amounts over the last five years, said Mr N. Sivasothi, coordinator of the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore (ICCS).

The ICCS, an annual clean-up event, is the only concerted effort by volunteers here to analyse the kinds of trash that land up on local shores.

‘Styrofoam is potentially much more damaging because it can fragment badly, whereas cigarette butts stay whole,’ said Mr Sivasothi.

‘The overwhelming problem we have is of plastic consumer items in the sea. As they break down, the chemicals that leach from them can be toxic.’ Plastics are also a threat to birds, which are known to mistake them for food.

Preliminary data from this weekend’s coastal clean-up saw styrofoam caking up the coastlines of both mangrove swamps and beaches.

While the most litter – all 29,801 pieces of it – was collected along the East Coast, Pulau Ubin Beach proved the dirtiest when factors such as the density of the litter collected by volunteers were factored in.

Mr Sivasothi attributed the problem at Ubin in part to dumping.

‘There is a lot of heavy litter like oil drums and furniture parts. Offshore farms may have contributed to this load.’

The litter at the East Coast beaches was linked to heavy usage.

‘Where there is recreation, there is rubbish,’ he said.