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NEA to introduce new bands and descriptors for 1-hour PM2.5 readings

Linette Lim Channel NewsAsia 27 Jun 16;

SINGAPORE: Haze season is around the corner and the likely question on everyone's lips is: "Is it safe for me to go out now?"

To help Singaporeans answer that question, the National Environment Agency (NEA) is introducing bands and descriptors for the one-hour concentration readings for fine particulate matter (PM2.5), which it has been publishing hourly since 2014.

This was announced by Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli on Monday (Jun 27), on the sidelines of a visit to the Meteorological Service Singapore’s (MSS) HQ at Changi Airport Terminal 2.

According to Mr Masagos, the new bands and descriptors will help the public better interpret the one-hour PM2.5 concentration readings and plan their activities.

During last year’s haze season, some Singaporeans turned to unofficial sources such as third-party apps and websites that purportedly gave one-hour readings of air quality. Several said NEA’s official three-hour and 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) readings did not always square with what they observed outdoors in terms of haze visibility and smell. One example is volunteer group the People’s Movement to Stop Haze, which has been publishing one-hour PSI readings for five regions across the island since 2015.

For years, NEA resisted calls to publish one-hour PSI readings, stating that the practice of “converting raw pollutant concentration data into one-hour PSI readings is not supported by health studies”.

From Monday, it hopes the public will rely more on its official one-hour PM2.5 concentration readings, which it said is a "near real-time indicator of the current air quality”.

The PSI was developed by the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Its computation is based on the 24-hour average of PM10 concentration levels, among other pollutants. PM10 - the measure of particulate matter of 10 microns or smaller - is the dominant pollutant during haze episodes.

PM2.5 refers to particulate matter that is smaller than 2.5 microns, and is a subset of PM10.

Unlike the existing 24-hour PSI readings, which carry health advisories on what people should or should not do when readings are banded at certain levels, the four bands and descriptors for the one-hour PM2.5 readings - Normal (<55), Elevated (56-150), High (151-250) and Very High (>250) - will not carry corresponding health advisories. These will only be accompanied by a general guide on how haze particles affect health.

This is because existing studies “do not constitute a sufficient evidence-base” for the development of corresponding health advisories for the various bands, said NEA. The agency will phase out the three-hour PSI before the end of the year on the basis that it will no longer be relevant. It will also revise its microsite and its myENV app to reflect the new bands and descriptors.

- CNA/av

New PM2.5 bandings to help people plan activities better

SINGAPORE — One-hour readings of the fine particulate matter concentration (PM2.5) in the air now come with bands indicating if levels are normal, elevated, high or very high, to help the public to interpret one-hour PM2.5 better, and to plan their immediate activities.

Under the new banding, one-hour PM2.5 concentrations of 55 micrograms per cubic metre and below are “normal”; readings of 56 to 150 are “elevated”; readings of 151 to 250 are “high”; and anything above 250 is “very high”.

But the one-hour readings are not tied to health advisories, which apply only to 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) readings because studies on sub-daily PM2.5 exposure still do not provide a sufficient evidence base, said the National Environment Agency (NEA), which introduced the banding on Monday (June 27).

The 24-hour PSI forecast will also continue to be used for major decisions such as the closure of schools.

Instead, the one-hour PM2.5 readings now come with a general guide noting that each person’s reaction to pollutants may vary. Hence, the level of physical activity should be according to one’s health status.

Although the PSI includes other pollutants like sulphur dioxide and carbon monoxide, PM2.5 is the air pollutant of concern during haze episodes, because their small size mean they can lodge deeply in the lungs.

The highest one-hour PM2.5 recorded in Singapore last year was 471 on Oct 19, when the region was affected by forest and plantation fires raging in Indonesia.

Last year, Singapore’s one-hour PM2.5 readings fell within the “normal” band 88.9 per cent of the time during both haze and non-haze periods. During the haze period, readings were still mostly within the “normal” range (49.6 per cent), followed by the “elevated” (41.6 per cent), “high” (7 per cent), and “very high” (1.8 per cent) bands.

With the introduction of bands for one-hour PM2.5, the NEA will do away with three-hour PSI readings as they will “no longer be relevant”, by the end of the year.

Speaking to reporters about the new banding during a visit to the Meteorological Service Singapore headquarters on Monday, Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli said: “We want to position this more as an advisory band, rather than something which is medically impacting them.”

On how institutions, such as schools and military camps, should interpret the PM2.5 readings, Mr Masagos said they would still use the 24-hour PSI forecast, and whether they decide to continue with activities based on the one-hour PM2.5 readings would be left to their discretion.

The Ministry of Education said one-hour PM2.5 readings would be used as “an indicative measure to make the necessary adjustments” for more immediate activities. Activities for the next day would be planned using the NEA’s 24-hour PSI forecast and the corresponding MOH health advisory.

The Ministry of Defence (Mindef) said that apart from guidelines for the conduct of training in haze conditions, which use the 24-hour PSI, its commanders on the ground conduct a risk assessment before each outdoor or training activity, taking into account factors such as weather.

Commanders, Mindef said, could use the new PM2.5 bands as “one of the factors when making their risk assessments”.

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) noted there is “insufficient evidence base” to develop workplace safety and health advisories for the one-hour PM2.5 readings. The readings, the MOM added, could also fluctuate over the course of a day.

Dr Madeleine Chew, a family physician at MW Medical Centre, said at the “elevated” band, patients with respiratory disorders, heart disease and lung cancer should avoid outdoor activities, while healthy adults should reduce their participation in such activities. The “high and “very high” bands should see only indoor activities, she said.

Killiney Family and Wellness Clinic’s Dr Clarence Yeo said the hourly readings would be “quite useful” as they provide more up-to-date information. But in advising patients, he would still use it “more as a guide (such as) whether you should go out and do a run.”

Meanwhile, a workplace safety and health coordinator in a construction firm, who wanted to be known only as Mr Khoo, said he was unlikely to refer to the bandings as they are only guidelines, adding the air quality here is generally good.

Associate Professor Matthias Roth, deputy head of the National University of Singapore’s geography department, noted that in cleaner cities, what would be considered “normal” here could be considered high elsewhere, such a city with less emissions from industries and vehicular traffic.

Also, readings in the “normal” range do not necessarily mean there are no health effects, he added.

Hourly PM2.5 haze readings now graded to indicate pollution level
NEA's enhanced PM2.5 readings will come with banding and descriptors.
Chen Jingwen AsiaOne 27 Jun 16;

The National Environment Agency is phasing out 3-hour PSI updates following the enhancement of its hourly PM2.5 readings with banding to reflect current levels of haze pollution.

Unsure of what PM2.5 readings in haze updates actually mean? Don't worry, now you would be better informed by the government's system monitoring harmful fine particles during a haze.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) has enhanced its hourly PM2.5 readings with four bands to indicate the current level of pollution by fine particles to accompany the figures, the agency said in a statement today.

This would serve as a guide for people who need to adjust their plan for an immediate activity, it said.

The four ranges, which come with band numbers and descriptors, are:

I Normal - 0 to 55 ug/m3 or micrograms per cubic metre
II Elevated - 56 to 150 ug/m3
III High - 151 to 250 ug/m3
IV Very High - 251 ug/m3 and above

With the enhancements, the updates now serve as a clearer indicator of the prevailing air quality and as a result, the 3-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) will be phased out, said the agency.

In Singapore, the main air pollutant during a haze situation is fine particulate matter (PM2.5).

NEA started publishing PM2.5 figures in 2014 as they are said to be a better indicator of air quality.

They are based on near real-time readings whereas the 24-hour PSI and 3-hour PSI that the agency has been providing are rolling averages of readings taken during longer periods.

But still, many people did not understand what the PM2.5 numbers meant and how they should respond to them when overwhelmed by haze created largely by forest and peatland fires in Indonesia. The readings just provided numbers, with no classification or explanation.

Now, the updates will also be accompanied by a general health guide which Government agencies have issued to the public during periods of haze. (See below).

There will be no health advisory based on the one-hour updates because the results of recent studies on shorter-period PM2.5 exposure could not provide conclusive evidence to justify any medical advisory, said NEA. Also, one-hour readings can be volatile, tending to fluctuate throughout the day.

So the agency does not advise specifically what people should do when the haze moves into the 'Elevated' band, for instance. But common sense would tell those at risk to start taking precautions and refer to the health guide if the level persists for hours or jumps to the 'High' band.

Use 24-hour PSI when making plans for the next day

With the enhancement of PM2.5 updates, the 3-hour PSI will no longer be relevant. It will be phased out by the end of the year.

The 24-hour PSI daily forecast will continue to play its more important role as it helps in the formulation of health advisories and enables government agencies to make major decisions, such as the cancellation of school classes or outdoor events.

This integrated index incorporates PM2.5 as well as other key pollutants of concern - sulphur dioxide (SO2), coarser particulate matter (PM10), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), carbon monoxide (CO), and ozone (O3).

The public is advised to use the 24-hour forecast when making plans for the next day, like going to school or work.

Each reading will continue to be accompanied by its respective health advisory for the various classifications of people - healthy persons, elderly, children and pregnant women.

For instance, people from all age and health groups can continue with normal activities when the PSI is rated 'Good' or 'Moderate'. (See below for the full guide)

The changes in NEA's haze readings will be reflected on its Haze microsite ( and myENV app. The round-the-clock PSI Forecast will be featured prominently to encourage more people to use it.

The dreaded haze period is nearly here

The start of the dry season in Indonesia usually spells the start of hazy conditions in the region.

The period from June to October every year has seen unmanageable forest and peatland fires allegedly connected with palm oil, pulp and paper industries.

Last year's haze saw a bigger crisis as the fires raged on with intensity and length, exacerbated by the El Nino weather phenomenon.

Enveloping Indonesia and its neighbours like Singapore and Malaysia, the haze caused deaths, widespread illnesses, flights to be grounded and schools to be closed.

In Singapore, the one-hour PM2.5 reading hit an alarming high of 471 micrograms per cubic metre last October.

However, experts believe that any impending haze hitting Singapore this year might not be as severe as last year because of the subsiding El Nino phenomenon, which was believed to have ended recently. Quickly taking over is another weather system, La Nina, which has drenched the region with heavy rains in recent weeks.

Better haze, hotspot detection with new satellite
Chew Hui Yan Channel NewsAsia 27 Jun 16;

SINGAPORE: The Meteorological Service Singapore (MSS) is making use of a Japanese satellite which allows for more frequent monitoring and improved detection of weather systems and hotspots or haze in the region, the agency announced on Monday (Jun 27).

The satellite, Japan Meteorological Agency's Next Generation Himawari-8 geostationary meteorological satellite, replaced the MTSAT-2 that ceased direct transmission in December. The Himawari-8 was operationalised in July 2015, and MSS has been making use of its imagery since then.

The Himawari-8 has a 10min frequency of updates - compared to hourly updates for the MTSAT-2, allowing for enhanced monitoring of haze and weather systems, said MSS. The Japanese satellite also has more than three times the spectral bands - 16 compared to five - to improve the range of detection, as well as higher spatial resolution, resulting in more detail in the satellite image.

MSS said that it primarily makes use of data from polar-orbitting satellites operated by the US' National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and National Aeronautics and Space Administration to monitor hotspots and smoke haze in the region. These satellites normally make one day-time pass over the region each day.


To extend the observation network of real-time weather monitoring systems, the MSS has also installed an aerosol LIDAR – which stands for Light Detection and Ranging, a remote sensing method that uses light from a laser to measure ranges to Earth.

The detection system was installed on Jurong Island to measure the local distribution of particulate matter in the atmosphere, as well as a wind LIDAR.

This adds to the more than 60 automatic weather stations, a lightning detection system, weather radar and wind profiler in the network.

The aerosol LIDAR can measure the vertical extent of particulate matter to heights of about 12km, and provide an indication of upper level transboundary haze drifting into Singapore, MSS said. While it cannot differentiate particle size, it can also detect ash from volcanic eruptions in the region.

The wind LIDAR measures the vertical profile of wind speed and direction up to 12km above the ground level, and will complement MSS' existing wind profiler and enhance the real-time monitoring of upper-level winds, which affect the movement of weather systems and haze over Singapore.

"These new instruments can tell us not just the concentration of PM2.5 in the air but at different levels of the atmosphere and how they move according to wind conditions and atmospheric conditions," said Minister of Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli, who was briefed on the usage of the new technologies on Monday.

"We are still studying it but in the future I'm quite sure these can be used for even finer forecasts by the hour, making it more predictable for the public," he added.

- CNA/av

Rainier weather this year may help ease haze episodes: Masagos
Linette Lim Channel NewsAsia 27 Jun 16;

SINGAPORE: More rain is expected around the last quarter of the year, and this means the forest fires that cause the annual transboundary haze are more likely to be put out, said Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli on Monday (Jun 27).

"Therefore we hope that with more rain, there will be less haze episodes that come to us," said Mr Masagos, speaking on the sidelines of a visit to the Meteorological Service Singapore’s (MSS) HQ at Changi Airport Terminal 2.

However, he added: "But we cannot be sure – this is the weather, it is most unpredictable, and there can therefore be dry spells. Dry spells take its toll over a longer period, and forests continue to be burned, particularly peat and forests, then we will particularly be affected by this.”

According to the National Environment Agency (NEA), weather conditions this year are "expected to be less conducive for hotspot activities as compared to 2015".

Responding to queries from Channel NewsAsia, NEA explained that based on assessments of model outlooks from international climate centres, there is a possibility of La Nina developing in the third quarter of 2016.

"Rainfall is expected to be normal to above normal from June to September," it said.

"However, as there could still be extended periods of drier weather, escalation of hotspot activities can occur which may lead to transboundary haze, and Singapore could be affected if the winds blow the haze towards Singapore."

NEA added that the region is currently seeing neutral conditions - neither El Nino nor La Nina - after a strong El Nino event which resulted in prolonged periods of dry weather in the second half of the year.

- CNA/av

Haze less likely as more rain seen in Q4, says Masagos
KENNETH CHENG Today Online 28 Jun 16;

SINGAPORE — With more rain forecast for the latter part of 2016, the risk of haze blanketing the Republic could be lower this year, as forest fires will likely be put out faster, Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli said on Monday (June 27).

Speaking to reporters during a visit to the Meteorological Service Singapore’s (MSS) headquarters at Changi Airport Terminal 2, Mr Masagos said more rain was predicted towards the last quarter of the year. “Therefore, we hope that with more rain, there will be less haze episodes that come to us,” Mr Masagos said.

But he stressed that the Government could not be sure of this, given the unpredictable nature of the weather. There is the possibility of dry spells taking its toll over extended periods, and forests, particularly peatland, being set on fire. This may result in the Republic being besieged by haze.

Responding to TODAY’s queries, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said the strong El Nino event that triggered a protracted dry spell in the second half of last year has ended. The El Nino phenomenon is the warm phase of a temperature cycle in the tropical central and eastern Pacific Ocean.

While neutral conditions are prevailing over the region now, the NEA said the La Nina, which causes higher-than-normal rainfall, could develop in the third quarter of the year, based on model outlooks from international climate centres.

And with rainfall expected to be “normal to above normal” from June to September, weather conditions are forecast to be less conducive to hot spot activities than they were last year.

“However, as there could still be extended periods of drier weather, escalation of hot spot activities can occur, which may lead to transboundary haze, and Singapore could be affected if the winds blow the haze towards Singapore,” the NEA said.

Earlier in the day, Mr Masagos was briefed on the MSS’ new capabilities and technologies that support the national weather forecaster’s monitoring of the weather and haze.

Among them is imagery from the Himawari-8 geostationary meteorological satellite. The satellite provides more frequent updates, higher spatial resolution and more spectral bands than its predecessor, the MTSAT-2 satellite.

The Himawari-8, operated by the Japan Meteorological Agency, provides updates every 10 minutes, compared with hourly updates by the MTSAT-2, which stopped direct transmission last December. Its higher spatial resolution also means improved visible bands of between 0.5km and 1km compared with the MTSAT-2’s 1km, which means sharper details in satellite images.

In May, the MSS also installed an aerosol Light Detection and Ranging (Lidar) system on Jurong Island and a wind Lidar system in the south of Singapore.

Depending on atmospheric conditions, the aerosol Lidar can, among other things, measure the vertical extent of particulate matter to heights of about 12km. It can also offer an indication of upper-level transboundary haze wafting into the Republic.

The wind Lidar, which can measure the vertical profile of wind speed and direction up to about 12km above ground level, will complement the MSS’ existing wind profiler. This will improve the real-time tracking of upper-level winds, which affect the movement of weather systems and haze over Singapore.

The authorities are still studying the new capabilities, Mr Masagos said. “But for the future, I’m quite sure these can be used to give even finer forecasts for the hour … (which will be) more useful and predictable for the public.” ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY NEO CHAI CHIN

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Corporate alliance aims to deliver ‘haze-free’ products

REGINA MARIE LEE Today Online 27 Jun 16;

SINGAPORE — In a bid to tackle transboundary haze at its source, several companies, including Unilever and Danone, have joined forces to advocate the use of certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO).

The Singapore Alliance for Sustainable Palm Oil, launched on Monday (June 27), is hoping other companies will join in to make the use of CSPO the norm, through raising awareness of the link between haze and unsustainable palm oil, and sharing information on how to source sustainably.

For example, IKEA, which already sources CSPO for all home furnishing products such as candles and for in-house food production, wants to get its 40 suppliers in Singapore for food-related products to switch to using CSPO by the end of the year. It will help by absorbing half the cost of the switch, and encouraging suppliers to be more informed, such as by joining the alliance.

CSPO comes from plantations that minimise the use of slash-and-burn practices, which contribute to regional haze. It is certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, a non-profit that works with third parties to audit plantations for sustainable oil production, inspecting facilities every year, said chief executive Darrel Webber. The alliance was founded after the public outcry over the prolonged haze pollution last year, by Unilever, Ayam Brand, Danone, IKEA and Wildlife Reserves Singapore, led by the World Wildlife Fund Singapore.

Danone and Ayam Brand use only CSPO. Unilever, which uses about 3 per cent of the world palm oil production, aims to use only physically certified sustainable palm oil by 2019.

According to IKEA, CSPO costs six per cent more than the oil it previously used. Mr Christian Uhlig, head of food at IKEA for Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand said suppliers become open to making the change when they learn about the link between the haze and unsustainable palm oil.

Ayam Brand group marketing director Herve Simon said his firm hopes to encourage companies that may not be major consumers of palm oil to join the alliance.

The company was at first hesitant to make the shift to CSPO, because it felt it used a negligible amount of palm oil in its production. But it later found out that 90 per cent of palm oil orders are small orders. “Everybody has to do his part,” said Mr Simon.

The alliance hopes to have eight to 10 members by the end of the year.

Companies form alliance to tackle haze, deforestation
Chan Luo Er, Channel NewsAsia 27 Jun 16;

SINGAPORE: Ahead of the haze season, five companies have banded together to encourage more companies to switch to sustainably produced palm oil.

Named the Singapore Alliance on Sustainable Palm Oil, the group said in a panel discussion on Monday (Jun 27) that it hopes their efforts will reduce the slash-and-burn practices used in the production of palm oil, which results in haze pollution.

Certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO) is palm oil grown on a plantation that does not cause harm to the environment or society. Issued by non-profit organisation Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, the certification assures consumers, mostly through labels on products, that the standard of production is sustainable.

The five companies in the alliance, Unilever, Ayam Brand, Danone, IKEA, and Wildlife Reserves Singapore, have already been certified or are in the process of doing so.

The alliance is supported by World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Singapore, which will be actively recruiting more companies to join them in this effort.

“The Alliance sends a clear signal to consumers about which companies are committed to sustainability and which are not,” said CEO of World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Singapore Elaine Tan. “This is a timely opportunity for NGOs and businesses to work together towards transforming the palm oil industry.”

In 2015, Singapore was most affected by one of the worst haze situations in recent years, with prolonged hazy conditions of over a month and a half, and schools closed due to air quality for the first time.

That was also the year WWF Singapore launched the successful 'We Breathe What We Buy' campaign, which reached more than 20 million people globally. The organisation said that it believes that consumer pressure can persuade companies to change their practices and use sustainably produced palm oil.

"Together with its partners and peers in the industry, Unilever is committed to achieving zero deforestation with a long-term goal to source 100 per cent of our palm oil sustainably,” said Unilever Chief Procurement Officer Dhaval Buch. “Companies are encouraged to make a commitment and enable change by being a part of this National Alliance.”

Unilever is one of the largest consumers of palm oil in the world. The organisation consumes close to 1.5 million tonnes of palm oil a year, or 3 per cent of all palm oil produced in the world.

- CNA/ww

Top firms in Singapore join new alliance to meet consumer demand for haze-free products
WWF 27 Jun 16;

Singapore, 27 June 2016 – Today marks the formation of a new Singapore-based alliance between players in the palm oil industry, retailers and manufacturers, to tackle deforestation, haze pollution and ultimately deliver haze­-free products to consumers.

The primary goal of the Singapore Alliance on Sustainable Palm Oil announced today, is to increase the uptake of certified sustainable palm oil by manufacturers and retailers and offer consumers an environmentally-conscious option for the many products which contain palm oil.

The formation of the Singapore Alliance on Sustainable Palm Oil was prompted by the public outcry over 2015’s prolonged haze pollution that caused suffering in communities and natural areas throughout Southeast Asia. Through the “We Breathe What We Buy” campaign, which reached over 20 million people globally, WWF-­Singapore was able to raise awareness of the link between the slash and burn practices used in the production of palm oil and haze pollution, and enlist public support for a switch to sustainable palm oil.

“The alliance sends a clear signal to consumers about which companies are committed to sustainability and which are not”, said Elaine Tan, CEO, WWF­-Singapore. “This is a timely opportunity for NGOs and businesses to work together towards transforming the palm oil industry.”

The founding members of the alliance believe that companies can make an impact in ending transboundary haze in Southeast Asia and are calling for like­-minded organisations to join them. By consciously choosing how their products are produced and marketed, manufacturers and retailers are empowering consumers with knowledge and values to change their purchasing habits and echo this belief.

The current founding members of the Singapore Alliance on Sustainable Palm Oil include consumer goods giant Unilever, established Singapore manufacturer Ayam Brand, food and beverage specialist Danone, home furnishing retailer IKEA and Wildlife Reserves Singapore.

Dhaval Buch, Chief Procurement officer for Unilever says, “Together with its partners and peers in the industry, Unilever is committed to achieving zero deforestation with a long-­term goal to source 100 per cent of our palm oil sustainably. Unilever is proud to be part of this alliance to advocate the production, trade and usage of sustainable palm oil. Companies are encouraged to make a commitment and enable change by being a part of this national alliance.”

By joining the alliance, companies with a shared commitment can help to make the use of sustainable palm oil a norm.

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Man caught with 22 star tortoises at Woodlands Checkpoint

Channel NewsAsia 27 Jun 16;

SINGAPORE: A total of 22 star tortoises were found in the boot of a car at the Woodlands Checkpoint on Jun 23 and have since been handed over to the Agri-Food Veterinary Authority (AVA), the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority and AVA said in a joint statement on Monday (Jun 27).

The driver, a 49-year-old Singaporean man, has also been handed over to the AVA and is now assisting with investigations. Checkpoint officers had found the tortoises kept in a bag placed among other bags of groceries in the car boot.

The star tortoises are now under the care of the Wildlife Reserves Singapore, they added.

Star tortoises are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species in Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), for which Singapore is a signatory.

Under the Endangered Species (Import and Export) Act, the import and export/re-export of star tortoises require CITES permits. Offenders in violation of this Act can be fined up to S$50,000 (not to exceed an aggregate of S$500,000) per animal, and/or face a jail term of up to two years.

- CNA/av

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Why is Singapore's household recycling rate stagnant?

Linette Lim Channel NewsAsia 27 Jun 16;

SINGAPORE: For two years, Hougang resident Padmarani Srivatsan has been collecting raw food scraps - like vegetable and fruit peel - that she throws out from her kitchen, turning it into soil nutrients for her plants.

“It’s black gold,” she said, picking up a handful from her composting bucket and taking a sniff. “And it doesn’t smell at all. It smells… wholesome.”

Besides composting raw food waste, the 52-year-old kindergarten teacher has been recycling other waste that her household generates, including plastics, glass bottles, paper and tin cans. Doing all this requires a conscientious effort, said Mrs Srivatsan, acknowledging that it may be a challenge for many Singaporeans, who generate some of the most waste globally on a per capita basis, to follow her example.

A 2012 World Bank report put the amount of Singapore’s per capita municipal waste generated at 1.49kg a day - on par with Hong Kong, but higher than South Korea. At the same time, the household recycling rate remained at around 20 per cent between 2005 and 2015 - and this is "quite low", despite more than 15 years of the National Recycling Programme (NRP), according to Mr Eugene Tay, director of sustainability consulting company Green Future Solutions.

When asked for an update on the NRP in Parliament this April, Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources Dr Amy Khor pledged that the Government will continue its efforts on public education, as "30 to 50 per cent of materials deposited into the recycling bins are not suitable for recycling".

According to the National Environment Agency (NEA), Singapore’s domestic recycling rate was 19 per cent in 2015, and the target is to bring this to 30 per cent by 2030. This is below other developed economies like the United Kingdom and Taiwan, where the household recycling rates in 2013 were 44.2 per cent and 42 per cent, respectively.

While the rate is comparatively low, it is tricky to benchmark Singapore - a city-state - against other countries for two reasons. Firstly, different countries have different methodologies. Secondly, countries with significant agricultural sectors could have an outsized contribution to the domestic recycling rate through composting and anaerobic digestion. But the NEA does acknowledge multiple challenges to raising the domestic recycling rate.


A key issue is the ubiquity of in-home refuse chutes, which public high-rise apartment blocks built before the late 1980s are fitted with. The convenience of the refuse chute poses a challenge to studies that attempts to find ways to increase the domestic recycling rate, said the NEA.

Take a usage-based pricing scheme for example, where households pay according to the amount of waste they throw away and enjoy savings when they reduce their waste. According to the NEA, “a key challenge in its implementation” would be the use of refuse chutes in high-rise buildings, where more than 90 per cent of the population reside.

Although HDB blocks built after 1989 are installed with a centralised refuse chute on each floor, and blocks built after 2014 will have an additional centralised recycling chute, it will take decades before in-home refuse chutes are entirely phased out and for the majority of HDB dwellers to have access to recycling chutes.

In the meantime, environmental experts say more public engagement is needed to get people to segregate recyclables from their waste, and to put them in the blue recycling bins allotted to each public housing block. But even if residents put in the effort, the use of the blue recycling bins comes with its own set of problems.


A challenge to boosting the domestic recycling rate has to do with the fact that some people are not sure of how and what to recycle, and there is confusion over where recyclables end up, said Mr Tay of Green Future Solutions, adding that some think that the recyclables end up in the incineration plants.

A straw poll among five households who recycle shows that best practices are unclear even among those who make use of the blue bins.

“Empty paper cups from McDonald's - can these be recycled or are they considered contaminated? I’m confused over what can and cannot be recycled,” said Ms Chan Yen Sen, 38, who has been recycling for the last eight years.

The consultant and part-time lecturer, who is a resident of Bukit Batok, added: “Empty soft-drink plastic bottles - do they need to be washed? If I don’t wash them, they may attract pests. If I do wash them, it’s a waste of water – and that’s counterproductive to being eco-conscious.”

Ms Angie Woo, a home-maker from Newton who has been recycling for more than a decade, also noted that the recycling guidelines can be clearer.

“When I travel and stay at AirBnb apartments in Australia or France, I notice the hosts would have very detailed and easy-to-follow guides on how to recycle - what to do, what not to do. We’re lacking this in Singapore,” said Ms Woo, who is in her early fifties.

Confusion over the use of the recycling bins has led to their misuse as a general waste bin. According to the NEA, materials that have been deposited into the recycling bins include non-recyclables, like “pillows, soft toys and footwear” and unfinished food and drinks which contaminate the rest of the recyclables.


While household recycling rates remain comparatively low, environmental experts say that legislation and punitive measures to change that trend may not be necessary.

“Before we consider punitive measures, there is still room for improving our current education and engagement efforts. More effective and targeted outreach and communications are needed… to change mindsets and behaviours,” said Mr Tay, who also runs Zero Waste SG, an NGO which aims to increase waste minimisation and recycling in Singapore.

Ms Rachel See, an environmental engineer with the Singapore Environment Council (SEC) agreed, adding that the effectiveness of legislation depends on ensuring that there are adequate resources in place.

“Instilling knowledge and good habits such as recycling and proper waste segregation are essential, and a multi-pronged approach should be adopted to reinforce the importance of recycling in sustaining a healthy environment,” she said, adding that community involvement is key to making recycling a social norm.

Beyond outreach efforts that appeal to people’s green impulses, the Government has also sought to change mindsets by appealing to people’s pragmatism.

For example, the NEA has worked with public waste collectors to implement 90 "Cash for Trash" collection points, where residents can exchange recyclables for cash. It also jointly organises a "Green Homes" programme with the SEC and the North West Community Development Council to hand out awards to households that recycle and use energy-efficient electrical appliances.

Bukit Panjang resident Rowena Artiaga says her household spends below the national average on utilities. They are also award winners of Green Homes @ North West, an initiative by NEA, SEC and North West CDC. (Photo: Linette Lim)
Green Home award recipient Mrs Rowena Artiaga, who lives in a four-room HDB flat in Segar, said the utility bill for her family of five comes up to just below S$100 a month. In comparison, data from Singapore Power show the average utility bill for a four-room HDB flat is around S$144.

Besides recycling the usual materials - paper, plastic, metal, and glass - Mrs Artiago also makes the effort to reuse water. Water used to wash fruits and vegetables for example, can be collected and used to water plants. The family also rarely uses air-conditioning.

“It’s proof that it’s not just for the environment. When you lead an eco-conscious lifestyle, it’s also cost saving,” said the 51-year-old home-maker.

- CNA/ll

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Malaysia: Penang's Teluk Bahang Dam reaches new low

The Star 27 Jun 16;

GEORGE TOWN: Although the El Nino season has ended and the state is now experiencing rain, the Teluk Bahang Dam has however reached a new low with water levels at 46.3 per cent, lower than the level recorded during the dry season.

A check showed that the dam was drying up and the cliffs of the dam were visible.

Penang Water Supply Corporation (PBAPP) chief executive officer, Datuk Jaseni Maidinsa said the state’s water supply was still stable as it could last for another 55 days.

“We are expecting rain in July onwards as stated by the Meteorological Department,” said Jaseni here Monday. - Bernama

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Malaysia: Floods due to global warming may hit 20 pct lowland areas

Borneo Post 28 Jun 16;

MELAKA: Twenty per cent of lowland areas especially in coastal areas in several states, are expected to flood due to rising sea levels caused by global warming, if not handled properly.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said scientific studies conducted by the National Hydraulic Research Institute of Malaysia (NAHRIM) also expects the areas to be flooded between 1.5 feet to three feet.

“This catastrophe is expected to occur in the next 100 years with most of the low-lying areas flooded, causing massive destruction with millions of people left homeless.

“This rise in sea level is the result of melting ice, which then flows into the sea causing it to rise,” he told reporters after opening the 16th Melaka International Youth Dialogue” here, yesterday.

There was also a dialogue session entitled ‘Youth for Environmental Sustainability: Our Future, Our Care’ organised by the

World Assembly of Youth (WAY), which was attended by Melaka Chief Minister Datuk Seri Idris Haron, who is also president of WAY.

He said among the states expected to experience this rise in water level are Kedah, Terengganu, Kelantan and Pahang.

Wan Junaidi said the government was collecting data and information on the results of the study by NAHRIM on environmental issues, among them rising sea levels and temperatures, which can cause disasters or catastrophes.

“Scientific research will also be conducted and the results will be tabled at three important levels, namely the National Physical Planning Council, which will monitor the development in sea reclamation areas and determine at what stage the reclamation can be done.

“The Land Council will be informed and subsequently a meeting will be held with the prime minister, the chief ministers and menteris besar.”

He said NAHRIM together with the Drainage and Irrigation Department has also been instructed to locate and carry out a study on quality of mineral water found underground. — Bernama

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Global air pollution crisis 'must not be left to private sector'

Energy authority says governments must take responsibility, and investment would pay for itself in health benefits
Fiona Harvey The Guardian 27 Jun 16;

The global air pollution crisis killing more than 6 million people a year must be tackled by governments as a matter of urgency and not just left to the private sector, a report from the world’s leading energy authority says.

An increase of investment in energy of about 7% a year could tackle the problem, and would pay for itself through health benefits and better social conditions, the International Energy Agency estimates.

Its report says air pollution is often seen as a social problem but the economic consequences are huge, . Lost work from air pollution is an increasing issue for rapidly developing cities, for instance.

Fatih Birol, executive director of the IEA, told the Guardian that governments should take more responsibility: “Air pollution does not get the attention it deserves. It is a global problem, and it is extremely important. It is a crisis.”

The energy industry is a leading source of pollution – including sulphur and nitrogen compounds – that cause breathing difficulties in vulnerable people, including children and older people, and can lead to premature death. Another key problem is that about 2.7 billion people around the world are still dependent on wood and waste fires that cause indoor air pollution, affecting women and young children the most.

At least 6.5 million people a year are believed to be dying from air pollution, and many more lives are harmed, according to experts. But governments have been slow to respond, according to the first IEA report on the issue. If they act, the problem could be halved in the next three decades, the IEA says.

Air quality has been identified as the fourth-largest threat to human health, after high blood pressure, poor diet and smoking. Eight in 10 of the cities around the world that monitor the problem exceed the levels at which harm is caused.

This is the first time the IEA, which normally confines itself to statistics on energy use and greenhouse gas emissions arising from that, has ventured into this territory. Birol said it was a measure of the seriousness of the problem, which was costing the global economy billions a year.

He said the most important thing to be done was for governments to take responsibility and put in place the policies needed – such as regulation of industry – as well as to cooperate with each other. Clean energy sources such as renewables could play a key role, he added.

Energy production and use account for about 85% of particulate matter and almost all of the sulphur oxides and nitrogen oxides, the IEA report says.

It notes that air pollution from agriculture should be a concern for governments, as fertilisers used on intensively farmed fields can cause problems both for air pollution and agriculture. Nitrous oxide and ammonia, arising from fertilisers, are more powerful than carbon in terms of trapping heat in the atmosphere, and can combine with other emissions to form more harmful gases.

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