Reduce, reuse, and recycle. These three “R’s” have made an imprint in us since we have learned our ABC’s and 123’s. We have been taught both in school and at home that effective waste management through these three R’s will help in preserving our environment and preventing pollution in all its forms.
Singapore has recently opened to the world a new (and, I must say, a very brilliant) way to make effective use of the things we thought were of no longer use to us. For decades, Singapore has been incinerating its waste. The city state has hardly any place left to dump the ash that’s left behind, but a place had to be found. Since there are no more room left, the planners looked at the sea and eventually built an island made out of trash, a garbage island called Semakau. Visitors of this unique eco-tourism attraction in the Strait of Singapore are greeted by the smell of the salty tang of the sea and not of that usual stink trash as you could imagine. This 350-hectare, or 865 acre, island comprising two natural islets connected by a rock embankment can hold 63 million cubic meters, or 81.9 million cubic yards of rubbish, enough to accommodate Singapore’s landfill needs until 2045. If you know your numbers, you could just imagine how vast this island can be, considering the fact that it’s made of trash. Every day, more than 2,000 tons of waste, including construction debris and ash from incineration plants are dumped onto the island.
This island also has its own flora and fauna. Thanks to the work of scientists, planners and environmentalists, 55 species of birds including the endangered great-billed heron is surviving on the island. There were also discoveries about what’s inside the waters enclosing Semakau including a vast meadow of rare tape seagrass, giant barramundi cod and even reported sightings of black-tipped sharks. “Semakau’s marine life is amazingly rich. Some parts of it are so rare that it can no longer be found elsewhere in Singapore”, Ria Tan, who owns a popular nature website of Wild Singapore said.
“The basic premise of our operations was creating an island from the sea, by dumping waste,” said the landfill’s operations manager, Loo Eng Por, who has been working on the island since it began operations in 1999. This idea of having a tourist attraction made from garbage was headed by Minister of Environment and Water Resources Yacoob Ibrahim. “This is a way for Singapore to show the world that as a nation this is a very responsible way to manage our waste and manage our environment and it may not be a lose-lose situation,” Ibrahim said.
The island has been regarded by most people as one of the most relaxing place, away from the city lights and its busy streets. With its rich wildlife and welcoming atmosphere, the last thing that will ever cross their minds is that they are standing on an island made out of rubbish.
This poses a challenge for us, Filipinos. Global warming is already in our doorstep and it’s up to us if we just let it come in. In one way or another, Singapore’s garbage island has shown to the world that refuse and conservation can co-exist. It’s not too late, but it’s not too early to take up an action either. Our environment needs caring and we are supposed to be its caretakers. Guess what? We still are. So, wake up and get ready! There is a lot of protecting to do.