Best of our wild blogs: 3 Nov 14

30 Nov (Sun): Ubin Day!
from wild shores of singapore

Sat 8 Nov ’14: PhotoWalk
from a.t.Bukit Brown. Heritage. Habitat. History.

Visiting SBWR's otters
from Life's Indulgences

Reservoir Dogs 2 – Boardwalk Empire
from Winging It

Watercock (Gallicrex cinerea) @ Bukit Gombak
from Monday Morgue

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Haze creeps into unhealthy range as Sumatra hot spots spike

Today Online 3 Nov 14;

SINGAPORE — Haze readings, which edged into the unhealthy range yesterday afternoon and continued climbing into the night, are expected to be in the high end of the moderate range or low end of the unhealthy range today.

At 3pm yesterday, the three-hour Pollutant Standards Index breached the unhealthy mark and readings edged up steadily to hit 127 by 9pm, before receding slightly to 126 at 10pm. Any reading over 100 up to 200 is considered unhealthy.

The PM2.5 — tiny particles smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter — levels were also elevated in most regions, with one-hour concentrations ranging from 59 to 82 micrograms per cubic metre at 5pm, said the National Environment Agency (NEA). A 24-hour PM2.5 reading of between 56 and 150 is considered unhealthy.

In an update posted on its website at 5pm yesterday, the NEA said the haziness was smoke blown in by prevailing southerly winds from Sumatra, whose southern part has experienced drier weather, leading to a “sharp increase” in the number of hot spots there. A total of 205 hot spots were detected in Sumatra yesterday, it added.

Last Tuesday, the NEA had said the threat of serious haze appeared to have been averted for the rest of the year, with the onset of the Inter-Monsoon season over the past week signalling the end of the traditional dry period in the region. The Inter-Monsoon period normally lasts from October to November, and is characterised by more rainfall and light winds that are variable in direction.

More than 1,800 hotspots in Indonesia as haze intensifies

Haze from forest and plantation fire in Central Kalimantan and South Sumatra have intensified, as more than 1,500 hotspots were detected in the two Indonesian provinces.

The Terra Satellite recorded 1,225 hotspots in Central Kalimantan, 344 in South Sumatra, 203 in West Kalimantan, 32 in East Kalimantan and 20 in Lampung on Sunday morning, said Mr Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, spokesman of Indonesia disaster mitigation agency (BNPB) in a text message to reporters.

In Palembang, South Sumatra visibility fell to 400m at 6am on Sunday.

Haze from South Sumatra was blown to Jambi and Riau, Indonesia's second closest province to Singapore, Mr Sutopo said.

Clearing land by slashing and burning was behind the fires that burned uncontrolled.

Efforts by BNPB to contain the fires have continued, with helicopters, aircraft being deployed in firefighting and cloud seeding operations.

There have been 10,032 water bombing trips involving 24.4 million litres of water to contain fire these past months. Cloud seeding operations have involved 67 tonnes of chemicals to induce rain.

3hr PSI reading crosses into unhealthy range at 3pm
Channel NewsAsia 2 Nov 14;

SINGAPORE: The Republic's air quality reached unhealthy levels on Sunday (Nov 2), after days of relatively clear skies. The three-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) hit a high of 127 at 9pm before inching down to 126 at 10pm.

The three-hour PSI reading moved up sharply after 11am, edging past 100 to 104 at 3pm, after it remained below 70 for the previous few hours.

Last month, the Meteorological Service Singapore (MSS) had said that there will likely be more rain over Singapore and the surrounding region in the coming weeks, when the traditional dry season comes to an end for the year, but added that Singapore may experience occasional slight haze, on some days due to the accumulation of particulate matter in the air under light wind conditions.

"The Inter-Monsoon period normally lasts from October to November, and is characterised by more rainfall and light winds that are variable in direction. The increased rainfall will help alleviate the hotspot and haze situation in Sumatra and Kalimantan," said the MSS.

- CNA/av

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Indonesia: Thick Haze Returns to Central Kalimantan

Jakarta Globe 2 Nov 14;

Jakarta. Thick haze, usually caused by forest fires, on Saturday made a comeback in parts of Central Kalimantan that had just experienced a smoke-free week.

The Sampit area East Kotawaringin district was blanketed in smoke so thick that flights had to be diverted.

“The air here in East Kotawaringin district was free of haze for a week, but since Saturday the haze has come back and blanketed Sampit,” Sumi, a resident, told state-run news agency Antara on Sunday.

Fadlian Noor, head of East Kotawaringin’s Communications and Informatics Office, said visibility was just 10 meters — a far cry from the minimum of 2,000 meters for safe flight movements.

“The haze seems to have gotten worse — so bad that flights coming here have had to be diverted,” he said, as quoted by Antara on Sunday.

“Yesterday there was even a flight from Jakarta [to Sampit] that had to be diverted all the way to Surabaya [in East Java] because of the haze,” he added.

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Tackling food waste: More measures needed, say experts

Monica Kotwani Channel NewsAsia 2 Nov 14;

SINGAPORE: It is preparation time before the lunch crowd at the industrial area of Tai Seng flocks to Hei Sushi. The restaurant's staff is ready, preparing sushi with fresh cuts of salmon and rice. While doing so, the restaurant ensures very little goes to waste.

Bits of the salmon that do not make the cut for sashimi are used in a salad, or as topping for the Gonkan Sushi dish. Salmon skin is deep fried and pounded into pieces for salmon skin sushi. Fish bones are used as soup stock.

And, Sakae Holdings - the owner of Hei Sushi - has been piloting a treatment plant on its own premises to convert excess fish bones and other food waste into animal feed.

Its chairman Douglas Foo said: "Managing food wastage need not be at the end part of the finished product but as early as working with the farms. So we go and understand how the farms grow their fish, the kind of fish feed being used, the kind of yield - because when you have a better yield, you have less wastage of the cycle of the fish.

"So understanding that portion, all the way to how the cold supply chain is being managed. If the cold supply chain is not robust, you're going to have wastage as well because there could be damaged or unusable goods. Every part of the whole cycle and the whole process is being closely monitored."

While companies like Sakae Holdings are at the forefront of efforts to reduce food waste, it is an issue that continues to plague Singapore as well as countries across the world.

About one-third of all food is wasted, from the moment it is produced to the time it is consumed. According to the United Nations, that is enough to feed two billion people. If it is not recycled, food waste ends up in landfills where it produces methane - a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change.

Like most developed countries, Singapore's food waste comes from different sources - food manufacturers, supermarkets, hotels and restaurants. Last year, Singapore generated almost 800,000 tonnes of food waste - the highest in recent years. Experts say each individual in Singapore could be producing about 400 grammes of food waste every day.

In 2012, an inter-ministry committee was established to explore ways of reducing food waste. It came up with several recommendations. These included making it mandatory for large companies to report how much food they waste and conducting public outreach efforts. But these have yet to be implemented.

The committee, called the Food Wastage Reduction Working Group, also commissioned a survey in September to understand consumer behaviour and habits. Stakeholders like supermarkets say this is a good step.

In October, NTUC FairPrice came up with a framework to reduce food waste in its supermarkets. The supermarket chain estimates it generated 0.3 per cent of the nation's total food waste last year, the bulk of it is fruit and vegetable waste. Over the years, it has been trying to reduce food waste. Prices of seafood and chilled meat are marked down on the second day on the shelf and disposed of on the third, if unsold.

When it comes to choosing fruits and vegetables, you may be surprised at how your habits may result in food waste. For example, by picking up an orange, pressing it to see if it is ripe or smelling it, you could be damaging the feel and look of the fruit. And if it does not look good, chances are, it will be left unsold, and eventually disposed of. To address this, supermarkets often pre-pack some fruits and vegetables.

Since consumers are more likely to buy produce that looks good, food will have to go through what is known as "cosmetic filtering" before they are put on the shelves. At NTUC FairPrice, staff trim vegetables to get rid of the leaves that are less pleasing to the eye. Those that cannot be saved and remain unsold will be disposed of, even if it is still edible. This is something FairPrice wants to address.

NTUC FairPrice CEO Seah Kian Peng said: "Going forward, we may have a section where food and vegetables may not look so nice, but certainly very wholesome, and the prices I think should be different. This way, instead of being thrown away and being disposed of, it can still be consumed. Even the things that need to be thrown away, what can be done with it? Some of it could be channelled towards animal consumption, some of it could be used for energy - bio fuels."

"So we want to look at it from every angle, we want to come up with a very structured programme and that is the driving force behind us coming up with this food waste programme."

About 50 FairPrice stores also donate items such as dented cans, vegetables and other products to organisations such as 'Food Bank Singapore' and 'Food from the Heart'. FairPrice says these products are still "wholesome" and edible and are redistributed to underprivileged Singaporeans.

According to official figures, food waste has risen by about 42 per cent since 2007. The biggest contributors are the manufacturing and retail sectors. Green Future Solutions, an environmental consulting company, is planning a campaign to educate businesses on how to cut food waste. It has been running a similar campaign for households.

Green Future says there is no pressure on companies to reduce their food waste. Neither are there clear incentives to encourage them to do so. Eugene Tay, director of Green Future Solutions, said: "Currently there is no legislation saying they have to reduce food waste. They are not penalised by the government for throwing away food, so that has to change."

"For a start, the inter-ministry committee can look at setting up a cross-sector partnership or committee where they can get private sector and NGOs together to set targets and guidelines and look at some policies to reduce food waste. I guess that's a start before we introduce any legislation."

Singapore's recycling rate rose for the second consecutive year to 13 per cent in 2013. But it is below the 30 per cent target which Singapore was supposed to have reached by 2012. Mr Tay said food manufacturers lack knowledge on how to sort waste and there are no clear recycling options for them.

This is also one of the reasons why Singapore's only food recycling plant, IUT Global, shut down in 2011. The plant, which turned food waste into biogas and fertiliser, was operating at below capacity since it opened in 2008.

Mr Tay said: "Without that commercial-scale recycling plant, our recycling rate will probably remain constant for a few years. But if you look at the government's plan, they are going to set up an Integrated Waste Management Facility which will be ready between 2021 and 2024."

The facility will generate biogas from food waste and sewage sludge. Downstream, the Singapore Environment Council launched an anti food-waste campaign in October targeting individuals and households through a video.

Meanwhile, advocates against food waste say individuals can be empowered in simple ways to reduce food waste. For example, one could create a shopping list before stepping out of the house to avoid buying more than what is needed.

- CNA/ir

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Making green plastics viable for everyday use

Feng Zengkun The Straits Times AsiaOne 3 Nov 14;

Scientists in Singapore might have found a way to turn throwaway plastic items from an enemy of the environment into an ally.

They have devised a technique to make renewable and biodegradable plastics called bioplastics more commercially viable.

It makes use of lignin - an organic polymer usually found in wood and plants, and traditionally a waste product of paper mills and palm oil plantations - thus killing two birds with one stone.

Project leader Nasir Al-Lagtah from Newcastle University International Singapore said the discovery could make plastics environmentally friendly.

"That would realistically help to reduce our environmental impact," said the lecturer in chemical engineering at the school.

The Singapore Environment Council found last year that the country uses three billion plastic bags a year.

Most plastics today are petroleum-based, and they are strong, low-cost, light-weight and water-proof.

Although bioplastics made from natural resources such as soy and fish protein are more environmentally friendly, their use has been limited because they are not strong enough and tend to absorb water.

Dr Al-Lagtah's laboratory tests showed that lignin reduces water absorption in soy protein-based plastics by up to nearly 80 per cent. It also more than doubles the material's tensile strength - the amount of force the material can resist before splitting apart.

Other researchers have found that lignin likewise improves plastics made with fish protein.

Dr Al-Lagtah said one challenge is how to extract the lignin, as it exists in many forms in various biomass materials.

He is now studying whether bio-waste with a high lignin content can be used directly in the bioplastics, which would do away with the need for extraction. He said several firms that produce large amounts of agricultural waste have expressed interest in the process, but declined to name them because of ongoing talks.

He has produced small amounts of the improved bioplastics, but the immediate goal is a more commercially viable prototype. He expects it to take about a year to 18 months after more researchers come on board.

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Malaysia: Consider impact on environment - WWF

New Straits Times 2 Nov 14;

THE 2015 Budget, while offering several measures to help the people, is unduly silent on the management of the environment, especially natural spaces.

It is assumed, given that this will be the last budget to be implemented under the 10th Malaysia Plan, that measures provided in the last budget like the Environment Social Governance Index, Conservation Trust Fund, MyCarbon portal, Malaysian Green Foundation as well as other initiatives in the past had contributed towards environmental goals.

Be that as it may, WWF-Malaysia urges the government to bear environmental considerations in mind when implementing the measures of this budget. This is because environmental integrity is at the heart of ensuring that the people benefit from the advances of a developed nation.

The budget has made targeted subsidy allocations for the most marginalised in our society and this is to be lauded. The administration of such subsidies should ensure that environmental impacts are also evaluated to safeguard that, in the long term, these well-intended aids do not end up being perverse measures.

For example, in the case of fishermen, the subsidies should be designed to not only provide assistance but also to ensure that the resource base — the fish stock — that the fishermen depend on for their livelihood is not depleted.

If this should happen, not only will fishermen lose their means to generate income but Malaysians, in general, would lose access to a rich protein source.

Another example is to diversify fishermen’s sources of income with the allocation to accelerate aquaculture, such cage farming of fish, shrimp, mussels and oysters.

This measure should be implemented after taking environmental impacts into consideration. Hence, implementing best aquaculture practices should be one of the criteria attached to disbursing this allocation.

Unsustainable aquaculture practices would not only see the increase in demand for trash fish and fish fry, which in turn would further deplete wild fish stocks, but would also result in other environmental impacts.

Road and highway construction in Sabah and Sarawak, and the upgrading of roads to improve safety is welcome, as is improving connectivity between major cities.

However, any new roads should take into account existing and proposed totally-protected areas (TPAs). Areas like the Maludam National Park and the proposed Batang Lassa National Park (both in Sarawak) should remain undisturbed as they are home to critically-endangered species like the red-banded langur and a breeding ground for the terubok fish.

No highway or major road network should be built within or near the Danum Valley-Maliau Basin-Imbak Canyon conservation corridor and its buffer zone to preserve the corridor’s ecological integrity. Likewise, the upgrading of logging roads should be done with caution. Most logging roads are in forest reserves. Better roads will allow poachers easy access and result in human-wildlife conflict.

Infrastructure projects should not be at the expense of forests that provide vital services for the wellbeing of the people.

In terms of the promotion of new planting and replanting by oil palm among smallholders, again, these incentives should be premised upon the adoption of responsible best management practices.

Investments into electrification should be done hand in hand with greening the energy supply with sustainable and environmentally-friendly renewable sources.

Otherwise, the increase in electricity demand would have to be met by increasing supply from conventional coal power plants. This would negate any emissions’ benefit ensuing from these efforts.

The recent biannual Living Planet Report 2014 by WWF shows that, globally, we are in deficit. Malaysians are consuming more than we should be annually. This deficit, if not acknowledged and addressed, will have far greater consequences than fiscal deficits.

We, as a nation, should advance measures to manage the environment and optimise the resources it generously provides because they are becoming limited.

Datuk Dr Dionysius Sharma, executive director and chief executive director, WWF-Malaysia

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