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Singapore has announced that US start up Eat Just has received government approval to sell its “chicken bites,” marking the first time that cultured, or lab-grown, meat has been approved for sale by a regulatory authority. The announcement has been hailed as a “landmark moment” across the meat industry, paving the way for ethical “meat” eating.

What is Happening?

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How Are the Products Made?

Studies have found that wealthy nations generally eat more meat than is healthy for them or the planet. Livestock accounts for around 14.5% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions each year, roughly the equivalent of the emissions from all the cars, trucks, airplanes and ships combined. A 2018 study shows that cutting meat consumption is the best single environmental action a person can take. Further, meat cultivated in bioreactors avoids bacterial contamination from animal waste and the overuse of antibiotics and hormones in animals. 

Unfortunately, currently the small scale of cultured meat production means that the process emits a lot of carbon, however once scaled up, it will produce much lower emissions and use far less water and land than conventional meat. 

Josh Tetrick, of Eat Just, says “I think the approval is one of the most significant milestones in the food industry in the last handful of decades. It’s an open door and it’s up to us and other companies to take that opportunity. My hope is this leads to a world in the next handful of years where the majority of meat doesn’t require killing a single animal or tearing down a single tree.”

He continues, “Is it different? For sure. Our hope is through transparent communication with consumers, what this is and how it compares to conventional meat, we’re able to win. But it’s not a guarantee.” 

Other challenges included getting regulatory approval in other nations and increasing production. “If we want to serve the entire country of Singapore, and eventually bring it to elsewhere in the world, we need to move to 10 000-litre or 50 000-litre-plus bioreactors,” Tetrick says.

A 2019 report from global consultancy AT Kearney predicted that most meat in 2040 would not come from dead animals. However, in its press release, the company says that meat production has risen dramatically, and by 2050, consumption is projected to increase over 70%. However, as conventional meat consumption has been linked to major public health crises, like COVID-19, we need safer, more efficient and less environmentally harmful ways of producing meat to satisfy growing consumer demand. However, cultivated meat is unlikely to become mainstream for years, until it matches the cost of conventional meat. 

The announcement by Eat Just is its second in Singapore this year. In October, the company announced a partnership with a consortium led by Proterra Asia, an investment management firm focused on the food and agribusiness sectors, to build and operate a plant protein production facility in Singapore to meet demand for Eat Just’s plant-based JUST Egg products across Asia, which are made from mung beans.

Featured image by: Flickr

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Supermarket shelves around the world were emptied as people panic bought due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In Singapore, this brought attention to the republic’s overreliance on food imports and its subsequent food security. Fortuitously, Singapore made plans in 2019 to reduce its dependence on food imports with its “30 by 30” vision, whereby 30% of Singapore’s nutritional needs will be produced locally by 2030, up from less than 10% today. 

Singapore currently imports over 90% of its food supply, making it especially sensitive to any changes in the global agricultural landscape. Major importers include Malaysia, Brazil and Australia. When Malaysia announced its lockdown, many Singaporeans scrambled to supermarkets, fearing that imported food from Malaysia would suddenly be cut off. Even before COVID-19, the climate crisis already posed a threat to global food supply, negatively affecting crop yields. Additionally, the amount of fertile land in the world has fallen by 33% in 40 years, yet demand for food is expected to increase as the global population continues to rise and the affluence of developing countries grows. Hence, in times of crises, having a robust local food supply to fall back on can act as a buffer to cushion Singapore from any negative food supply shocks.

Nearly tripling local food production in 10 years seems like a daunting task, but Singapore has a robust plan to achieve this “30 by 30” vision. 

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The heightened production will be mainly focused on eggs, leafy vegetables, fruits and fish. To increase food production and achieve the “30 by 30” plan, Singapore needs to convert more spaces for urban farming. Land is a precious resource in Singapore, with 5.6 million people in an area of 721.5 km², even smaller than New York City. As of 2016, agriculture occupied 0.93% of Singapore’s land area. By creatively tapping into underused and integrated spaces, Singapore hopes to produce more in less space. Recent plans have revealed that urban farms will be developed on carpark rooftops and integrated into multi-purpose sites, one of which was initially an old school campus. Singapore Food Agency has also been collaborating with other agencies to open up more of Singapore’s southern waters for fish farms, expanding on the one that is currently in operation. 

Improving technologies to increase production efficiency is also key to ramp up food production. In the field of agri-tech, heavy research and development efforts are ongoing. At the micro level, researchers are working to discover high yield and resilient genetic species. By detecting the chemicals plants emit, researchers aim to detect their precise optimal growing conditions. At the macro level, knowing these exact conditions can help to engineer resource-efficient and productive farming systems that will raise yields as well. Many considerations will also be taken to ensure food safety, by creating new models and systems to detect and predict any safety hazards in these new foods. 

Having the infrastructure and technology in place and creating an economic environment that supports enterprises will be the next step in promoting growth in the agri-food sector. A pool of experts that are well-versed in the urban farming and food production industry can help form suitable industry regulations that will help to reduce compliance costs and ensure a high standard of food safety. Grants for high-efficiency farms such as the Agriculture Productivity Fund (AFP)’s Productivity Enhancement (PE) scheme will encourage farms to improve and upgrade their technology, while reducing business costs. To train a future network of knowledgeable and experienced professionals, Singapore has set up certified courses in urban agricultural technology and aquaculture in tertiary education institutions, as well as a SkillsFuture Programme, a subsidised skills upgrading programme for Singaporeans. 

Encouraging Singaporeans to Buy Local Produce

Most importantly, the work to increase local supply must also be met by an increase in consumer demand. The Singapore Food Agency (SFA) aims to raise Singaporean’s demand for local food by raising awareness about the existence and benefits of buying homegrown food. Holding a ‘SG Farmers’ Market’ several times a year that features local farms and putting a logo on produce that marks it as homegrown are part of SFA’s plans to shine a spotlight and raise awareness of local produce.

In light of the pandemic, the government has introduced a SGD$30 million (USD$22 million) grant for local producers who can utilise high-efficiency farming systems and quickly raise their output. Producers may apply and submit their project proposals for this grant, named the 30×30 Express grant, which will help approved applicants cover up to 85% of the project costs. This is on top of the existing SGD$144 million (USD$118 million) in the Singapore Food Story R&D Program, that supports research in the agri-food sector.

Moving forward, one key way Singaporeans can help to achieve the “30 by 30” target is to support and buy from local producers, as said by Minister Masagos Zulkifli, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources in Singapore. Singaporeans can also look forward to hearing more about new innovative developments as a result of the 30×30 Express grant, or a new urban farm sprouting up in their neighbourhood. 

As the climate crisis reaches critical tipping points and is spurring many people to abandon meat products, which are extremely resource-intensive and environmentally-damaging to produce, entomophagy may be a sound alternative to those who are not quite ready to let go of meat. 

What is Entomophagy?

Entomophagy is the eating of insects and is being hailed as a novel solution to ensure sustainable food production. For good reason, too- insects are incredibly easy to raise due to their fast reproduction rates. They are also incredibly high in protein- certain insects, such as caterpillars, have been shown to have as much as 35.2 grams of protein per 100 grams of edible portion, as compared to 20.6 g and 19.9 g for beef and chicken respectively. 

The production of edible insects is also less environmentally damaging. Production of animal meat for human consumption is extremely resource-intensive; the production of 1 gram of protein from chicken requires two to three times as much land and 50% more water than the production of mealworms. Production of beef, on the other hand, requires up to 14 times as much land and 5 times as much water than the production of mealworms. 

Perhaps the biggest benefit of producing edible insects for human consumption is that they can be raised on food waste. Edible insect production entails producing and culturing food from discarded food waste. A farm in Singapore is raising black soldier fly larvae on discarded food waste alone. A startup in Malaysia is also currently raising these larvae for use in burgers and ice cream. It is possible to eat the larvae whole too, and their taste has been likened to that of Fritos

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Raising edible insects on food waste not only eliminates the need for the production of grain necessary to feed livestock such as chicken and cattle, which consume vast amounts of arable land, but also naturally tackles the problem of food waste, which is not being sufficiently addressed despite concerns about a global food shortage. A third of food intended for consumption is wasted or lost every year and the problem also damages the environment, contributing about 8% of total global greenhouse gas emissions. If food waste were a country, it would be the 3rd-largest contributor of carbon emissions, after the US and China.

Carbon emissions from meat production and food waste can be mitigated by rearing edible insects. Livestock production accounts for 14.5% of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, with beef having the highest footprint due to the large amounts of methane that an average cow produces. Methane is a greenhouse gas roughly 25 times more potent at trapping heat than carbon dioxide; cattle can produce 250-500 litres of methane a day. Conversely, insect farming produces about 100 times less greenhouse gases per kg of mass organism gain. Despite the environmental benefits, encouraging the switch towards entomophagy, and therefore mass edible insect production, comes with its unique set of challenges. 

Challenges of Adopting Entomophagy 

Insects are not the most aesthetically appealing delicacy to many people in Western countries. However, they are widely eaten in many countries in Africa, Asia, and Central and South America, and can be prepared in numerous ways. Those who find insects unappetising need not eat the insect whole. Cookies made from cricket flour are widely available, as is pasta made from grasshopper flour. Mealworm burgers are also widely sold in supermarkets in Switzerland and mealworm meatballs will soon be on the menus of Ikea cafes. With all these insect-based foods inconspicuously blended into everyday foods, encouraging the switch towards entomophagy has never been easier. 

Perceptions of eating insects also poses a challenge. Seafood are organisms that are closely related to insects. Shrimp, prawns and lobsters belong to the same phylum as insects, and they are collectively known as arthropods; the multiple appendages, exoskeletons and feelers of shrimp, prawns and lobsters resemble that of crickets and locusts. In fact, shrimp is termed the ‘cockroaches of the sea’. 

Encouraging entomophagy merely requires a shift in perceptions towards insects as food. Sushi is now arguably one of the most widely-known foods in Western countries, after being seen as ‘radical’ in the 1970s and 1980s. Another shift in the attitude towards foods is the rising popularity of veganism. Veganism was, until recently, viewed as an eccentric lifestyle choice, with cases of vegans being the target of discrimination and bias. In light of increasing public awareness of the environmental and health implications posed by the meat industry however, more people are adopting vegan diets and the increasing number of vegan options available, such as the Impossible Burger and Beyond Meat Burger, has made this switch easier. 

While it is more important to reduce levels of greenhouse gases through a reduction in the use of fossil fuels, entomophagy is a viable (albeit novel) solution in shifting people’s perception of what constitutes a healthy diet: one that provides sufficient nutrition, but also has little negative impact on the environment. With the global population rising exponentially, it is vital that the world adopts such eating habits to mitigate the impacts of the climate crisis. 

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Featured image by: Paul Arps

Singapore produces vast amounts of food waste, threatening its resources and land availability. How can this problem be solved?

Food Wastage Facts in Singapore

A study by the Singapore Environment Council (SEC) found that Singapore households throw away around 26 000 tonnes- or S$342 million- in unconsumed food annually. Food waste accounts for about 10% of the total waste generated in Singapore, but only 17% of this is recycled. The rest of it is disposed of at waste-to-energy plants for incineration.

The SEC says that this wastage is due to improper storage, purchasing patterns and food handling habits. It identifies major drivers of food loss further down the supply chain, which include poor disease and pest management, over-importation of food items and inadequate infrastructure.

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Of those surveyed in the study, about one third said they throw away 10% or more of uncooked and unconsumed food items per week.

The study also found that 342 000 tonnes of food is lost in Singapore before it reaches retail and consumers, 49% of this from the loss of fruits and vegetables. 

Singapore Environment Council Chairman Isabella Huang-Loh, says, “More can be done in an industrialised country like Singapore to reduce food loss. Down the chain, better coordination and raising awareness among food industries, retailers and consumers can go a long way to reduce food loss and waste.”

Singapore has implemented its Zero Waste Masterplan, which outlines the Republic’s strategies to build a sustainable and climate resilient nation. The campaign says that food waste is one of the biggest waste streams in Singapore and that the amount of food waste generated has grown by 40% in the last decade. In 2018, the country generated 763 million kgs of food waste, making up half of the average 1.5kgs of waste disposed of by each household in Singapore daily. Rice, noodles and bread are the most commonly wasted food items.

Wasting food means that more food has to be sourced to meet demand, affecting food security since Singapore imports over 90% of its food supply. It also means that the Republic will need to build more waste disposal facilities, such as waste-to-energy plants and landfills for incineration ash, a difficult task for land-scarce Singapore. 

To conserve resources, food wastage must be minimised and unavoidable food waste must be treated, starting with avoiding wastage and excess food production (or re-distributing excess food) and then segregating food waste for recycling and treatment. Singapore is working on this issue through publicity and outreach programmes, where it educates consumers on how to adopt smart food purchasing, storage and preparation habits, as well as providing food manufacturers and retailers with handbooks to help them develop a food minimisation plan that suits them. Further, it is building up local research and development capabilities to discover innovative ways to recycle food waste.

What is Being Done?

In terms of legislation, the Resource Sustainability Act mandates that from 2024, large commercial and industrial food waste generators will be required to segregate food waste for treatment, including hotels and malls, as well as food storage warehouses manufacturers. Also, from 2021, developers of new developments which are expected to generate large amounts of food waste will be required to allocate space for on-site food waste treatments.

There is no shortage of potential solutions and it is vital that some of them, however novel, are tapped into. If food waste were a country, it would be the third-largest emitting country in the world, generating about 8% of total greenhouse gas emissions, although some studies have this number at 11%. This issue is not location-specific, but an issue that affects every living thing on the planet and should therefore be seen as an urgent area to take action in.

Following its plans to shift forward the internal combustion-engine vehicles ban to 2035, the British government’s allocation of an additional £1.3bn to stimulate the uptake of electric vehicles (EVs) has been lauded as a concrete step forward for sustainability efforts. Singapore is also powering forward with plans to make electric vehicles cheaper and more accessible. While necessary in moving towards a low-carbon future, this has also attracted criticism over its protracted timeline, while sparking debate on the purported benefits of electrifying transport. Moreover, EV adoption continues to be inhibited by concerns over affordability and practicalities of charging, which are especially pronounced in many developing countries.

Being the world’s first major economy to legislate a net-zero emissions target by 2050, the UK has adopted recommendations by the Committee on Climate Change to hasten the electrification of its vehicle fleet. Despite sales volumes of battery EVs having tripled from January 2019 to January 2020- from 1 334 to 4 054 vehicles, amidst an overall 7% decline in the domestic automotive industry– battery electric vehicles still have an overall UK market share of less than 3%. Since plenty of work remains, increased funding for EV purchase subsidies and development of charging infrastructure will go a long way in improving EV affordability while alleviating concerns of the battery going flat while driving- commonly referred to as ‘range anxiety’.

Meanwhile, hybrid sales climbed in the same period, with close to one in five cars sold in the UK either fully electric or using technology that includes both an engine and a battery.

The industry is facing conflict over the future of hybrid cars, as the government is planning a consultation with a view to banning them by 2035 alongside petrol and diesel vehicles; previous plans for a ban on petrol and diesel sales in 2040 allowed the sale of hybrid vehicles that can drive for a reasonable distance using only battery power. 

Singapore plans to phase out petrol vehicles by 2040, paving the way for greater adoption of EVs. Incentives for drivers to switch to EVs have been announced, including extension of the Vehicular Emissions Scheme to light commercial vehicles, rebates for early adoption and the revision of road taxes for qualifying vehicles. 

The global EV market will reach a tipping point by 2022 when the cost of owning an EV will be on par with internal combustion engine vehicles, but there will be a supply gap of almost 14 million EVs in 2030, marring Singapore’s efforts. 

The Republic has set the goal of creating 28 000 charging points, a significant addition to the current 1 600.

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how to move to electric vehicles
CO2 emissions of diesel vehicles compared to EVs in different European countries (Source: Transport & Environment).

Amidst the optimism surrounding cleaner transport, it is worth noting that environmental benefits from vehicle electrification are not reaped equally by all countries. While averting air pollution in urban centres, EVs are ultimately powered by electricity, which renders them only as clean as their energy source. Logically, countries which are heavily dependent on fossil fuels have comparatively little incentive to prioritise EV uptake, since investing in alternative energy generation yields more immediate returns in reducing environmental footprint. 

This notion renders EV uptake in the UK feasible; the proportion of its power generation mix made up by fossil fuels fell to a record low in December 2019, after renewable energy became the UK’s largest source of electricity, with wind and solar energy accounting for nearly 39% of its electricity in the quarter of 2019. Coal-fired power stations contributed 1% of the UK’s electricity in the same period. After two coal plants- Aberthaw B and Fiddler’s Ferry- close in March, the UK will have four coal-fired power stations. 

In regions (for example, much of ASEAN) where the automotive industry features prominently as an economic sector, it is challenging even for established EV manufacturers like Tesla to successfully enter the market, due to lack of brand recognition and reliable procurement chains. 

electric vehicles
Comparisons of electric vehicle sales in China, the US and the EU (Source: US Bureau of Economic Analysis, China Association of Automobile Manufacturers, International Council on Clean Transportation; put together by Earth.Org).

Without aggressive policy action by these countries to increase accessibility of electric vehicles to the general populace, it is inconceivable that smaller companies can attain the scale of production necessary to stimulate domestic original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) into rethinking their product lines. Specialising in electrification of two-wheeled vehicles could be a more effective way of catalysing regional-scale disruption. By focusing on transition towards public transport, these governments which currently appear as laggards in the EV race could end up as global leaders in sustainable transport in the decades to come. 

Efforts are being made in various places around Asia, including China, India, Singapore and Hong Kong, to combat the plastic waste crisis. What do they include and how effective are they?

Plastic Issue in Asia

China has announced plans to ban all single-use plastics by 2025, replacing them with bio-products and non-plastic products. In a country where the standard of living is continuously improving, demand for plastic goods will no doubt follow. Can China show the world that it is capable of a ‘green revolution’? 

Straws, plastic bags, and cutlery are all being targeted under the new legislation. It doesn’t stop there: shampoo and conditioner miniatures will no longer be offered during hotel stays either. Landfills in China are overflowing faster than anyone imagined, and the problem can no longer be ignored. In 2017, China implemented a ban on foreign plastic waste. For a country that has imported a cumulative 45% of plastic waste since 1992, this is a drastic move, one signaling a changing attitude towards plastics and waste management.

Pek Hai Lin, executive director of Singapore-based environmental group Zero Waste SG, says that the ban may have resulted in an excess supply of recyclable materials across countries and a drop in the prices.

She says, “With buying prices of cardboard going as low as 4 cents per kg, it might not be worth the effort on collectors’ part to recycle much of it.” Prices used to be around 10 cents per kg prior to the ban.

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How Will the New Policy Work?

The new ban will outlaw the distribution of single use straws and plastic bags in major cities by the end of 2020. This is certainly a lofty goal in a country of 1.4 billion, but the ban will occur in stages, with the final goal of banning all single use plastics in all cities and towns by 2025. This format of the ban, initially starting with certain restrictions and advancing to a complete ban over time, is meant to ease Chinese residents into the transition. If the recent ban on plastic bags in New York is any indication, it is a good idea to bolster public education campaigns and awareness-building to ensure that the policy is effective and well-received. 

The ban was announced in January of this year, and outlines a commitment to utilising alternative materials instead of plastic, which could include compostable plastics.

Less Plastic= More Reliance on What?

China is the world’s largest plastic producer, and is responsible for 30% of global marine plastic pollution. Between 5 and 12 million metric tons of plastic are produced in China each month.

For a major oil-dependent country like China, the ban will create a heavier reliance on alternatives to petroleum-based products. The new policy states that the Chinese government will ‘promote the use of non-plastic products’, including cloth, paper, and degradable bags, and establish a system to reuse shopping bags in shopping centers. There is also a focus on ‘bio-based’ products made from plant materials that will compost or biodegrade. 

Production of these bio-plastics is expected to climb by more than 15% per year up to at least 2022 in China. Despite the rising popularity of these products, production remains insignificant with just 2.27 million tonnes produced in 2017, compared to a global plastic production of 335 million tonnes.

Plastic Alternatives Require Specialised Infrastructure

Banning plastic is not as simple as it may seem. In addition to educating the public and enlisting support from the communities affected, cities and towns must be able to successfully dispose of the new kinds of replacement products. China plans to beef up and revamp domestic recycling capabilities in order to manage this new kind of waste. In 2017 China announced a goal of recycling 35 percent of waste by 2020. To do so, cities will be setting up recycling facilities, building waste transport systems, creating online information resources and discouraging waste by charging for disposal. Steps towards this goal include setting targets and launching pilot programs. One such program to manage waste in Shanghai focuses on improving the sorting of waste, while also creating 10 new recycling centers in the one city alone. A modern recycling system in China may also require imported technology and expertise, according to Plastic Recycling Update. By the end of 2020, cities including Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, Chongqing and all capitals of provincial regions will be required to have their plans and regulations in place. 

According to a news release, Weng Yunxuan, secretary-general of the China Plastic Processing Industry Association’s degradable plastic committee is optimistic about the plans; “The ban will not be imposed all of a sudden, but phase by phase. The current production capacity (for substitute products) in China will not fail to meet the market gap caused by the ban.” 

Producing these substitutes may not be an issue, but for a country that either burns- nearly half of the country’s waste is burned in incinerators- or sends to landfills nearly all of it’s trash, effective recycling systems are a necessity and enforcement of the ban has to be reliable to show the rest of Asia, and the world, that banning plastic waste is a feasible solution. 

India Bans Plastic

China is not the only country in Asia imposing bans on plastic waste. According to the Central Pollution Control Board, India generates 26 000 tonnes of plastic waste every day. Beginning in 2018, India’s government imposed a ban on plastics in the state of Maharashtra, however pushback from the plastic lobby and poor implementation of fines failed to curb the plastic tide. Eventually the government lifted the ban on several items including plastic bottles. The lack of programs in place to address waste management and the high cost of producing alternatives left people with few other options and illegal plastic trade boomed.

The government says that it will instead ask states to enforce existing rules against storing, manufacturing and using some single-use plastic products such as polythene bags and styrofoam, as well as educate the public on the ill-effects of plastic.

Regulations don’t exist in a vacuum, and therefore it is imperative for governments to work within cultural and social norms and existing economic structures if they hope to see success with plastic bans in the future. 

Hong Kong and Singapore’s Battle with Plastic Waste

These cities in Asia both have massive plastic waste problems, which will no doubt become all the worse as it can no longer send waste to China.

The government introduced the Plastic Shopping Bag Charging Scheme in 2009 and enhanced it in 2015 to reduce the use of plastic bags in the city. However, recent statistics from the Environmental Protection Department have indicated that the average daily disposal quantity of plastic bags in 2017 rose to 793 metric tons, just short of the 867 ton level recorded in 2008, a year before the levy scheme was introduced.

Furthermore, a recent survey showed that in supermarket chains, around 90% of vegetables and fruit are packaged in plastic, sometimes using multiple materials. This packaging problem has been made all the worse by the rise in popularity of online shopping.

In 2018, Hong Kongers sent an average of 1.53kgs per person of solid waste to landfills every day. The city sent a total of 5.87 million tonnes of solid waste to local landfills in 2018. Just 30% of solid waste was recycled in the city in 2018, which is made all the more concerning due to the fact that recycling facilities in the city are very basic, sorted by hand.

There are continuous calls from environmentalists and consumers alike that the government should adopt tougher and more pro-active measures to regulate the use of plastic packaging. Additionally, recycling facilities in the city need to be bolstered.

In 2017, it was estimated that Hong Kong threw away 5.2 million bottles every day. According to Patrick Yeung Chung-wing, a project manager for ocean conservation at WWF Hong Kong, about 80% of the city’s marine litter is plastic, especially disposable products such as plastic bottles, plastic bags and packaging material. 

Similarly, Singapore is battling to combat waste that is sent to landfills, however, it is making positive steps through public education.

Last year, the Republic sent almost three million tonnes of trash to its only landfill on Semakau Island- almost 30% of that was plastic waste, followed by food waste at 20%, and paper and cardboard waste at 19%.

While there was a 6% reduction in the total amount of waste generated last year compared with 2018, overall recycling rates to 59% from 61% in 2018, which could have been influenced by China’s ban on foreign plastic waste ; the Republic’s National Environment Agency (NEA) says that 34% of Singapore’s recyclables are exported, so ‘the status of the external market and policy of other countries towards recyclables would have a significant impact on our recycling rate’. 

Last year, the government outlined its first Zero Waste Masterplan to reduce the amount of waste sent to its landfill by 30% by 2030, put in place to extend the landfill’s lifespan beyond the projected 2035.

While these cities in Asia are no doubt making efforts to tackle and reduce the plastic waste crisis plaguing them, it is essential that these policies and efforts are correctly regulated to avoid them making no significant gains or even collapsing. Without effective intervention by both states and citizens, the planet will continue to be inundated with plastic waste, which will have disastrous consequences for the health of the planet and those who inhabit it. 

Featured image by: Thibaud Saintin

This piece was written with Ariella Simke.

Singapore’s National Environment Agency (NEA) has released its 2019 Waste Statistics and Overall Recycling report, which reveals that last year, Singapore sent almost three million tonnes of waste to its only landfill on Semakau Island.

Singapore Waste Statistics 2019

The report, released annually, outlines the waste generated, recycled and disposed of in Singapore last year, categorised by different waste streams. About 30% of this waste was plastic waste- the top material sent to be incinerated on Pulau Semakau, while 20% was food waste and cardboard and paper waste made up 19%.

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While there was a 6% reduction in the total amount of waste generated in Singapore in 2019 compared with 2018, overall recycling rates fell to 59% from 61% in 2018; domestic recycling rates decreased to 17% last year from 22% in 2018, while non-domestic recycling rates fell to 73% from 75% in the same period.

The NEA says that this drop in the overall recycling rate is largely due to the recycling rate of paper, which fell from 56% in 2018 to 44% last year. It adds that the market for recycled paper was affected by dwindling export markets. Singapore exports 34% of its recyclables.

Since 2018, China has banned waste imports, including plastics, paper products and textiles, from foreign countries, which according to local environmental group Zero Waste SG, may have resulted in an excess supply of recyclable materials across countries and a drop in the prices. 

The amount of plastic waste generated decreased by 2% to 930 000 tonnes last year from 950 000 tonnes in 2018, while recycling rates remained at 4% for both years.

Regarding food waste, Singapore saw a decrease in food waste generation of 2.5% in 2019 compared with 2018, while recycling rates saw an increase to 18% last year from 17% in 2018.

Social enterprise TreeDots says that the key reason behind the generation of most food waste in Singapore is consumers’ perception. It says that many businesses and households ‘are still caught up in their so-called knowledge of freshness, or what a product should look like’.

It says, “Given that consumers’ perspective is as such, businesses will be forced to follow through as well. This results in a huge percentage of them throwing away perfectly good food deemed undesirable in the public’s eyes.”

Zero Waste Singapore: A Solution?

In 2019, the government announced its Zero Waste Masterplan to reduce the amount of waste sent to Semakau Landfill by 30% by 2030. The plan tackles the packaging, food and electronic waste crisis in Singapore, and was implemented to extend the landfill’s lifespan beyond the projected 2035. The Republic is also aiming to hit a national recycling rate of 70%, a domestic recycling rate of 30% and a non-domestic recycling rate of 81%.

Featured image by: Alan Levine

A new study predicts that three quarters of the world’s major cities will experience dramatic climate shifts in their weather by 2050.


Environmental Predictions 2050

New York, San Francisco, and Washington will face unprecedented weather, while London will suffer from extreme drought by 2050, a recent study that analysed the impacts of climate change on the world’s major cities predicts. The effects of global heating will be so severe that the cities in temperate or cold zones in the northern hemisphere will be as hot as cities that are 1 000 km closer to the equator.

The research paper published in the peer-reviewed science journal PLOS ONE states that summers and winters in Europe will get considerably warmer by 2050, with average increases of 3.5C and 4.7C, respectively, compared with 2000. Water shortages will affect scores of cities in Europe as a result of the heating. The climate in London will look more like the climate in Barcelona, which suffered a major drought in 2018 resulting in millions of euros being spent on importing drinking water. Madrid will feel like Moroccan city Marrakech, Stockholm like Budapest, and Moscow like Bulgarian capital city Sofia.

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“New York City winters will be as warm as winters in Virginia Beach and wet Seattle will be as dry as San Francisco,” says the paper. “Washington D.C. will be more like today’s Nashville but with even greater variation in temperatures and precipitation.”

The residents of about a fifth of cities globally–including Jakarta, Singapore, Yangon, and Kuala Lumpur–will experience conditions currently not seen in any major cities in the world.  Rainfall will be a particular problem for such cities, with extreme flooding becoming more common alongside more frequent and severe droughts.

a) Cities in red – predicted to experience novel climate conditions. Cities in green – predicted to experience climate conditions similar to those of another major city. Size of dots represents size of change. b) The proportion of cities shifting away from the covered climate domain. c) and d) Extent of latitudinal shifts in relation to the equatorial line. Cities in blue – shifting towards the equator. Cities in yellow to red – shifting away from the equator. © 2019 Bastin et al./PLOS ONE

The researchers used state-of-the-art climate model projections of existing data. Analysing city pairs for 520 major cities in the world, they produced insights that are more meaningful to the common public. For instance, their interactive map shows different cities and their 2050 counterparts regarding weather patterns.

Cities’ Contribution to Climate Change

Cities are key contributors to climate change with urban activities causing the majority of greenhouse gas emissions. Estimates suggest that cities are responsible for 75% of global CO2 emissions, with transport and buildings being among the largest contributors.

Meanwhile, climate change is already impacting urban life across the world. With exceptional heatwaves striking across Europe last month, new temperature records were set in many cities in Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany as the mercury went above 40C. A new UK heat record was set with 38.7C in Cambridge.

In the US, millions of people were affected as the temperature soared in New York, Boston, Atlanta, and many cities in the Midwest. Millions in India also suffered as heatwaves and water shortages became severe in cities like Mumbai and Chennai. In Japan, more than 5,000 people from various urban centers sought treatment due to a heatwave in July.

Climate change will have costly impacts on cities’ basic services, infrastructure, housing, and health. It is essential, therefore, to make cities an integral part of the solution in fighting climate change by building more renewable energy infrastructures and introducing cleaner production techniques, and regulations or incentives to limit industrial emissions.


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