Best of our wild blogs: 29 Jun 18

August: FREE Public Forum by SIBiol on "Coral Reef Conservation in Singapore"
Celebrating Singapore Shores!

Celebrating Singapore Shores Journey on the Road
Celebrating Singapore Shores!

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Nature group seeks more information on impact of Cross Island Line site investigations

NEO CHAI CHIN Today Online 28 Jun 18;

SINGAPORE – Hoping for more details on the outcome of drilling works in the Macritchie forest for the future Cross Island MRT line, a group of nature enthusiasts is inviting the public to submit questions for the Land Transport Authority (LTA).

Issuing the invitation on its website and social media last Friday (June 22), the volunteers from the Love Our Macritchie Forest group said the public could either submit the questions through them, or write directly to the LTA.

Questions compiled by the group will be submitted to the LTA on July 1.

Nine parties – including five who are not affiliated with nature groups – have submitted responses to the group so far, said Ms Chloe Tan, project manager of Love Our Macritchie Forest.

Questions include whether the LTA would make the full results of its monitoring programme available to the public.

Earlier this month, the LTA said findings were encouraging. Camera traps had picked up the presence of animals such as the lesser mousedeer and the critically endangered Sunda pangolin after site investigation works were completed. These sightings validated measures it took to reduce the impact of site investigation works in the Central Catchment Nature Reserve, the authority said.

In response to media queries, the LTA said on Thursday (June 28) that it monitored the animals in the nature reserve from end-2016 to end-2017. In general, monitoring began three to six months before works began at each location, and ended about four to six months after the works were completed.

The site investigation works involved the drilling of 16 boreholes to determine soil and rock conditions. This will aid the authorities in eventually deciding which of two alignments to take for the Cross Island Line. One option is to tunnel under the nature reserve, while the other will skirt around it.

About 90 camera traps were placed "within the areas where site investigation works were conducted", said the LTA.

"Our findings suggested that similar fauna were present in the areas before and after the site investigation works, with various animal groups such as mammals, reptiles and birds captured by the camera traps," said a spokesperson.

The authority did not provide details on the number or frequency of animal sightings before and after the works. But it said the common palm civet, a nocturnal animal, was another species sighted.

An environmental impact assessment, done before site investigation works, had projected "mainly moderate" impact if mitigation measures were taken. Asked if this was indeed the outcome, the LTA did not comment.

Nevertheless, the spokesperson said: "LTA continues to work with the relevant stakeholders to further analyse the data collected to deepen our understanding of the site investigation works on fauna activities in the Central Catchment Nature Reserve."

On why the volunteers decided to compile questions for the LTA, Ms Tan, 29, said the lack of details to support the conclusion about the effectiveness of mitigation measures led to some concern how the monitoring was conducted.

"We are hoping that LTA can address our concerns and provide assurance that environmental impacts of Cross Island Line-related works have been/will be treated with utmost rigour," said Ms Tan, who is assisted by National University of Singapore (NUS) undergraduate Liang Lei and NUS research assistant Rachel Lee.

In its public invitation, Love Our Macritchie Forest — which was set up in 2013 when news of the Cross Island Line's possible alignment first came up — said the impact on wildlife cannot simply be determined by their presence after site investigation works. It said details on monitoring methods and their results are needed.

A second phase of environmental impact assessment is ongoing, to project the impact of constructing and operating the MRT line for both alignment options. It will be completed later this year. TODAY understands the assessment will be gazetted and available for public inspection, as was the case for the first phase of the report.

Submit your questions by 30 June 2018 at

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Tuas Desalination Plant opens, another milestone in Singapore’s water quest

CHEN LIN Today Online 29 Jun 18;

SINGAPORE — Singapore's first desalination plant owned and operated by the Government officially opened on Thursday (June 28).

The Tuas Desalination Plant is the Republic's third and has a capacity of 30 million gallons per day (mgd).

Singapore’s water sustainability came under the spotlight earlier this week when Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad revived a dispute with Singapore over the terms agreed in a 1962 pact.

At the opening ceremony, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli reiterated that this latest milestone in Singapore's water story "did not come easy". He did not make any reference to Dr Mahathir’s latest remarks.

Mr Masagos said: "Gradually but surely, we will continue to build up the capacity of our desalination and NEWater capacities, so that by 2060, NEWater and desalination can supply a combined 85 per cent of our water needs then."

Desalination, where membranes remove salts and minerals from seawater to produce drinking water, now meets up to 30 per cent of Singapore's water demand.

Singapore currently has five desalination plants, including two still in the works.

The Tuas Desalination Plant is the third in Singapore. Hyflux clinched contracts for the first two desalination plants, SingSpring and Tuaspring, while an upcoming fourth plant will be owned and operated by Keppel Infrastructure Holdings. The fifth desalination plant will be built by a Tuas Power-Singapore Technologies Marine consortium.

The opening of the Tuas plant also comes after Hyflux’s financial woes came to light last month. The homegrown water treatment firm’s troubles were partly attributed to the losses it incurred on the Tuaspring project, which it has been trying in vain to sell off.

Nevertheless, the Government had made the decision in 2015 to own and operate the Tuas Desalination Plant.

"PUB found that there is a need for us to build that competency in water desalination treatment. And at the same time, having our own plant gives us a platform to implement new ideas, new research and development (R&D) projects," said Mr Bernard Koh, national water agency PUB's director of water supply (plants).

PUB chief executive Ng Joo Hee said the plant could serve as a "real-world testbed" for technologies that could halve the energy needed for desalination, which is currently 3.5kWh per cubic metre.

Indeed, Mr Masagos pointed out: "Desalination is an especially energy-intensive water source and if we continue with business-as-usual, Singapore's desalination energy usage in 2060 will be four times that of today."

Adding that Singapore does not wish to become energy-reliant in its quest to overcome water scarcity, Mr Masagos said PUB is exploring new technologies and the use of cleaner energy to make the desalination process more energy-efficient.

One example he cited was an experiment with electrochemical desalination technology, which has the potential the halve the current energy use in desalination through the use of reverse osmosis, that is being conducted at the plant.

And the development of such low-energy desalination technologies need to be accelerated, he added, making PUB's continual work with its R&D partners critical.

The Tuas Desalination Plant is a "strategic infrastructural asset" that will boost Singapore's desalination capacity from the current 100 mgd to 130 mgd, PUB said in its media release.

Occupying about 3.5 hectares, the plant is one of the most compact in the world and is able to meet the water demand of about 200,000 households.

Construction by HSL Constructor began in November 2015, and the plant began its testing and commissioning at the beginning of this year.

Mr Koh said equipment was stacked "to a certain extent". The plant's compactness could, however, pose challenges during maintenance work, as there is less space between the pipes and equipment, and workers would have limited space to carry out their work.

The new plant is the first that uses advanced pretreatment technology – a combination of dissolved air floatation and ultrafiltration.

Together, they reduce the deposits of impurities on reverse osmosis membranes. The membranes can last for a month before they need to be cleaned, about one to two weeks longer than with the conventional system.

SingSpring plant, which was built in 2005, has only the dissolved air floatation system, while TuaSpring, built in 2013, has only the ultrafiltration system.

In dissolved air floatation, chemicals are introduced into seawater to gather impurities into bigger particles. Fine air bubbles are then injected into the particles, which float and are removed.

During ultrafiltration, seawater passes through semi-permeable membranes that remove impurities, microorganisms and bacteria.

"From SingSpring and TuaSpring, we learned that pretreatment is very important and we combined (the two systems) as the pre-treatment," said Mr Koh.

Advanced pretreatment technology makes the plant more robust — should there be deterioration of seawater quality due to a minor oil spill or algae bloom, the dissolved air floatation system can help to reduce algae count. This helps to preserve the ultrafiltration membranes, which subsequently helps to preserve the membranes used for reverse osmosis.

The Tuas Desalination Plant cost S$217 million, an amount that includes maintenance costs for the first 24 months.

It is also the first desalination plant that will have solar panels on more than half of its roof surface. To be installed by the end of this year, the panels will cover more than 7,000 sq m and meet less than 1 per cent of the plant's needs, which is also equivalent to powering more than 300 four-room flats for a year.

Asked about the environmental impact of the plant, the PUB said an assessment was done. Seawater quality is monitored "very closely" and the brine is released into the open sea.

The fourth and fifth desalination plants in Marina East and Jurong Island are expected to be completed in 2020.

Singapore opens its third desalination plant in Tuas
Lianne Chia and Vanessa Lim Channel NewsAsia 28 Jun 18;

SINGAPORE: Singapore on Thursday (Jun 28) opened its third desalination plant, boosting the country’s desalination capacity from 100 to 130 million gallons a day (mgd).

The Tuas Desalination Plant, which can produce 30 million gallons of drinking water a day, will help to meet up to 30 per cent of Singapore’s current water demand.

Spanning just 3.5ha - the size of three rugby fields - Tuas Desalination Plant is the country’s smallest plant to date.

Despite its size, the plant can produce the same amount of drinking water as SingSpring Desalination Plant, Singapore’s first such plant.

SingSpring occupies 6.3ha, nearly double the footprint of Tuas Desalination Plant.

Both plants can produce up to 30mgd of drinking water, which is enough to supply to 200,000 households.

The first to be owned and operated by PUB, the Tuas plant will also be used to test new energy-saving technologies.

The plant is also the first in Singapore to adopt an advanced pre-treatment technology, which combines two existing filtration methods – dissolved air floatation and ultrafiltration.

This will help to reduce membrane fouling when treating seawater of varying water quality, as well as to prolong the lifespan of a membrane.

To reduce the plant's carbon footprint, a 1.2MWp solar photovoltaic (PV) system will be installed on more than half of the plant’s roof surface by the end of the year.

Covering more than 7,000 sq m, the solar PV system will be able to generate 1.4 million kWh of clean energy a year, which will be used to power the plant’s administrative building.

With Singapore’s water demand projected to double from the current 430mgd by 2060, two more desalination plants are in the pipeline.

Slated to be completed in 2020, Marina East Desalination Plant and a fifth desalination plant at Jurong Island will bring the total daily water production in Singapore to 190mgd in two years’ time.


Speaking at the opening of the plant, Minister for Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli pointed out the need for Singapore to continually expand and enhance its water supply network.

He cited examples of cities like Cape Town in South Africa and Sao Paulo in Brazil. In Sao Paulo, a severe drought had caused the stock level of its main reservoir fall below 4 per cent, and its 21 million inhabitants had at one point less than 20 days of water.

“We are laying more pipes to reach the population and industries in new growth nodes while maintaining and renewing existing water infrastructure,” said Mr Masagos.

He added that all these are “heavy, but necessary investments”, and take time. These investments must also be made ahead of time and demand, so Singaporeans will not face the same problems as Sao Paulo and Cape Town, the minister said.

“This is made possible by right-pricing water to reflect the long-run marginal cost of producing our next drop of water, which is likely to come from NEWater and desalinated water.”

Source: CNA/ad(cy)

Singapore opens third desalination plant in Tuas
Jose Hong Straits Times 28 Jun 18;

SINGAPORE - Singapore's third desalination plant officially opened on Thursday (June 28), helping the Republic to further overcome its water challenges.

The $217 million Tuas Desalination Plant can produce up to 30 million gallons a day (mgd) of drinking water, the amount used by around 200,000 households daily.

With the new plant, 30 per cent of Singapore's water needs can now be met by desalination, up from 25 per cent. The new facility adds to SingSpring Desalination Plant, which also can produce 30mgd of drinking water, and Tuaspring Desalination Plant, whose capacity is 70mgd.

At the plant's opening on Thursday morning, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli said water is an existential issue for Singapore.

"Desalination, like Newater, is a weather-resilient water source. It helps us better cope with the threat of climate change," he said, referring to the high-grade reclaimed water known as Newater. Singapore also relies on water from local catchment and imported water.

The new plant is the first owned and operated by national water agency PUB, with SingSpring and Tuaspring both run by Hyflux. The water treatment facilities operator has been in the news recently for its financial woes and is seeking to sell the loss-making Tuaspring plant.

In response to media queries, PUB water supply (plants) director Bernard Koh said: "PUB's decision to run this plant on our own was not triggered by any lapses or inefficiencies experienced by the private sector."

Instead, he said the move allows PUB to build up its water treatment skills, and implement its own research and development projects.

Singapore's latest desalination plant is at 3.5ha, the smallest of the country's desalination facilities. It will remain so even after the next two desalination plants are built in Marina East and Jurong Island by 2020.

Yet in terms of the amount of water purified for its size, Tuas Desalination Plant is the most space efficient desalination plant in the world, said a PUB spokesman.

It is also the first to use solar power and the most technologically advanced.

More than 7,000 sq m of the new plant's roof will be covered by a photovoltaic system, and when online, the solar panels can generate 1.4 million kilowatt-hours of energy a year, enough to power more than 300 four-room flats in the same period. However, in a sign of how much electricity is needed for desalination, this is enough only to run the plant's administrative building - less than 1 per cent of the total facility's needs.

Tuas Desalination Plant is also the most technologically advanced.

By combining two methods used separately in Singspring and Tuaspring, the lifespan of its reverse osmosis membranes - where the final stage of purification occurs - increases from as little as two weeks to one month.

The opening of Tuas Desalination Plant comes after Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad earlier this week criticised the water supply deal between Singapore and Malaysia.

When asked if his comments meant that Singapore's quest for water self-sufficiency has become more pressing, the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy's Cecilia Tortajada noted that the new desalination plant was planned years ago.

The senior research fellow from the school's Institute of Water Policy added that PUB has always taken a long-term view of Singapore's quest to become self-reliant in water.

She said: "The urgency to become water self-sufficient is not new and has always been a priority for Singapore… Johor is a very important source of water, but so are Newater, desalination, and local catchments, and PUB has been working on all of them."

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Singapore’s water story underscores the value of preparedness

Singapore’s water agency has stepped up efforts to diversify the country’s sources of water but individual preparedness and consciousness about water’s scarcity are the country’s strength, says the Institute of Water Policy’s Cecilia Tortajada.
Cecilia Tortajada Channel NewsAsia 29 Jun 18;

SINGAPORE: Singapore’s water supply has come under the spotlight this week, following comments from Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad that his government needs to discuss with Singapore the price at which water is being sold.

For years, dry spells in Johor and difference of opinions between Singapore and Malaysia, have raised periodic concerns about the nation’s water resources among people in Singapore.

A handful also do not rule out the possibility of water rationing, even though the last time water rationing in the country was actually carried out was in the 1960s.

In 1995, in an unusual campaign that lasted six days, an islandwide water rationing exercise was conducted involving 30,000 households.

During this period, the water supply was interrupted for 14 hours on each day. The objective was to remind Singaporeans, especially youths, about the importance of water.

How has the Singapore situation changed since then?


Since 1965 when Singapore became independent, the country has reinvented itself many times while amassing more water resources.

It has increased its size by about 25 per cent through land reclamation; but has developed 17 reservoirs from the three in 1965. The land area from which it is possible to collect water has increased to more than 67 per cent from 11 per cent.

Singapore has become the leading country in producing reused water with NEWater covering up to 40 per cent of daily demand. Desalination produces up to 25 per cent of daily requirements.

Singapore has also invested, and continues investing, in research and development, education and training when it comes to water. It also has one of the most efficient water utilities in the world - so much such that the Public Utilities Board (PUB) is better known as Singapore’s national water agency.

On the demand side, water prices were adjusted in 2017 after 17 years to much public ruckus.

Yet, under the new pricing scheme effected in two phases over 2017 and 2018, potable water tariffs will increase by only S$0.04 per cubic metre compared to 2016's prices for consumption of 40 cubic metres or less of water each month and S$0.12 per cubic metre if consumption is more than 40 cubic metres, on top of increases to the water conservation tax.

Meanwhile, support for one- and two-room HDB flats in the form of vouchers has increased.

With the objective to conserve and reduce water use, PUB has also developed efficiency measures for several sectors.

Those of us living in Singapore have to give more credit to PUB for its performance for the last several decades, where it has made our lives more secure as we have access to clean water on a permanent basis.

Sometimes the issue might ironically be one of too much water, where torrential rains have threatened to flood places in Singapore – including MRT tunnels – but efforts to address flooding risks and enhance drainage infrastructure have been underway.


Even though there is no threat of water rationing as yet, it is essential for Singapore residents, businesses and industrial sectors to realise the importance of water conservation.

There are imponderables such as climate change that are affecting the entire world. In Southeast Asia, the region has been hit by more frequent and intense floods in recent decades.

In Singapore, more robust water sources that do not depend on the climate have been springing up. There are now five NEWater plants and three desalination plants, of which one was opened just this week. There is one more under construction and a final one at the planning stage.

However, no system is perfect. What is the Achilles’ heel in the case of Singapore's water supply? Climate change? The water supply from Johor? Public inertia to water waste? It is all of the above.

Between 2014 and 2015, water consumption in Singapore increased from 150 to 151 litres per person per day. One litre may not seem like much, but this translates into an additional 150 million litres of water consumed a month.

If it still sounds insignificant, consider how much more electricity needed to treat and distribute water has been consumed.

Energy to treat water varies from about 0.2 kWh per cubic metres for water from local catchments or Johor, to 1.0 kWh per cubic metres for NEWater, and 3.6 kWh per cubic metres for desalination. Saving water means saving energy as well.

Thankfully water consumption in Singapore has since decreased to 148 litres per person each day in 2016 and 143 litres in 2017.

While some have attributed the decrease in water consumption to the increase in water prices, does this mean that the price of water should increase every year, as it is the case with electricity, for people to be more conscious of its use? Surely, we can all modify habits without the need for a stick?

Others have pointed to PUB’s development of a “smart shower programme” to study the effect of shower devices that tell people about how much water they have consumed and measure how much water is subsequently used.

But if we depend on a device to decide how much water to use, are we relegating our sense of responsibility to devices?

As is the case every year, I have just been interviewed by students interested in water conservation and how to make this a sustainable practice among their families and youths their age. These intelligent, forward-looking students from Catholic Junior College and Raffles Institute had worked on initiatives that are not only commendable but should also be examined by authorities to see how they can be implemented and scaled up.

More also can be done to understand at what point a young person, who is aware of the importance of water conservation and other similar ethical behaviours when it comes to the environment, forgets what they have internalise.

It could pave the way for more inclusive, long-term educational programmes that ingrains an environmentally conscious attitude into the minds of our young.

This way, waste of water and energy, food waste and littering could be a problem of the past. And Singapore’s water Achilles’ heel would be less vulnerable.

Cecilia Tortajada is senior research fellow at the Institute of Water Policy, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, and Editor-in-Chief, International Journal of Water Resources Development.

Source: CNA/nr

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180 youth environmentalists from region in Singapore for summit to work for greener world

Nathanael Phang Strait Times 28 Jun 18;

SINGAPORE - Youth environmentalists from the Asia-Pacific region are here to take part in a four-day campaign to learn how they can play a part to protect the natural environment.

The ninth edition of the Actions For Earth - Global Youth Summit, which happens twice a year, is being organised by Hemispheres Foundation, a local non-profit social enterprise run by professionals and volunteers which focuses on issues concerning health and the environment.

Singapore, which is marking 2018 as the Year of Climate Action, also hosted the first summit in 2014.

The campaign started on Thursday (June 28) at National Library Plaza with 180 youth environmentalists from 10 countries taking part.

"Climate change could mean higher or lower temperatures, more intense rainfall or rise in sea levels. These factors may threaten the quality of life and available infrastructure. Hence, we must all pledge to take action against climate change," said Ms Ann Phua, president and founder of Hemispheres Foundation.

Throughout the four days, the youth environmentalists will be discussing waste issues and engaging in community outreach to encourage members of the public to pledge to act against climate change.

Guest of honour Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources, said at the launch that with climate change intensifying over the recent years, global effort is needed to tackle the issue.

She added: "The Government is not able to address this issue alone. Everyone has a part to play in reducing our carbon footprint and leading a more environmentally conscious lifestyle."

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RSPO to Dive Into Palm Oil Giant Wilmar Deforestation Link

Sheany Jakarta Globe 28 Jun 18;

Jakarta. The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, or RSPO, is investigating claims by environmental advocacy organization Greenpeace that one of the international lobby group's major members is involved in deforestation.

Greenpeace said in a report published on Sunday (24/06) that Singapore-based Wilmar International, the world's largest palm oil trader, had links to a company guilty of deforestation, despite its commitment to sustainable practices.

The allegation is the latest blow to the lobby group's efforts to promote sustainable practices in the industry and polishing the commodity's image as the most efficient vegetable oil.

The report titled "Rogue Trader: Keeping Deforestation in the Family" connects Wilmar with Gama, one of the world's largest palm oil producers, and shows that both companies were not only co-founded by Indonesian businessman Martua Sitorus, but that they are also run by members of his family.

"An area twice the size of Paris has been destroyed by Gama, a palm oil business run by senior Wilmar executives and members of their family," Greenpeace said in a statement.

Kiki Taufik, head of the Indonesia forest campaign at Greenpeace Southeast Asia, said Wilmar and Gama have been working together for years, "with Gama doing the dirty work so Wilmar's hands stay clean."

"Wilmar must immediately cut off all palm oil suppliers that are unable to prove that they are not destroying rainforests," he said.

Greenpeace called on the RSPO to enforce its membership rules and require Wilmar and Gama to register as a group. According to the environmental organization, at least one Gama company, S&G Biofuel, is also an RSPO member.

"Under RSPO membership rules, companies that share management or control should be treated as one group. This makes Wilmar responsible for what happens in Gama's concessions," Greenpeace said.

Responding to the Jakarta Globe's request for comment, Tiur Rumondang, RSPO country director for Indonesian operations, said the group is aware of Greenpeace's claims and that is taking the allegations seriously.

"We remain committed to transparency and accountability and take these allegations seriously. We are investigating the accusations brought by Greenpeace," Tiur said.

No Deforestation, No Peat, No Exploitation

In 2013, Wilmar established a no deforestation, no peat, no exploitation (NDPE) policy, which applies to not only its own plantations but also those of its suppliers. The company was reportedly the first palm oil trader to do so. Wilmar made a commitment to protect forests, peatlands and human and community rights.

However, the Greenpeace report, through mapping and satellite analysis, revealed that Gama allegedly destroyed 21,500 hectares of rainforest or peatland since these commitments were made.

The report also includes an analysis of trade data, which shows how Wilmar has continued to trade palm oil produced by Gama, despite being aware that the company was actively violating Wilmar's own NDPE policy.

In addition, Greenpeace said Wilmar has a history of selling off its most controversial concessions to Gama in order to evade responsibility for environmental and human rights abuses.

Wilmar allegedly supplies global brands, such as Procter & Gamble, Nestlé and Unilever, with palm oil produced by Gama's mills, according to Greenpeace.

"Brands cannot let this deception pass unchallenged and have no choice but to suspend all business with Wilmar until it can prove it only trades clean palm oil from responsible producers," Kiki said.

Wilmar issued a statement on Monday saying it has, as of June 20, ceased sourcing palm oil from suppliers associated with Gama.

"Wilmar will not buy from any company that cannot prove to our satisfaction that they do not belong to Gama because of the alleged identified non-compliance with Wilmar's NDPE policy," Wilmar International said in a statement.

The statement also asserted that Wilmar and Gama are two separate corporate entities with independent operations.

"Wilmar has no control, management or otherwise, over Gama. Wilmar executives with familial ties with Gama do not hold any decision-making power or influence on Wilmar's sustainability policy," the company said.

Calls to Gama's offices in Jakarta went unanswered.

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Deluge of electronic waste turning Thailand into 'world's rubbish dump'

Thailand has been swamped by waste from the west after Chinese ban on imports
Hannah Ellis-Petersen The Guardian 28 Jun 18;

At a deserted factory outside Bangkok, skyscrapers made from vast blocks of crushed printers, Xbox components and TVs tower over black rivers of smashed-up computer screens.

This is a tiny fraction of the estimated 50m tonnes of electronic waste created just in the EU every year, a tide of toxic rubbish that is flooding into south-east Asia from the EU, US and Japan.

Thailand, with its lax environmental laws, has become a dumping ground for this e-waste over the past six months, but authorities are clamping down, fearful that the country will become the “rubbish dump of the world”. The global implications could be enormous.

A factory visited by the Guardian in Samut Prakan province, south of Bangkok, which was recently shut down in a raid for operating illegally, illustrated the mammoth scale of the problem. Printers made by Dell and HP, Daewoo TVs and Apple computer drives were stacked sky-high next to precarious piles of compressed keyboards, routers and copy machines. Labels showed the waste had mainly come from abroad.

For locals, it is unclear why Thailand should be taking this waste. The Samut Prakan factory sits in the middle of hundreds of shrimp farms and there were concerns it was poisoning the landscape, with no environmental protections or oversight in place.

Paraton Gumkum, 32, who owns a nearby shrimp farm, described the smell that enveloped the area when the factory was operating. “I wish that Thailand would say no to the e-waste trash. I am worried because it contaminates the air and the water with dangerous chemicals,” he said. “We have been very worried that the chemicals will leak into our shrimp farm.”

Until the beginning of this year, China was a willing recipient of the world’s electronic waste, which it recycled in vast factories. According to the UN, 70% of all electronic waste was ending up in China.

But in January, having calculated that the environmental impact far outweighed the short-term profit, China closed its gates to virtually all foreign rubbish. It has prompted something of a global crisis, not just for e-waste but plastic waste as well.

Asian nations such as Thailand, Laos and Cambodia stepped in. Chinese businessmen have set about attempting to open about 100 plastic and e-waste recycling plants across Thailand since January.

However, after five months in which e-waste imports have increased to 37,000 tonnes so far this year (more is thought to have entered illegally), Thailand has become the first south-east Asian nation to follow China’s example and crack down on the legal and illegal e-waste coming in.

“We already have too much electronic waste here in Thailand. It is not our burden to bring this pollution from the rest of the world to the next generation of Thai people,” said Thailand’s deputy police chief, Wirachai Songmetta.

Songmetta, who has led raids on more than 26 illegal e-waste factories in recent weeks, described some of the recycling set-ups as “frightening”, with primitive and contaminating methods used to extract valuable metals from the electronics while the rest is thrown into vast incinerators that pump out toxic smoke.

“These factories have been polluting the environment because of all the heavy metals in the e-waste like lead and copper, which can poison the soil and the water,” he said. “They also burn the plastic, which brings toxic fumes into the air. So it is very dangerous for the Thai people living near these factories.”

While the word recycling implies doing good for the planet, in fact most of the e-waste recycling plants involve a dirty and toxic process to extract lead and copper that does huge amounts of environmental damage. The plastic in e-waste, such as computer screen casings, also contains high amounts of flame retardants that are poisonous if burned or recycled into cheap food packaging, as is happening in some of the factories.

Thai customs officers are now pushing back 20 containers of e-waste a day that are landing in Thai ports, and in the next two months the government plans to pass legislation to bans foreign e-waste and plastic waste from entering Thailand.

But with countries such as the US and the UK already relying on south-east Asia to pick up the e-waste and plastic waste slack in the wake of China’s ban – in the past four months alone, UK exports of plastic to Thailand have risen fiftyfold – this presents a problem. In Hong Kong and Singapore, where most of the world’s e-waste is sent before it is bounced to less-developed countries, there is already a backlog of e-waste in shipping containers. If south-east Asian countries do not take it, it has nowhere to go.

Jim Puckett, of the Basel Action Network, which works globally to tackle the problem of toxic waste, said that in the short term a ban by Thailand would “inevitably lead to countries resorting to perverse ways to get rid of their e-waste, probably dumping it in terrible places and incinerating it all.” But he emphasised that in the long term a ban on e-waste imports across the region was “extremely necessary”.

“Places like America and Europe need to realise they are going to have to start recycling their own electronic waste and stop sweeping the negative effects from north to south,” he said.

“If a crisis does hit, hopefully this will make these countries think hard about how to be cleaner and more efficient about this waste we are producing on such an enormous scale, and finally take some responsibility.”

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