Best of our wild blogs: 6 Apr 18

8 Apr (Sun): Registration opens for for St John's Islands walk on 6 May (Sun)
Celebrating Singapore Shores!

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Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

Singapore corals having their annual orgy!
Celebrating Singapore Shores!

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The monstrous scale of plastic bag wastage in Singapore

Do Singaporeans know the extent of the resources needed to fuel their plastic bag usage, and the amount of bags that is wasted? Talking Point explores the issue.
Derrick A Paulo and Peh Yuxin Channel NewsAsia 5 Apr 18;

SINGAPORE: If each person in Singapore uses 1.6 plastic bags a day, the country would guzzle enough petroleum in a year to drive 8,555 cars round the world.

That is not a hypothetical situation.

It takes 37 million kg of crude oil and 12 million kg of natural gas to produce three billion plastic bags – the amount the Republic was already consuming in a year by 2011.

And the 1.6 bags that comes to per person per day is twice as many as the average Malaysian uses and thrice the figure in Australia.

“A lot of Singaporeans see plastic bag usage as a right, not a privilege,” said Ms Jessica Cheam, the founder of online publication Eco-Business. “The problem is that people take far more bags than they need.”

This issue of wastage came up in Parliament last month when the Government said that imposing a charge or ban on disposable plastic bags and substituting them with other types of disposable bags is unlikely to improve environmental outcomes.

But as Talking Point discovered, people are still shocked when they hear how many plastic bags are being disposed of: About 420 tonnes every day last year, or 2,640 bags every three seconds. (Watch the episode on Channel 5 tonight, April 5, at 9.30pm.)


Worldwide, a plastic bag is used, on average, for 12 minutes before being discarded. And this is damaging the environment.

“Many of them just go into the incinerators, and worse, they end up in oceans,” said Ms Cheam.

If we don’t do anything about it, then there are going to be more plastics than fish in the ocean by 2050.

While plastic bags have many uses, from carrying groceries to bagging up refuse, they add to the mountain of rubbish Singapore produces.

Last year, 94 per cent of plastic waste was not recycled, and plastic bags are estimated to constitute around a fifth of this.

But even most of the bags sent for recycling are typically discarded. For example, shredding and recycling company Impetus Conceptus ends up recycling about 30 to 40 per cent of the bags it receives because the rest would be contaminated.

“Food contamination, oil contamination, stuff like that,” said its business development director Thomas Wong.

Once it’s contaminated, we’re not able to do anything else because it deteriorates the quality of the pellets.

He advises those who want to recycle plastic bags to fold them in old clothing, books or glass containers, which can all be put in the blue recycling bin at every public apartment block and, from August, every condominium block.

Most of all, he urged: “Don’t ask for a plastic bag. Bring your own bag.”


To begin with, the production of plastic bags not only requires a huge amount of resources, but also entails wastage in the process.

Over at Union Packaging Industries, which supplies 30 tonnes of bags monthly to retailers in Singapore, about 20 per cent of the plastic resins are wasted because of the adjustments needed in the different stages of manufacturing.

“There’s a lot of manpower and hard work involved (at each stage),” said its director Lam Chun Seng.

With supermarkets holding off on imposing a plastic bag levy, and the government not planning to make them do so, the ball is in the consumer’s court.

In 2013, the Singapore Environment Council found that some 26 per cent of households have more than 20 bags lying around at home. And non-profit organisation Zero Waste SG wants to reduce this kind of “excessive” usage.

While its call for a mandatory charge for plastic bag use has been rebuffed, Zero Waste SG manager Pek Hai Lin hopes that will change in future, even as she stressed that her group is not pushing for a ban.

“The government is dealing with other environmental issues as well: It’s increasing the water price; it’s implementing the carbon tax,” she said.

“So it’s looking at different aspects of responsibility to the environment. And I hope it’ll look at this sooner rather than later.”

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'Energy islands' among new solar energy projects launched

Samantha Boh Straits Times 5 Apr 18;

SINGAPORE - Singapore, a sunny island set in the sea as a song goes, may soon have "energy islands" made up of solar panels floating in the sea.

These "islands" will supply electricity to nearby industrial zones or living areas, under a project by the Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore (Seris) housed at the National University of Singapore.

It is one of three projects launched on Thursday (April 5) as Seris marks its 10th anniversary at an event at the NUS Shaw Foundation Alumni House.

The "energy islands" project comes as the Government looks to expand the world's largest floating photovoltaics (PV) testbed at Tengeh Reservoir - run by Seris, PUB and the Economic Development Board - to other reservoirs in the next few years.

In another project, Seris will work on developing more efficient solar cells with Nanyang Technological University and the National Research Foundation's Campus for Research Excellence and Technological Enterprise. The aim is for the cells to convert 30 per cent of the sunlight it absorbs into energy - surpassing the current world record efficiency of 26.6 per cent.

As for its third project, the institute is looking to develop cheaper and more efficient solar panels that can be integrated into buildings to overcome land constraints.

In a statement congratulating Seris on its 10th anniversary, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean noted that solar energy is presently the best alternative energy option for Singapore, in terms of economic and technical viability.

For instance, the costs of solar energy have been reduced by about 85 per cent in the last decade, and are now competitive with fossil fuel-based power in many countries, including Singapore.

By 2020, Singapore aims to put in place enough solar PV systems to supply 350MWp of electricity - about 5 per cent of projected peak electricity demand here.

Mr Teo said there is a global shift towards renewable energy and Singapore is in a good position to trial cleantech solutions, which can be scaled for other cities in the Asia-Pacific, particularly as they seek options to tackle energy and sustainability challenges.

He said research initiatives and supporting services have helped to anchor a new ecosystem of more than 100 clean energy companies here, an effort that Seris has played a large role in.

With several breakthroughs under its belt, research funds flowing and an elite team of researchers, the Seris has had a good run this past decade, said Seris’ chief, Professor Armin Aberle.

Today, it has a team of 220, including scientists, engineers and technicians. It has also groomed 110 PhD students, of whom 52 have graduated and join the solar power industry.

Seris has also garnered $30 million in funds from the industry over the last decade.

Among its breakthroughs is a real-time monitoring system with high reliability and availability. The monitoring system provides the backbone for the well-known "Live irradiance map of Singapore", which provides data that can be used to develop ways to overcome the intermittency of solar energy, due to factors like cloud cover.

The institute is also a forerunner in developing new solar panels, including the TwinPeak panels, which have at least 7 per cent more power than standard panels.

The future for solar technologies is bright, said Prof Aberle.

Solar energy is progressing rapidly and expected to gain an increasing share of the power generation mix.

"This in turn will help Singapore to achieve its carbon emission targets, and at the same time will provide a clean, green and healthy environment for future generations," he said.

Singapore's solar capabilities to be strengthened through 3 new research projects
Gwyneth Teo Channel NewsAsia 5 Apr 18;

SINGAPORE: Three flagship research and development projects, aimed at diversifying the industrial uses of solar power, are set to be spearheaded by the Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore (SERIS) in its efforts to propel Singapore in the sector.

SERIS CEO Professor Armin Aberle announced this on Thursday (Apr 5) during the institute's 10th anniversary celebration.

Housed in the National University of Singapore (NUS), the institute was founded in 2008 as a government initiative to stimulate the establishment of clean technology as a future pillar of the economy.

To achieve its aim, the institute has planned three new flagship R&D projects for its next decade of research into clean technology.

For the first project, SERIS will collaborate with Nanyang Technological University and the Campus for Research Excellence and Technological Enterprise to develop a 30 per cent efficient thin-film-on-silicon tandem solar cell.

Such a solar cell will improve the current practical efficiency of silicon solar cells, which is limited to around 28 per cent under natural sunlight.

The second project will aim to develop photovoltaic modules (or solar panels) that can be integrated on building surfaces apart from roofs, such as the facade.

SERIS will be working on making the photovoltaic modules lightweight, highly efficient and low cost.

According to the institute, the success of the project will open up commercial opportunities and export potential.

Meanwhile, the third project will look to expand the institute's current achievements in "floating solar" and develop a multi-purpose floating system of photovoltaic modules that will be suitable for off-shore use.

This could lead to the development of "energy islands" which would supply energy to nearby industrial zones or residential areas.

SERIS currently operates the world's largest such testbed at Tengeh Reservoir. It is also writing the world's first guidebook on floating solar, commissioned by the World Bank.

In the past ten years, more than 80 solar companies have set up shop in Singapore.

A S$2.5 billion factory in Tuas generates 1.5 per cent of global production, producing as many solar panels each year as there are inhabitants in Singapore.

Last year, solar energy accounted for more than 40 per cent of new installed energy capacity globally - the top contributor for the first time.

NUS President Professor Tan Eng Chye said the university aims to help Singapore achieve greater sustainability.

"In this endeavour, SERIS plays a key role by developing novel technology solutions to make the harnessing of solar power more efficient and economical, as well as working closely with public and private sector partners to address the challenges of optimising solar power systems to local conditions."

Source: CNA/ad

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New sea burial facility to be built in Tanah Merah

The new burial facility will be built along the shoreline in Tanah Merah, with a boardwalk that extends into the sea to allow the scattering of ashes.
Jasia Shamdasani Straits Times 5 Apr 18;

SINGAPORE - Families of deceased could soon opt to scatter the ashes of their loved ones at sea without having to travel by boat.

A new burial facility will be built along the shoreline in Tanah Merah, with a boardwalk that extends into the sea to allow the scattering of ashes.

The facility is expected to be completed by the fourth quarter of next year, Lianhe Zaobao reported on Thursday (April 5).

It will have four pavilions, each of which can accommodate seven people, and a shelter for 28 people, among other features.

The facility will be open to any member of the public, regardless of race and religion.

Currently, ashes can be scattered at a designated site located about 2.8km south of Pulau Semakau. Those who choose sea burial will have to rent a boat to get to the site.

With the new facility, the National Environment Agency (NEA) hopes to make it more convenient for people to conduct their sea burial ceremonies and to protect the dignity and decorum of the proceedings.

Prior to construction, comprehensive consultancy studies and a study on the impact on the environment will have to be conducted .

Mr Ben Tay, 39, funeral director of Teck Hin Undertaker Funeral Services, said: "This facility will provide one more option for a larger ritual and will make it safer and more convenient for people with disabilities to attend the ritual."

Scattering of ashes at sea can cost about $100 without any ritual, or $400 to $480 with rituals, according to undertakers whom The Straits Times spoke to.

It would cost at least $1,200 to place the ashes in a niche at a columbarium, they said.

Undertakers have seen an increase in the number of sea burial requests, with the majority coming from Buddhists and Hindus.

"In general, there is an increase in the number of people who opt for sea burial of about 20 per cent," said Mr Roland Tay, 71, funeral director of Direct Funeral Services.

This increase could be due partly to the deceased not wanting to put a burden on their family members during the annual Qing Ming Festival, and the lower cost of sea burial.

"If a place can be dedicated for sea burial, many Hindus will be able to conduct burial ceremonies for their loved ones and I think many Hindus will appreciate it a lot,"said Mr Swami Vimokshananda, 69, president of Ramakrishna Mission Singapore.

NEA is also considering the feasibility of a land-based ecological burial service as an additional option for the placement of cremated remains.

This will be confirmed by the end of this year.

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Indonesia: Firms to be tested on fire readiness

Jakarta to assess pulp and paper companies as part of land-swop move to curb the haze
Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja Straits Times 6 Apr 18;

Indonesia's government will apply strict environmental and fire readiness testing to pulp and paper firms before they will be granted new concessions under a land swop scheme that aims to get the companies off carbon-rich deep peatlands, a senior official said yesterday.

The controversial scheme is part of efforts to curb fires and the haze as well as cut carbon emissions blamed for driving climate change.

Last year, Jakarta passed a regulation under which pulp and paper company concessions on deep peatland must be allocated non-peatlands as compensation. Under the scheme, the firms, such as Singapore-based Asia Pulp and Paper and Asia Pacific Resources International Holdings Limited, must halt replanting on deep peatland concessions once the current rotation is harvested. These are swopped for non-peatland elsewhere.

Dried-out peatlands are prone to fire and were a major source of the choking, toxic haze that enveloped the region in 2015. Jakarta has a wider programme to protect peatlands to cut fire risk and emissions, and the initial aim is to restore 2.1 million ha of deep peatlands, mostly in company concessions.

Mr Hilman Nugroho, a director-general at the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, said any swops will have conditions attached. "Let's see how this year. Is there fire on their land? If there is still fire, we will hold," he told reporters, saying companies must be equipped with adequate fire-fighting personnel and equipment and possess good environmental management.

Field teams were checking if such equipment had been deployed by the firms, he said. "If they have all that, it means they are in good faith. And we will see this year whether they 'play' (are involved in slash-and-burn) or not... whether the water level (in the peatland) rose, canals are blocked properly."

He was responding to a statement by a coalition of Indonesian civil society groups, which yesterday urged the government to reveal more details about the land swop scheme.

The determination of the areas for the land swop has been carried out without transparency or public input, according to the coalition, which includes WWF Indonesia, Auriga and Wetlands International.

It said: "We fear that vast areas of natural forest, especially in Kalimantan, Sumatra and Papua, will be designated for land swops and converted into pulpwood plantations in the name of peatland restoration."

Mr Hilman dismissed these worries, saying non-productive forest concessions will be reallocated to qualified pulpwood firms. He also said officials will prepare and make public maps of land swop locations.

The coalition also appealed to the government to hold public auctions for firms to select concessions. Mr Hilman said: "We will find the (land) allocations first. The amount of land swop will follow the amount of those restored and remedied."

The ministry last year said about 920,000 ha of non-productive forestry areas and areas requested by plantation firms but not yet given permits might be suitable.

Pulp and paper companies have expressed concerns over the land swop scheme, saying there is little clarity on where the land is, that it is likely to be far from their mills, and that they will have to protect the deep peatland concessions from encroachment, fires and illegal logging for the life of the concessions. Some concession areas have leases of 60 and even 99 years.

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Drop in plastic bags littering British seas linked to introduction of 5p charge

Scientists find an estimated 30% drop in plastic bags on the seabed in the same timeframe as charges were introduced in European countries
Juliette Jowit The Guardian 5 Apr 18;

A big drop in plastic bags found in the seas around Britain has been credited to the introduction of charges for plastic bags across Europe.

Ireland and Denmark were the first two countries to bring in levies for plastic bags from shops in 2003, followed by slew of other European countries. England was the last UK nation to introduce one, in 2015.

In the first such study of its kind, scientists have found an approximately 30% drop in plastic bags on the seabed in a large area from close to Norway and Germany to northern France, and west to Ireland.

The authors of the study, published in the journal Science of the Total Environment, claim the drop in plastic bag pollution, measured from 2010 – about the mid-point of charging policies coming into force – showed the power of such levies.

“The fewer bags we use, the fewer we can lose, the fewer we can put into the environment,” said Thomas Maes of the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, lead author of the paper.

“If we all work together towards a better environment, we can make changes. A lot of people live in doom, but … don’t give up yet.”

The results could also be used by campaigners for other charges aimed at reducing public problems, such as pollution, obesity, smoking and congestion. The UK is already consulting on a refundable charge for bottles and cans.

“These findings have reminded us of one of the fundamentals of policy – incentives matter,” said Robert Colvile of the Centre for Policy Studies, a rightwing thinktank.

“When it comes to the environment in particular, pricing in external costs is better than heavy-handed regulation,” he said.

Globally around 8m tonnes of plastics enters the marine environment every year – the weight of more than 80 of the largest aircraft carriers. They are blamed for ensnaring sealife and birds, and have been found in the guts of dozens of species.

A UK levy of 5p per bag introduced in 2015 has already reduced single-use plastic bags given out by major retailers by 85% – down from 140 to 25 bags for the average person each year.

The policy applies only to major retailers, but government is consulting on extending it to almost all shops.

The marine pollution study has been trawling the seabed for 25 years, recording the number of items of pollution found in each square kilometre. Two-thirds of all trawls have found at least one item of plastic, and while the number of plastic bags has fallen, other plastic pollution has increased, especially fishing gear.

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