Best of our wild blogs: 1 Feb 18

Stormy at Sentosa
wild shores of singapore

Mud lobsters: 'Condo Developers' in the Mangroves
Celebrating Singapore Shores!

Singapore Raptor Report – December 2017
Singapore Bird Group

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Singapore's mountain of e-waste

With 60,000 tonnes of e-waste produced a year, how much of it is recycled and reused?
Samantha Boh Straits Times 1 Feb 18;

In the 10 minutes you take to read this article, roughly 1,141kg of electrical and electronic items would have been thrown away by people and companies across Singapore.

That is the weight of around 7,610 mobile phones.

In a year, this figure balloons to around 60,000 tonnes (60 million kg) of e-waste, going by figures from the National Environment Agency (NEA).

What is worse, this figure could be the tip of the iceberg.

A study by global think-tank United Nations University estimates that about 109,000 tonnes of e-waste - 19.5kg a person - was generated here in 2014, making Singapore the second-largest generator of e-waste in the region, second only to Hong Kong (21.7kg). This puts the Republic ahead of Japan (17.3kg), South Korea (15.9kg) and Taiwan (18.6kg).

Acknowledging Singapore's growing mountain of e-waste, the Government is mulling over implementing regulations to ensure that discarded items, ranging from refrigerators and washing machines to televisions and mobile phones, are recycled and reused.

But why put e-waste under the spotlight?

All e-waste contains small amounts of hazardous materials, ranging from heavy metals such as lead found in TVs and mercury in batteries, to ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons and hydrochlorofluorocarbons found in refrigerators.

Many people simply throw these items down the chute, or leave them at rubbish bins and bin centres, so they are unlikely to come into direct contact with these harmful substances.

But such items often end up in the hands of scrap traders and rag-and-bone men, who lack the skills to recycle them safely and may unknowingly discharge chemical compounds which are harmful to both their health and the environment.

Long-term exposure to these compounds can affect the nervous system, kidneys, bones, hormonal balance and reproductive system. The chemicals are also not biodegradable and can persist in the environment for long periods of time.

There is currently no official data on how much of the e-waste discarded here gets recycled, but a consumer survey of 1,600 people by the NEA paints a grim picture. It found that just 6 per cent of household e-waste, amounting to 1,800 tonnes, is sent for recycling.

Recycler TES-AMM, one of six main e-waste recycling companies here, said that only about 5 per cent of the 60,000 tonnes of e-waste generated here goes through it.

Various other recyclers do not have the expertise to fully recycle a product, leading to valuable materials in e-waste going up in smoke when incinerated.

E-waste contains various metals, including copper, steel, aluminium and even gold, as well as plastic and glass, which can be recovered and used to manufacture new products. In fact, researchers who analysed 14 common e-products, including mobile phones, TVs and tablets, found that materials worth €2.15 billion (S$3.5 billion) could be recovered from e-waste generated in Europe.

The whole of Europe might generate 205 times more e-waste then Singapore, but millions of dollars from materials which could be extracted here each year is still a lot of money that can be earned from trash.

Standing in the way of a proper e-waste recycling infrastructure is the strong informal sector of scrap traders and rag-and-bone men here, and the lack of a proper e-waste collection system, said experts.

"The informal sector is unskilled and unorganised. (The people in it) are willing to take the hammer, break it down and eventually extract a few components or materials from here and there," said Professor Seeram Ramakrishna, chair of the Circular Economy Task Force at the National University of Singapore.

"We need to move from there to a more organised way, or else it will not be sustainable."

Prof Seeram noted that this leads to another issue, which is the lack of e-waste to make the recycling industry economically viable.

Indeed, noted Mr Venkatesha Murthy, managing director of e-waste consultancy Vans Chemistry, recycling firms "literally have to pay" to recycle large home appliances such as washing machines and refrigerators.

Due to the lack of economies of scale, the cost of recycling the items, including transport and labour costs, cannot be offset by the money earned from selling the components and materials extracted.

The problem: There is no national collection system for e-waste. Most people get deliverymen to cart large items away when they make a new purchase. The discarded items end up at bin centres.

Smaller items like laptops and mobile phones can be deposited at some 400 collection points set up by telco StarHub in places including shopping malls, schools and community clubs.

Still, just 93 tonnes of e-waste were collected at these collection points last year.

One form of legislation that the Singapore Government is considering is the Extended Producer Responsibility approach undertaken in places like Sweden.

In Sweden, about 15kg of e-waste is collected per person and overall, about 52 per cent of e-waste is recycled. E-waste producers, including brand owners and manufacturers, are required by law to ensure that their products are collected and recycled.

Large retailers provide collection points at their stores and one-for-one take-back services upon the purchase of a product. They also have to pay an "environmental fee" to recycling companies to fund their services.

As a result, Swedish e-waste recycler El-Kretsen is able to collect 140,000 tonnes of e-waste a year, two-thirds of the total amount of e-waste the country generated in 2016.

Half of its earnings are from selling the materials recovered from e-waste, while the other half is made up of environmental fees.

"Political instruments can work, but also the market. The more demand for recycled material, the better the prices and hence possibilities for us to develop our processes," said Mr Marten Sundin, marketing head at El-Kretsen.

Laws will also allow the flow of e-waste to be better tracked, reducing illegal dumping and improper handling of e-waste by the informal sector.

But Vans Chemistry's Mr Venkatesha, who has more than 20 years of experience in the e-waste industry, said there is no need for a whole new collection network.

He believes the authorities can tap the existing collection networks used by public waste collectors (PWCs) in Singapore to collect general waste.

"They don't need to reinvent the engine, instead e-waste recyclers and the PWCs need to work closely, sharing the cost and responsibility," he said.

The PWCs, he pointed out, can be incorporated into the e-waste collection system such that they also stand to profit. Rag-and-bone men can also have a role, working for the recycling firms. So instead of taking the items apart and selling the components to scrap dealers, they can sell them to proper recycling firms.

"You cannot take away their bread and butter by completing cutting them out of the equation," Mr Venkatesha said.

But for Singapore to truly boost its e-waste recycling rates, the buy-in from consumers is needed.

This will require education.

NEA's consumer survey found that six in 10 Singapore residents do not know, or are unsure of, how to recycle their e-waste.

Consumers also need to vote with their wallets, said Mr Arthur Huang, founder of Miniwiz, a Taiwan-based upcycling company that has created 1,200 new materials from trash including e-waste. These materials can be used to create clothes and even sunglasses,as well as in buildings.

But without consumer demand, manufacturers will not be motivated to use recycled materials.

"In the end, it is the market that decides what product can be made. If you don't buy, those products (made from recycled materials) will never be made," he said.

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From trash to treasure

Samantha Boh Straits Times 1 Feb 18;

One man is on a crusade to turn the tide on trash.

For Mr Arthur Huang, what others see as unusable discards, he views as a resource that can keep on giving. He has turned cigarette butts into building materials, CDs and DVDs into frames for sunglasses, and plastic bottles into clothing, for instance.

Driven in part by a hatred of plastic, he started his mission 13 years ago to give discarded items new life, setting up upcycling firm Miniwiz in the heart of Taipei city.

"Hating plastic won't make it go away. So I decided to do something about it," said the 40-year-old architect and engineer.

Today, the company is worth more than US$100 million (S$131 million), and has gained international attention for various projects, including the construction of an exhibition hall using only plastic bottles in 2010.

Mr Huang was in town recently to give lectures on recycling trash as part of the National Geographic Live series, which aims to inspire people to care more about the earth.

He spoke about how he set up a laboratory within the Miniwiz office, which was dubbed the trash lab. There, a team of engineers, including those specialising in materials and chemistry, experiment on an array of trash, findings ways to turn them into new materials.

Over the years, they have created 1,200 of them.

The long-term challenge is getting designers, architects and other manufacturers to use these new materials, said Mr Huang. He believes that most manufacturers would be willing to switch to more sustainable materials if they are actively engaged.

"But we only have 100 people in the company. We can't afford to do that," he said.

Hence, he hopes to educate the next generation of creators.

In June, a database of Miniwiz's materials will be opened to 100 universities, and students will receive funding to create new products with the materials.

"Hopefully, through their success and experience in using the materials, they can influence their friends and even their professors," he said.

Ultimately though, the consumers matter most, he believes.

"What you pay for is what you vote for. But the problem is that people don't realise how much power they have," he said.

"If we can get a critical mass of consumers who care about sustainability, and who care less about convenience and cost, then I can bet you that most companies will shift to capture that market."

Samantha Boh

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Heavy winds send boats, bins flying at East Coast Park; fell tree at Marine Parade

Afifah Darke and Elizabeth Khor Channel NewsAsia 31 Jan 18;

SINGAPORE: Strong winds in the east of Singapore sent at least three boats flying at East Coast Park on Wednesday (Jan 31) afternoon, and felled a large tree that all but blocked Marine Parade Road.

The gusts tossed three Laser sailboats - each weighing about 70 kg - into the air at the National Sailing Centre, video of the incident showed.

The video, shot by a Channel NewsAsia reader who did not want to be named, also showed trees being battered by the intense wind.

He said it was already raining when he arrived at the centre for training at around 3.50pm.

"The wind suddenly picked up so my sailing team gathered to see what was going on," he told Channel NewsAsia. "Stuff just started flying everywhere - boats, equipment, etc - it was just chaos."

Calling it a "mini cyclone", he added that they were evacuated to a multi-purpose hall at about 4.10pm. Their teachers instructed them to call their parents to pick them up.

Another reader, Daniel Nganasekaran, sent video of a large wheelie rubbish bin being tossed around in the wind at East Coast Park.

A Singapore Sailing Federation spokesman said that the "strong gust of wind, together with a water spout" that came through the National Sailing Centre, left a trail of damage.

"It was fortunate that sailors were recalled as per standard operating procedure and waited under shelter when the Cat 1 siren was sounded earlier," he said, adding that everyone was safe and accounted for.

It was a "good reminder" to respect mother nature, the spokesman added.


Nearby, a large tree fell on Marine Parade Road, almost completely sealing it off.

Channel NewsAsia reader Kelly Zhong Higgins said that the tree toppled outside Neptune Court condominium, leaving the road towards Parkway Parade shopping centre completely blocked and only one lane open in the opposite direction.

Another reader, who wanted to be identified only as Aiden, told Channel NewsAsia he saw passers-by trying to clear the road at about 5.45pm.

At around 6.45pm, the Land Transport Authority confirmed that the road was closed.

The heavy rain on Wednesday also caused a footpath and bus stop at Ang Mo Kio to flood after a nearby drain overflowed.

It was the second consecutive day that storms had caused damage in Singapore. On Tuesday, storms in the northern part of the country felled trees and caused a flash flood, and took residents and businesses by surprise. Hailstones were also reported in Ang Mo Kio and Seletar amid heavy rain.

Additional reporting by Nigel Chin.

Source: CNA/ad/ek

Waterspout and strong winds blow away boats, dumpster at East Coast Park during stormy weather
Lydia Lam Straits Times 31 Jan 18;

SINGAPORE - Heavy rain fell across Singapore on Wednesday (Jan 31), with unusually strong winds sending a dumpster and even a few boats flying in the air at East Coast Park.

Videos circulating online show the fierce gusts blowing leaves and debris up into the air. At least three boats are seen being tossed into the air as well. The person taking the video exclaims and flees when the boats are blown in his direction.

A spokesman for the National Sailing Centre (NSC) confirmed with The Straits Times that it happened near the centre.

"A strong gust of wind together with a waterspout came through NSC and left a trail of damages this afternoon," said the spokesman. "It was fortunate that sailors were recalled as per standard operating procedure and waited under shelter when the siren was sounded earlier."

The spokesman added that its employees were on hand to assist and usher NSC visitors indoors and to sheltered areas.

"Everyone is accounted for and safe," said the spokesman. "This was a good reminder for why we need to respect Mother Nature, to stay under shelter during a storm or when the siren is sounded, and to always return our boats to the racks after sailing."

Another video sent in by an ST reader shows a large green dumpster being battered by strong winds at East Coast Park.

There were also reports of a tree which fell along Marine Parade Road, with bus services being diverted as a result.

The stormy weather also prompted national water agency PUB to issue high flood risk alerts for two areas. The first was issued for Tampines Road, which is a hot spot for flooding.

PUB had said on its social media accounts in an alert at 4.22pm that heavy rain was expected over many areas in Singapore from 4.50pm to 5.50pm.

According to the National Environment Agency's (NEA's) website, thunderstorms are expected across the island from 5.30pm to 7.30pm.

PUB issued a high flood risk alert for Tampines Road at 5.52pm. The water level in the measuring drains rose to 100 per cent before subsiding in a matter of minutes.

Tampines Road had been flooded across three lanes on Jan 8, along with eight other locations after a bout of unusually intense rain.

The area is a hot spot for flooding. PUB said in a previous statement after the Jan 8 floods that there are ongoing drainage improvement works to improve flood protection at the flooded areas.

PUB also issued a high flood risk alert for Arumugam Road in Ubi at 6.10pm.

Singapore is currently experiencing the north-east monsoon, which is expected to last till March.

On Tuesday, flash floods occurred at Seletar North Link. Hailstones reportedly fell in some areas in Singapore including Yishun and Seletar.

"We urge the public to exercise caution and avoid stepping into or driving into flooded areas," said PUB in a statement on Thursday's flooding. "During this period of monsoon season, the public should stay tuned to radio broadcast and check PUB's Facebook page or PUB's mobile app MyWaters for flood updates."

Waterspout brought strong winds to East Coast Park on Wednesday: Met Service
Channel NewsAsia 1 Feb 18;

SINGAPORE: The heavy winds that sent boats and dumpsters flying at East Coast Park on Wednesday (Jan 31) was caused by a waterspout, said the Meteorological Service Singapore (MSS) on Thursday.

A waterspout, a rotating column of winds associated with an intense thunderstorm, was observed over the sea off the east coast of Singapore at around 4.10pm, said the Met Service.

The waterspout weakened as it neared the coast but still brought strong winds to the East Coast Parkway area, it added.

The strongest wind gusts recorded from the nearest wind sensor in the area was 59.1km/h.

Stronger winds have been recorded there before. On Dec 7, 2014, the highest recorded wind gust in the East Coast Parkway area was 72.8km/h while the highest ever recorded wind gust in Singapore was 144.4km/h at Tengah on Apr 25, 1984, said the Met Service.

Weather radar images show the areas affected by intense thundery showers on Wednesday (Jan 31). (Images: NEA)

MSS’ weather radar images showed towering thunderstorm (cumulonimbus) clouds developing around 4.10pm over the sea off the east coast of Singapore, it added.

These clouds reached 16km in height, far higher than the usual height of 10 to 12km.

The strong winds experienced in parts of south-eastern Singapore were due to "strong downdrafts" from the thunderstorm clouds, it said.

The atmospheric conditions which led to the intense thunderstorms on Tuesday and Wednesday are not uncommon in the tropics, the Met Service added.

On Tuesday, hailstones were reported in the north of Singapore in areas such as Seletar and Ang Mo Kio.

The last sighting of a waterspout was on Jun 18, 2017, off the southeast coast of Singapore.

For the next few days, the weather is expected to be windy with passing showers.

Source: CNA/ad

Thunderstorm, gusty winds lash Singapore for a second day
ALFRED CHUA Today Online 1 Feb 18;

NParks picks up the pieces, businesses count the losses

SINGAPORE — For the second day in a row, gusty winds and thunderstorms pummeled parts of Singapore, even as some businesses hit by the previous day’s weather chaos were still picking up the pieces and counting the costs.

On Wednesday (Jan 31), wind speeds of up to 59.1km/h in the east sent boats from the National Sailing Centre (NSC) flying in the air.

Footage from a video that went viral on social media showed a few small boats being hurled into the air by strong winds at the East Coast training centre for national sailors.

Dumpsters were also said to have been sent flying at East Coast Park, and accounts on social media emerged of fallen trees near Marine Parade.

At about 4.30pm on Wednesday, the National Environment Agency (NEA) tweeted a heavy rain warning.

“Moderate to heavy thundery showers with gusty wind are expected over many areas of Singapore,” it said.

In a update on Wednesday's weather, the NEA said in a statement on Thursday that the strong winds experienced in parts of south-eastern Singapore were due to "strong downdrafts from thunderstorm clouds which reached heights of around 16km".

"Favourable atmospheric (wind, moisture, temperature) conditions led to the development of the intense thunderstorms yesterday and on Tuesday. Such conditions are not uncommon in the tropics," it added.

The NEA said a waterpout was also spotted at around 4.10pm over the sea off the east coast of Singapore.

"As the waterspout neared the coast, it weakened but still brought strong winds to the East Coast Parkway (ECP) area," said the agency.

Waterspouts typically have a life span of a few minutes to an hour, and tend to occur over the waters off southern Singapore.

At sea, they can produce wind gusts of up to 80km/h and "pose some risk to people and objects including small vessels nearby".

The last sighting of a waterspout was on June 18, 2017, off the southeast coast of Singapore.

According to the NEA, the strongest wind gusts recorded from the nearest wind sensor at ECP on Wednesday was 59.1km/h.

The highest recorded wind gust in the area was 72.8km/h on Dec 7, 2014.

Wednesday was also the second-straight day that Singapore was hit by torrential rain in the late afternoon.

On Tuesday, more than 60 trees were damaged after gusty winds and heavy rain swept through Seletar North Link. Flash floods and hail were reported in the Yishun area as well.

According to the Meteorological Services Singapore (MSS), the highest-recorded 30-minute rainfall on Tuesday was 46.6mm at 4.55pm, and the strongest-recorded wind gust was 70.9kmh at around 5.15pm in Sembawang.

The highest wind speed recorded historically was 144.4kmh, taken on April 25, 1984.

The National Parks Board (NParks) said it received reports of more than 200 tree incidents on Tuesday. These comprised mainly small trees and snapped branches, the NParks spokesperson said, noting that most were cleared by 8pm on Tuesday.


For businesses affected by Tuesday’s storm in northern Singapore, the inevitable job of cleaning up and tallying losses needed to be done.

At Hua Hng Trading Co, gusty winds racking up speeds of up to 70kmh and intense rainfall and hail on Tuesday evening caused potted plants to be blown off their racks and ornamental trees uprooted.

The nursery’s managing director Chua King Wah told TODAY that the team spent the whole night trying to salvage the plants, working well into the morning.

Mr Chua estimated around S$10,000 in losses from the damaged plants, which included the Celosia Plume, and tangerine shrubs — plants popular during Chinese New Year.

That was another concern looming for the nursery, which has been in the business for close to 30 years. Given that the Chinese New Year is fast approaching, Mr Chua said he is worried of a shortfall in supply,

Recounting the events of Wednesday evening, Mr Chua said the storm started like any normal storm did — wind, rainfall, thunder, and lightning.

Then came the abrupt — and swift — change in wind direction.

“The winds went from North-East, to South-West, and it started blowing very strongly. It was almost like a tornado swept in here,” he said.

There was no time to salvage the plants, said Mr Chua. His first priority was to get his customers into shelter.

Hua Hng was just one among the businesses along Bah Soon Pah Road near Yishun that were hit by Tuesday’s storm.

Mr Soh Wen Chong from vegetable farm Pacific Agro estimated that some 10 per cent of his cherry tomato crops were damaged by the storm.

It is still too early to see the effects of the storm on crop supply though, Mr Soh noted, as the current batch of crops have not borne fruit yet.

When TODAY visited the farm on Wednesday afternoon, workers could be seen doing repair works. One plot of cherry tomato crops was buried beneath a fallen shelter.

“I was devastated by the damage. If there is nothing to sell in two weeks’ time, then it would be bad news for Chinese New Year,” Mr Soh told TODAY.

Above: The aftermath of the damage cause by a thunderstorm on Tuesday (Jan 30) is seen at Oh' Farms on Bah Soon Pah Road, on Jan 31, 2018. Photo: Koh Mui Fong/TODAY

At hydroponics farm Oh’ Farms next door, it was a similar story of damage — greenhouse roofs blown off by strong winds, broken zinc roofs, and dislodged structures and pipes.

Supply will “definitely be affected” said Ms Ore Huiying, a freelance photographer who helps out at her family farm. It would take a while for the farm to tally up the losses, she added.

For the farms in Yishun, this was the first time damage of such an extent was wreaked. And it caught them off guard.

Shrugging his shoulders, Mr Chua said: “What precautions can we take? We have never seen such storms before, and don’t know when it would happen again.”

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Hong Kong votes to ban domestic ivory sales

Lawmakers overwhelmingly vote for the bill to abolish trade by 2021, which will shut down a massive ivory market and throw a ‘lifeline’ to elephants
Associated Press The Guardian 31 Jan 18;

Hong Kong has voted to ban ivory sales in a landmark move to end the infamous trade in the city.

Lawmakers overwhelmingly voted for Wednesday’s bill, which will abolish the trade by 2021, following China’s complete ban on ivory sales that went into effect at the end of last year.

“Shutting down this massive ivory market has thrown a lifeline to elephants,” said Bert Wander of global advocacy group Avaaz.

“Today is a great day for elephants. Hong Kong has always been the ‘heart of darkness’ of the ivory trade with a 670-tonne stockpile when international trade was banned in 1989,” said Alex Hofford of WildAid Hong Kong.

The amendment will phase out the trade in three stages, a time period some conservationists say could be exploited as a loophole and too late for African elephants which continue to be killed in huge numbers.

The steps include a ban on trade in hunting trophies and ivory dating from after 1975, when a global treaty regulating the trade took effect. It would later extend to ivory acquired before 1975, and finally traders would have to dispose of their stock by 2021.

Penalties for offenders will be increased to a maximum fine of HK$10m ($1.3m) and 10 years’ imprisonment.

Dozens of demonstrators including schoolchildren gathered outside the city’s legislature to protest against ivory sales holding up signs that read: “Do you really need ivory chopsticks?”

Angry ivory traders have said they will be forced to close down their businesses and demanded the government compensate them for their stock – which the new ordinance rejected.

Despite the planned ban, the trade was still flourishing in Hong Kong, which saw its biggest ivory bust in three decades last July when more than seven tonnes of tusks worth more than $9m were seized.

In the months ahead of Wednesday’s vote, the legislature heard tales of murder and suffering involving African park rangers who were shot dead while protecting elephants and others drowned or set on fire.

African ivory is highly sought after in China, where it is seen as a status symbol, and used to fetch as much as $1,100 a kilogram.

Poaching in Africa has seen the elephant population fall by 110,000 over the last 10 years to just 415,000, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Despite an overall fall in poaching, Africa’s elephant population has declined in part because of continued illegal killing, said a report last year by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

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