Best of our wild blogs: 8 May 18

"The Untold Story of Sungei Tampines": 8 Jun and 22 Jun
Celebrating Singapore Shores

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Fledgling ventures aim to make money from cutting food and packaging waste

KELLY NG Today Online 7 May 18;

SINGAPORE — To tackle food waste, Mr Nicholas Lim did not simply spread the word among his friends and family.

In an experiment to see if he could make a viable business out of the problem, he co-founded an online platform that allows individuals, eateries and voluntary welfare organisations to order discounted groceries that would otherwise be thrown away.

TreeDots began operations six months ago and now has about 180 business partners, which obtain discounted groceries from about 30 suppliers.

The items may be slightly defective or approaching their expiry dates, but prices are hugely marked down. For instance, 12 one-litre bottles of olive oil cost S$20, compared with about S$12 per bottle at a supermarket, while a kilogramme of Cavendish bananas can be had at S$1.75, about a third of the price elsewhere.

TreeDots offers free delivery and takes a 10 per cent cut for every successful transaction, said Mr Lim, 26, who co-founded the platform with fellow Singapore Management University graduates Tylor Jong and Lau Jiacai.

About 10 individuals also order TreeDots’ weekly “vege boxes”, which contain up to 14kg of fruits and vegetables that may look “ugly” or are blemished. The boxes’ content varies according to what the suppliers are looking to let go of. Each box costs S$40 and three boxes cost S$115.

Mr Lim said the start-up has generated enough revenue to cover its overhead costs, which includes a refrigerator truck, but the founders are still working unpaid.

“Response has been growing over the months, but still mostly on the business-to-business level…Despite growing interest in the issue of food waste, we still feel the majority of people here are not willing to accept such products,” said Mr Lim.

While eco-businesses selling items such as upcycled bags or bamboo and stainless steel straws are not new to Singapore, the experiences and ability of two fledgling ventures that deal in perishable food items could signal if a broader swathe of local consumers are ready to adopt low-waste habits in a bigger way.

On Saturday (May 5), a 1,200 sq ft grocery store opened in Sembawang Hills estate, targeting patrons keen to shop for daily necessities stripped of the usual packaging. Inspired by a video of a provision shop with the same concept operating somewhere in Europe, UnPackt’s co-founder Florence Tay, 36, is looking to help the average shopper to take small steps to reduce waste in everyday life.

For a start, the store has stocked about 70 types of toiletries, cleaning agents and dried foodstuff like cereal that are stored in self-service dispensers and priced according to weight.

Patrons are free to buy only the amount they want, and the items are a shade cheaper than what they would cost in a supermarket. For instance, UnPackt is selling 100g of raw sugar for S$0.30, the same amount of organic pasta for S$0.70 and, almonds, for S$4.50.

Customers bring their own receptacles or use the jars and containers that Ms Tay has collected, cleaned and sterilised.

UnPackt’s co-founder Jeff Lam, 38, who lives alone, said he used to throw out a lot of unfinished food that had expired and hopes to “debunk the myth that eco-friendly habits are expensive and unsustainable”.

The duo have pumped in about S$100,000 to get the business going and while they see it also playing an advocacy role, they stress the need to be financially sustainable.

“Profitability still has to come in, in order for us to keep running (the store) and prove to the man in the street that this is the one-stop shop for their low-waste lifestyle habits,” said Ms Tay.


The efforts by TreeDots’ and UnPackt’s founders come amid the growing amount of food and plastic waste generated in Singapore. A waste audit by the National Environment Agency found that over half of food waste generated by households here would not have been trashed had consumers bought the quantities they needed or cooked the right portions.

Meanwhile, packaging waste made up a third of the 1.7 million tonnes of domestic waste generated here last year. About 15 per cent of the packaging waste – or about 83,550 tonnes – is made up of plastic and paper disposables such as single-use plates and take-away food containers.

But the key ingredient determining the reach and sustainability of businesses such as TreeDots and UnPackt could ultimately be their prices, said business experts and observers.

The majority of consumers in Singapore still make their purchases based on prices, they said.

Said Associate Professor Lawrence Loh from the National University of Singapore's School of Business: “At this juncture, consumers are still very sensitive to what hits their pockets. We have not achieved a concerted vision and effort to cut waste. Economics still takes precedence.”

Assoc Prof Loh, who directs the school's Centre for Governance, Institutions & Organisations, said consumers also want to be assured that going “packaging-free” does not compromise hygiene.

Ms Ang Huan Ting, who has ordered six of TreeDots' vegetable boxes since the start of the year, said she finds their price "pretty reasonable considering the quality of the products and door to door delivery".

The 27-year-old civil servant and her husband takes up to two weeks to consume the vegetables.

"The offerings are different each time, and I like the element of surprise... Another reason why I keep subscribing (to the vegetable boxes) is because I find the founders very passionate about their vision to reduce food waste," said Ms Ang.

Dumpster diver Daniel Tay, who leads outings to “rescue” discarded edible produce and started the Freegan in Singapore Facebook page said it may be more difficult for such businesses to stay afloat here, given the cost of rentals and transport.

Mr Jeff Cheong, president of advertising agency Tribal Worldwide Asia, said brands that championing the zero waste culture must be “actively involved in education and outreach to share ideas that ‘normal people’ can do right from their home”.

“From producing content, to holding public talks, to interacting with patrons at their stores, these advocates-cum-businessmen need to invest time to build up the community from the heartlands. Working with young children is key in shaping their minds towards responsible living in the future,” said Mr Cheong.

Other smaller outfits that operate online or as pop-up stores said challenges lie in reaching out to a wider segment of Singaporeans.

Ms Danielle Champagne, who co-founded the Green Collective, a three-month pop-up store in Paya Lebar, said: "We might feel like there is a growth (of people reducing waste) but it could be because of the circles we are in... We don't want to just be preaching to the converted."

Ms Champagne owns Zhai Eco, which sells clothing made of natural fibres like bamboo and linen. Zhai Eco is one of 15 brands found at the pop-up, which offers customers recycled bags only when they request for one.

The Green Collective also holds do-it-yourself workshops, talks and "plant swaps" (sessions to exchange seedlings, seeds or gardening tips).

Others, like online shop The Sustainability Project and pop-up store The Zero Ways hope their wares — which include beeswax wraps and straws made of bamboo or stainless steel — can help Singaporeans adopt more eco-friendly behaviour.

Said Lily Khairunnisa, who started The Zero Ways in January with her family members: "More Singaporeans, especially of the younger generation, are getting more conscious of the waste we produce. We are still quite far from having these practices ingrained in our everyday lives, but it is picking up traction."

The 30-year-old also believes there is strength in numbers. "It takes time... We have seen many other green businesses come up in the last few months. We see one another as collaborators, and I think that would make it easier to spur the movement," she said.

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Indonesia: LIPI holds wildlife, wild plants survey training

Aubrey Kandelila Fanani Antara 7 May 18;

The Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) is now conducting rare plants. Among the rare plants in Indonesia is Bintangur (Calophyllum lanigerum). (ANTARA PHOTO/Joko Sulistyo)

Jakarta, (ANTARA News) - The Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) offered training on survey methods for wild plants and wildlife on May 7-11 in Cipanas, Cianjur District, West Java, to prevent the extinction of biodiversity traded as a commodity.

As one of the countries ratifying the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the management of trade of wild plants and wildlife in Indonesia is conducted through the provisions of the conventions set forth in several laws and regulations.

"This method is designed to prevent the extinction of plant or animal species due to trade, especially international one. In addition, it is for maintaining a limit on the utilization of species," Deputy of Life Sciences of LIPI Prof. Enny Sudarmonowati stated.

Sudarmonowati said LIPI has been trusted as a scientific authority that provides recommendations to management authorities for the implementation of CITES. The recommendations include establishing a list of types, limiting trade quotas, and licensing restrictions.

As necessitated in government regulations, these recommendations should be based on scientific data and information provided by various parties but obtained by methods recognized by scientific authorities, she explained.

Meanwhile, Head of the Biology Research Center of LIPI Witjaksono noted that LIPI is also responsible for delivering to stakeholders related methods that can be used in data collection for monitoring or surveying population of traded species in natural habitat or for evaluation of production at breeding and cultivation facilities.

"In addition to the method, it is important for parties to improve the identification capabilities of TSL products circulating at home and abroad. One of the most concerned parties to both of these is the officer on the field, the Forest Ecosystem Manager (PEH) involved in granting permits and supervising the distribution of TSL," he stated.

LIPI as an institution that stores a collection of flora, fauna, and microbes of Indonesia and is a national reference for users along with playing a role in the collection and integration of data on natural resources.

Hence, the LIPI is tasked with providing a means to integrate national data and information from different sources of data providers through a portal that facilitates the interoperability of Indonesia`s databases known as the Indonesia Biodiversity Information Facility (InaBIF).

InaBIF is part of the international network of the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) aimed at providing information on biodiversity to the audience. At the national level, InaBIF can facilitate the mapping of the rich biodiversity in the regions, providing an overview of the information gap, and assisting decision-making in terms of action priorities for biodiversity protection.

Editor: Bambang Purwanto

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Tourism's carbon impact three times larger than estimated

Matt McGrath BBC 7 May 18;

A new study says global tourism accounts for 8% of carbon emissions, around three times greater than previous estimates.

The new assessment is bigger because it includes emissions from travel, plus the full life-cycle of carbon in tourists' food, hotels and shopping.

Driving the increase are visitors from affluent countries who travel to other wealthy destinations.

The US tops the rankings followed by China, Germany and India.

Tourism is a huge and booming global industry worth over $7 trillion, and employs one in ten workers around the world. It's growing at around 4% per annum.

Previous estimates of the impact of all this travel on carbon suggested that tourism accounted for 2.5-3% of emissions.

However in what is claimed to be the most comprehensive assessment to date, this new study examines the global carbon flows between 160 countries between 2009 and 2013. It shows that the total is closer to 8% of the global figure.

As well as air travel, the authors say they have included an analysis of the energy needed to support the tourism system, including all the food, beverage, infrastructure construction and maintenance as well as the retail services that tourists enjoy.

"It definitely is eye opening," Dr Arunima Malik from the University of Sydney, who's the lead author of the study, told BBC News.

"We looked at really detailed information about tourism expenditure, including consumables such as food from eating out and souvenirs. We looked at the trade between different countries and also at greenhouse gas emissions data to come up with a comprehensive figure for the global carbon footprint for tourism."

The researchers also looked at the impacts in both the countries where tourists came from and where they travelled. They found that the most important element was relatively well off people from affluent countries travelling to other well to do destinations.

In the leading countries, US, China, Germany and India, much of the travel was domestic.

Travellers from Canada, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Denmark exert a much higher carbon footprint elsewhere than in their own countries.

When richer people travel they tend to spend more on higher carbon transportation, food and pursuits says Dr Malik.

"If you have visitors from high income countries then they typically spend heavily on air travel, on shopping and hospitality where they go to. But if the travellers are from low income countries then they spend more on public transport and unprocessed food, the spending patterns are different for the different economies they come from."

When measuring per capita emissions, small island destinations such as the Maldives, Cyprus and the Seychelles emerge as the leading lights. In these countries tourism is responsible for up to 80% of their annual emissions.

"The small island states are in a difficult position because we like travelling to these locations and those small island states very much rely on tourist income but they are also at the same time vulnerable to the effects of rising seas and climate change," said Dr Malik.

Demand for international tourism is also being seen in emerging countries like Brazil, India, China and Mexico, highlighting a fundamental problem - wealth.

The report underlines the fact that when people earn more than $40,000 per annum, their carbon footprint from tourism increase 13% for every 10% rise in income. The consumption of tourism does "not appear to satiate as incomes grow," the report says.

The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) has welcomed the research but doesn't accept that the industry's efforts to cut carbon have been a flop.

"It would be unfair to say that the industry is not doing anything," said Rochelle Turner, director of research at WTTC.

"We've seen a growing number of hotels, airports and tour operators that have all become carbon neutral so there is a momentum."

Experts say that offsetting, where tourists spend money on planting trees to mitigate their carbon footprint will have to increase, despite reservations about its effectiveness.

Awareness is also the key. The WTTC say that the recent water crisis in Cape Town has also helped people recognise that changes in climate can impact resources like water.

"There is a real need for people to recognise what their impact is in a destination," said Rochelle Turner, "and how much water, waste and energy you should be using compared to the local population."

"All of this will empower tourists to make better decisions and only through those better decisions that we'll be able to tackle the issue of climate change."

The study is published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

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