Best of our wild blogs: 4 Jun 18

16 Jun (Sat): Chek Jawa Nature Photographic Outing with the Nature Photographic Society (Singapore)
Pesta Ubin 2018

24 Jun (Sun): R.U.M. at Ubin Day, Pesta Ubin!
Restore Ubin Mangroves (R.U.M.) Initiative

YES! Singapore got dugongs!
Celebrating Singapore Shores!

Singapore’s own Crush and Squirt
Hantu Blog

Festival of Biodiversity 2018!
Butterflies of Singapore

Bee Amazed Garden: Learn About Bees & Beekeeping in Singapore
The Tender Gardener

Striped Kukri Snake (Oligodon octolineatus) @ Dempsey Hill
Monday Morgue

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‘Cannot sell ... so they burn’: What’s next in the uncertain future for plastic waste in Singapore?

With China’s decision to stop taking in the world’s plastic waste and recyclables, countries like Singapore will have to consider the limitations and alternatives to plastic recycling.
Aqil Haziq Mahmud Channel NewsAsia 3 Jun 18;

SINGAPORE: If you think putting your plastic waste into the blue bin means it will automatically be recycled, think again.

China's announcement last July that it no longer wanted to import “foreign garbage” has created problems within the global recycling industry, which could mean that the plastic bottle you just “recycled” is actually destined for the incinerator.

Like many Western countries, Singapore too has been sending a huge proportion of its recyclable plastic overseas. Until recently, most of this also made its way to China, as industry players pointed out that running a recycling operation here is not financially viable.

In the longer term, however, observers say that exporting Singapore’s plastic recyclables to other countries, or even simply incinerating it, are both unsustainable.

Responding to queries from Channel NewsAsia, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said it “recognises that there may be uncertainties involved in exporting plastic waste overseas”.

According to latest United Nations trade data, Singapore in 2016 exported almost 42,000 tonnes of plastic waste to China, Malaysia, Vietnam and Indonesia. These are countries which industry players said are top destinations for recyclable plastic.

This figure is nearly three-quarters of the 59,500 tonnes of plastic that NEA said was recycled in the same year.

While the total amount recycled only made up a meagre 7 per cent of the 822,200 tonnes of plastic waste generated in 2016, one observer believes China’s ban is another blow for the domestic recycling sector.


Mr Teri Teo, a project consultant at recycling firm LHT Holdings, said public waste collectors (PWC) that may have in the past collected household recyclables, sorted out the plastics and sold them to China, are now incinerating them instead.

“They don’t want to sort the recyclables because there’s no demand,” he told Channel NewsAsia. “They cannot sell it, so they burn it.”

LHT Holdings is a member of the Waste Management and Recycling Association of Singapore, which also counts the four PWCs here as members.

Among the PWCs contacted for comment on their operations following China’s ban, Sembwaste and Veolia ES did not respond, while Colex and 800 Super declined comment, with the latter citing the sensitivity of the matter.

For now, to ensure that recyclables are collected and sent to material recovery facilities (MRF) in the first instance, NEA said it uses GPS systems to track the movement of the PWCs’ dedicated recycling trucks.

“Recycling collection crews are required to scan the radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags fitted to the recycling bins when they collect recyclables and the information is recorded automatically in the RFID system for audit purposes,” it said.

NEA added that its officers “regularly” check operations at the MRFs and incineration plants to ensure that recyclables are sorted and only items that cannot be recycled are sent to the incinerators.

“Trucks for carrying recyclables are automatically detected at the incineration plants and are denied entry,” it stated.

Once recyclables have been sorted at MRFs, however, there is still a strong likelihood much may still be diverted to incinerators, given how contamination is a key issue.

“It is wrong to assume that what we dump into these bins are contaminant free,” said Mr Zach Lee, a research associate at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU). “One issue with attempting to sort and recycle plastics in Singapore is the high rate of contamination with food waste.”

In the long run, even as more plastic waste may find its way into Singapore’s incinerators, that in itself is also an unsustainable option.

The Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources has stated that at the rate that Singapore is producing and burning waste, Semakau Landfill will run out of space by 2035.

“As ash from incinerated waste eventually has to go into our (only) landfill, incineration alone cannot deal with the ever-increasing amount of waste that we are producing,” the ministry said on its website.

While Mr Teo acknowledged the potential for public outrage if household recyclables are indeed being indiscriminately incinerated, he said waste companies are left with little choice. He claimed that the Government does not offer enough financial support to make recycling a sustainable business model in Singapore.

Industry players said PWCs will continue to collect household recyclables under existing Government contracts and use various strategies to deal with them, including selling the unprocessed material to countries besides China. However, companies that survive on buying industrial recyclables from factories and exporting them will be the hardest hit.

These companies don't deal with household recyclables because they lack volume and come with a higher risk of contamination.

Mr Teo said following China's ban, most of these companies – called traders – have stopped collecting plastic recyclables, while some have fully ceased operations. Only a handful have invested in machinery to process the plastic into pellets, he added.


One trader that hasn’t stopped buying plastic waste from factories is Gin Wee Recycling.

Its managing director Ricky Tan told Channel NewsAsia that the company now sells the plastic to Malaysia, Vietnam and Indonesia. His clients in Malaysia are still Chinese companies that circumvent the ban by processing plastic there before exporting the recycled pellets to China. Previously, 80 per cent of his inventory was sold to China.

The ban has also led to a 30 per cent drop in the price of plastic, Mr Tan said, pointing as well to weak currencies and taxes in the alternative markets. He said Chinese companies used to buy the plastic at S$0.80 a kilogramme, compared to S$0.50 in Malaysia now.

Another trader, Liong Hup Soon, has also adopted a similar strategy, its shareholder who only wanted to be known as Mr Ho told Channel NewsAsia.

The company’s sales took a 50 per cent hit after the ban was first announced last year, Mr Ho said, as plastic waste piled up in its storage facility up till February. “But because of the workaround, business is now back to how it was pre-ban,” he added.

According to leading US recycling firm Berg Mill Supply, “all grades of plastic have seen a major shift to secondary markets” from 2016 to 2017, when China’s import restrictions came to light. In that period, Malaysia took in five times more polyvinyl chloride (PVC), while Vietnam more than doubled imports of polyethylene terephthalate (PET).

Before China’s ban on 24 types of solid waste including plastics, the country was recycling more than half of the world’s plastics to fuel a growing manufacturing sector.

But as one expert explained, China’s solid waste handling plants are reaching full capacity amid its own growing waste sources.

“Moreover, the national government of China made circular economy the national priority in recent years,” added Professor Seeram Ramakrishna, chair of the circular economy taskforce at the National University of Singapore (NUS).

Mr Tan expects to rely on alternative markets for the next three to five years, after which he believes the company has to start turning scrap into pellets.

LHT Holdings’ Mr Teo said re-routing the plastic to other countries is unsustainable as they are also trying to implement a similar ban.

“They also want to improve their image as a clean city,” he explained. “They also face strong environmental regulations in their countries on their own plastic waste, and concerns about the actual non-recyclable plastic waste that is being imported.”


Mr Dave Wong, business development manager at A~Star Plastic Recycling, agreed. “You won’t like your neighbour throwing rubbish in your house,” he said, noting that other countries will eventually follow in China’s footsteps.

This is why his company recycles the industrial plastic scrap first rather than just exporting it, he said. “Every country should develop their own recycling capability,” he added. “Then, everybody will take care of their own scrap.”

The ban has also given Mr Wong’s business a leg-up, as Chinese companies are forced to buy processed pellets as opposed to scrap. “In the past, we are not able to compete with Chinese recyclers,” he said. “Their operating cost is much lower than in Singapore, so we are not able to sell the recycled resin to China.”

Still, Mr Wong said recycling plastic comes with high operating costs and challenges that include contamination and land constraints. He estimated that there are only about five plastic recycling companies left in Singapore, down from 20 in previous years.

“Once plastic is contaminated, the cost of recycling will shoot up because you have to do cleaning and sorting,” he explained. “You also need to have a minimum quantity to start a batch process, meaning you need a big space to accumulate all these plastics.”

Another challenge, NUS’ Prof Ramakrishna said, is the wide variety and combination of materials used in a growing number of products. For example, one plastic bottle can contain two or three different types of plastic.

“Upcycling or recycling plastic requires well-sorted plastics with standardised specifications in required quantities for the potential users,” he explained. “This means investing in technology and automated plants for solid waste handling, separation and quality control.”


In light of these challenges, NEA said it is trying to develop more sustainable solutions for plastic waste management and improve local recycling capabilities in Singapore.

One measure is the Closing the Waste Loop (CTWL) research and development initiative, which encourages institutes of higher learning, research institutes and private sector partners to collaborate and find solutions to increasing waste generation, scarcity of resources and land constraints.

“A focus of the CTWL initiative is the development of solutions to enable a more ‘plastic resource efficient’ economy, and to extract value and resources from plastic waste,” NEA said. “The aim is to keep waste plastics as resources in the economic loop for as long as feasible, which will also help to reduce their impact on the environment.”

Rather than just focusing on research and development, LHT Holdings’ Mr Teo said the Government should subsidise manufacturers of recycled products and create demand for such products. “This allows their product price to be competitive in the market, so they can be awarded Government projects,” he said.

Prof Ramakrishna said Singapore might also need to partner countries in Asia to accumulate sufficient volumes of properly sorted plastic or solid waste. “For an organised waste management sector to be viable, it requires certain economies of scale,” he explained.


But until the recycling sector is fundamentally transformed, reducing consumption seems to be way to go.

“The ban places a greater urgency on the need to reduce the plastic waste generated by both individuals and companies,” said Singapore Environment Council executive director Jen Teo.

Companies should choose suppliers that show a commitment to reducing packaging waste, she added, while retailers should consider changing the carriers and containers they provide to customers, including offering reusable bags as alternatives.

NEA said it is stepping up engagement with stakeholders to avoid the excessive use of plastic disposables and implementing the mandatory packaging reporting framework by 2021. The latter requires businesses to submit reports on the types and amounts of packaging material they place on the market and their packaging waste reduction plans every year.

As for individuals, Ms Teo encouraged them to bring their own reusable items, such as containers, bottles, cups and straws when dining out.

“Retailers that offer discounts to customers who bring their own utensils will benefit from the patronage of the growing number of ethical green consumers looking to support companies with good environmental practices,” she added.

Nevertheless, NTU's Mr Lee said implementing a practical solution would require a “careful analysis of the cost, benefits and consumer or producer behaviour related to plastic products and the reduction of plastic usage”.

He added: “I believe this is something that needs to be worked on cohesively by the Government, private sector and NGOs (non-governmental organisations) focusing on consumers and the environment.”

Source: CNA/hz

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Slight hazy Sunday due to 'accumulation of particulate matter': NEA

Channel NewsAsia 4 Jun 18;

SINGAPORE: The burning smell that you might have sensed early on Sunday (Jun 3) was due to an "accumulation of particulate matter under light wind conditions".

Replying to Channel NewsAsia's queries, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said the slight hazy conditions had improved by the late morning.

Residents in Thomson, Toa Payoh and Bishan had reported the burning smell on Sunday, with some taking to social media and wondering if the haze was back.

NEA said its officers were deployed at Toa Payoh Lorong 1 and Lorong 6, where the burning smell was reported, to assess the air quality and to take air samples for laboratory analysis.

"The levels of air pollutants measured were found to be within the normal range," NEA said adding that no hotspots were detected in the nearby region.

NEA said it will continue to monitor the air quality levels.

The 24-hr PSI range on Monday at 7am was at the Moderate range at 51-100, with the 3-hr PSI at 61.

Source: CNA/mn0

Burning smell in some parts of central Singapore on Sunday not caused by haze: NEA
Ng Huiwen Straits Times 4 Jun 18;

SINGAPORE - The slightly hazy conditions spotted in a few areas in central Singapore on Sunday (June 3) was due to an accumulation of particulate matter in light wind conditions, and not an indication that the haze was back.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) said in a statement on Monday that the conditions had improved by late morning and it did not detect any hot spots in the nearby region.

Residents in Toa Payoh, Bishan and Thomson had reported a burning smell and smoky fog on their social media platforms on Sunday.

Twitter user Jojo Angelus said that the air was "choked" with the smell of burning wood late Saturday night and early Sunday.

"Is there a forest fire somewhere?" she asked.

NEA said its officers were deployed to Toa Payoh Lorong 1 and Lorong 6 to assess the air quality and to take air samples for laboratory analysis.

"The levels of air pollutants measured were found to be within the normal range," NEA said.

The 24-hour PSI reading at 6am on Sunday was between 59 and 64, before it creeped up to be between 66 and 74 at 4pm.

NEA added that it will continue to monitor the air quality levels.

Slightly hazy conditions were similarly experienced recently on May 20, which the NEA also attributed to the accumulation of particulate matter.

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Unpopularity of electric vehicles goes beyond cost: Christopher Tan's reply to Tesla's Elon Musk

Ng Huiwen Straits Times 3 Jun 18;

SINGAPORE - Electric vehicles are unpopular the world over, not only in Singapore - and the reason goes beyond cost, said The Straits Times senior transport correspondent Christopher Tan in a reply on Sunday (June 3) to Mr Elon Musk, chief executive of electric car maker Tesla.

"Their restricted range and limited product choice are two other main reasons," he said, a day after he penned an open letter refuting Mr Musk's comment that the Singapore Government is not supportive of electric cars.

Even Norway, which doles out the heaviest subsidies for electric vehicles, has proposed to pull back on tax incentives on electric cars weighing more than two tonnes, Mr Tan noted.

Mr Tan also said "Singapore is not exactly supportive of any car, regardless of their fuel type".

However, the country still recognises that electric cars are cleaner where they operate, which is why most of them will qualify for tax breaks of up to $20,000, he added.

Mr Tan was responding to Mr Musk's take on the former's open letter. The Tesla chief had earlier replied to an ST tweet, saying: "The results speak for themselves. Singapore is a very prosperous city and yet has very few electric cars.

"Why have policies that promote a combustion vehicle fleet in a dense city environment? In bumper to bumper traffic, each car's exhaust pipes releases poison gases right into the air intake of car behind. This is not healthy."

The issue came under the spotlight after Mr Musk tweeted on May 26 that the Government was not supportive of electric cars.

He was responding to a Twitter user, who had asked him "do something to allow us in Singapore to get a Tesla".

After the tweets went viral, Mr Tan wrote an open letter to explain why Mr Musk could have been mistaken about Singapore.

Mr Tan said that Tesla electric cars belong to a premium segment of the market, beyond what most people can afford.

Tesla cars will also be taxed in the same way as powerful combustion engined-cars, as Singapore adopts a progressive road tax system calculated based on a car's engine displacement or power.

Beyond that, Singapore remains a small and densely populated country, where a high cost is placed on personal transportation.

In addition, most of the electricity generated in Singapore is from natural gas, which is fossil-based, and hence, non-renewable and not emission free.

Tesla chief executive officer Elon Musk unveils the Roadster 2 during a presentation in Hawthorne, California, in November last year.

But other factors also come into play when determining how clean an electric car is, Mr Tan said.

This includes its manufacturing process, how much efficiency its batteries retain over time, how materials for its batteries are mined, and how spent batteries are disposed of.

Hence, it will be up to Tesla to make its electric cars more attractive for the Singapore market, he added.

Already, Singapore is among the few countries in the world with both an electric taxi fleet and an electric car-sharing scheme.

In January, HDT Singapore Taxi applied to add another 800 electric cars to its current fleet of 100, while BlueSG had rolled out its car-sharing scheme in December last year with 80 cars and 32 charging stations.

About 50 Volvo diesel-electric hybrid buses are expected to ply the roads in the second half of the year, as part of the Land Transport Authority's efforts to make public buses more environmentally friendly.

Meanwhile, property developers who erect electric car charging points in their new buildings may also benefit from incentives under the Building and Construction Authority's Green Mark scheme.

Singapore wants to go ‘car-lite’, says LTA in response to Elon Musk tweet
CHEN LIN Today Online 5 Jun 18;

SINGAPORE — Responding to Tesla founder Elon Musk’s assertion that Singapore’s policies are not supportive of electric vehicles (EVs), the Land Transport Authority (LTA) said on Tuesday (June 5) that it encourages the adoption of greener and cleaner vehicles such as hybrid buses and electric vehicles.

However, while this is part of its approach to “address emissions from the land transport sector and improve air quality”, the aim is to achieve Singapore’s car-lite vision.

Of the 348 fully-electric cars registered here, seven are registered to private individuals, and there are three Tesla Model S’s on Singapore’s roads, added LTA.

On May 26, American entrepreneur Musk – who is the chief executive officer of electric car maker Tesla – tweeted in response to a netizen asking if he could “allow us in Singapore to get a Tesla”. Mr Musk had written: “We tried, but (the) Singapore government is not supportive of electric vehicles.”

His remark reignited a debate on electric vehicles in Singapore, as netizen Joe Nguyen had said in an online post in 2016 that he had to pay S$15,000 in carbon surcharges for his Tesla car. This was in addition to the seven month wait for his car to be approved and registered here.

It was reported then that the car was subjected to the surcharge based on emission tests. Following the incident, Mr Musk contacted Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, and the Tesla founder said that Mr Lee told him that he would investigate the situation.

The LTA said in its media statement that it has adopted a three-pronged approach to address emissions. This includes promoting the use of green mobility options such as public transport to reduce reliance on private motorised vehicles, improving resource efficiency by managing the growth and use of vehicles, and encouraging the adoption of greener and cleaner vehicles.

The authority has also been working to build new rail lines to improve the reliability of the existing rail network, and enhancing bus services.

The LTA also noted that “EVs are not truly emissions-free, as the power they consume produces emissions at the power station”. However, most EVs are quieter than conventional vehicles and do not have tailpipe emissions, “which makes for a better living environment in a dense city like Singapore”, added LTA.

According to the LTA, there are currently four EV models – which are not Tesla cars – that qualify for the maximum rebate of S$20,000. The rebate on the Additional Registration Fee is offered under the Vehicle Emission Scheme that incentivises the purchase of cleaner, more efficient vehicles.

As part of LTA’s efforts to build a more environmentally friendly bus fleet, a tender was called last December to procure 60 electric buses, and more will be deployed for service by next year. Fifty low-emission diesel hybrid buses will also be rolled out gradually by the second half of this year.

In June 2016, LTA and the Economic Development Board awarded Singapore’s first EV car-sharing programme to BlueSG, which kicked off here last December. The programme will see the firm rolling out a 1,000-strong fleet of shared EVs and install 2,000 charging points by 2020.

HDT Singapore Taxi is also conducting an all-electric trial of 100 electric taxis to determine the feasibility of using the vehicles for its operations, said the LTA.

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10% of eligible Jurong homes have switched power retailers

Audrey Tan Straits Times 3 Jun 18;

SINGAPORE - Customised electricity plans have been an option for some households in Jurong for the past two months, although only a fraction of those eligible have opted to buy electricity from a retailer other than SP Services.

Regulator Energy Market Authority (EMA) declined to provide official figures, but industry estimates show that about 10 per cent of the 108,000 households have switched retailers.

Retailers describe this initial response to the soft launch of the Open Electricity Market in April as encouraging and better than expected.

Mr Vijay Sirse, founder of electricity retailer Red Dot Power, one of 14 which took part in the soft launch, said he had initially expected only about 5 per cent of eligible households in Jurong to make the switch to other retailers.

"What was especially heartening was the willingness of Singaporeans to switch - we did not expect that people would be keen to do so, so we are off to a good start," he said.

A few hundred households in Jurong have signed up with Red Dot Power so far, he said. Another electricity retailer, PacificLight, said more than 3,000 households in Jurong had registered for a plan with it. iSwitch put its number at 1,000.

Overall, the 10 per cent estimated adoption rate seems to be a good result for the pilot project, said Mr Martin Lim, chief operating officer at Electrify. Electricity markets in other countries such as Japan and Britain recorded single-digit adoption rates in their first year, he said.

Electrify did not take part in the Jurong soft launch but is monitoring the market as it has plans to offer its services when the Open Electricity Market is rolled out nationwide by the end of this year.

When that happens, all 1.4 million consumers, mainly residences, in Singapore will be able to shop for customised price plans for electricity. Consumers will no longer have to buy electricity from SP Services at the regulated tariff - the EMA-approved price charged by SP Group for supplying electricity to consumers - although this option remains open to them.

Instead, they can choose plans to suit their needs and preferences. iSwitch general manager Andrew Koscharsky said it was essential for consumers to understand the different options. "It is important to discover the smartest plan to choose for your own unique situation and lifestyle," he said.

Retailers have come up with a buffet of options for consumers. There are plans offering discounts off the regulated tariff, and plans charging a fixed price so consumers are cushioned from price fluctuations. Other plans will allow eco-conscious consumers to power their home with solar energy, or have their electricity usage offset by carbon credits.

Advertisements at Boon Lay MRT station about the open electricity market, which will give 108,000 households and 9,500 businesses in Jurong the opportunity to buy electricity from a retailer of their choice.

Notwithstanding the encouraging initial response, retailers say there remain two main obstacles to greater adoption: Uncertainty about the reliability of supply with another retailer, and a lack of awareness.

The EMA has ramped up outreach efforts with roadshows and advertisements, and distributed letters and booklets to households which can make the switch.

An EMA spokesman said: "Our focus is on informing consumers of their choices and assuring them that their electricity supply will remain reliable regardless of who they buy electricity from."

All electricity is distributed to households via the national power grid managed by SP Group.

The EMA spokesman also assured the public that electricity supply would not be disrupted if a participating retailer is unable to continue selling electricity.

She said: "Under the default arrangement, they are required to inform their customers the next business day about the cessation. The customers will be transferred to SP Group or they can switch to buy electricity from another retailer."

Jurong resident and housewife Tan Hooi Eng, 68, signed up for a plan with PacificLight after looking through the information booklet sent by EMA and using the calculation tools on PacificLight's website.

"We had a number of concerns... We wondered if our electricity supply would be interrupted during the switchover and if there would be any extra hidden charges," she said.

"But now we understand that we will enjoy the same reliability."

Madam Tan estimates that, with the new plan, she would be able to save more than $500 over the two-year contract period. "In the long run, it can amount to a good savings for us as it cuts down a lot on our expenses since my husband has already retired," she said.

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New gallery on Singapore's sustainability efforts opens at Marina Barrage

Audrey Tan Straits Times 3 Jun 18;

SINGAPORE - With all that talk about climate change, what can a person do to help?

A new Sustainable Singapore Gallery, launched on Saturday (June 2) at the Marina Barrage, aims to provide some answers.

One of the exhibits, for example, is a carbon calculator.

By answering a list of about eight questions such as 'What is the temperature setting on your air-conditioner at home?' and 'How often do you take public transport?' on a touch-screen monitor, visitors will receive an "environmental score" indicating the impact on climate change - whether it is small, average, or large.

The exhibit will also give ideas on how the carbon footprint can be reduced.

Tips include air-drying clothes instead of using a dryer, and buying electrical appliances that are more energy-efficient.

The gallery incorporates educational boards and digital exhibits highlighting Singapore's sustainability initiatives, from its climate targets under the Paris Agreement, to its greening efforts and car-lite vision.

Admission is free.

A look at the new Sustainable Singapore Gallery

The Sustainable Singapore Gallery replaces the Newater (treated used-water) gallery on the second floor of the Marina Barrage that previously told Singapore's water story and how the Republic overcame the challenge of water scarcity.

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli, who opened the gallery on Saturday, said: "I hope that the Sustainable Singapore Gallery will generate conversations and ideas on sustainability, and inspire visitors to make sustainable choices in their lifestyles."

Urging people to be mindful about how their actions impact the environment, Mr Masagos said: "Just as our past decisions gave us the clean environment we enjoy today, our decisions today will affect the future living environment of our children and their children.

"Let us work together keep Singapore a sustainable and vibrant home."

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