Previously, I never thought about discussing anything on Singapore’s waste disposal system on Green Kampong. My assumption then was that most of this stuff is common knowledge. That was until I told a friend I was going to Pulau Semakau and received a blank look and a sheepish “Umm… where’s that?” reply. I tried my luck with other friends and received more reassuring answers like “Oh that’s where our rubbish goes, right?” but also got thrown off by comments of “Why on earth would you want to visit a stinky rubbish dump?!”
If you had thought about our landfill along similar lines before, be surprised. Pulau Semakau, the place where our rubbish ends up in was called an “island paradise” by a CNN journalist, Francesca de Châtel and recently, a “haven of biodiversity” by Straits Times’ Cheong Poh Kwan. Ok, maybe the descriptions are a bit too lyrical for your taste. Nevertheless, this one of our Southern Islands is still worth a visit, if only just to clear up certain misconceptions.
Let’s be sparing on the facts and figures about P. Semakau landfill here, because there’s actually a one-stop place where you can read your fill. To know more about the history, nature, guided programs, you name it, check out WildSingapore. Just to give a really brief summary, P. Semakau is our only working landfill currently. The landfill, which was designed to be sanitary, takes up 3.5 km2 and was formed by enclosing part of the sea between the original Pulau Semaku and Pulau Sakeng. The normal domestic waste gets incinerated first before it is sent there. So most of what ends up in the lagoons is ash. As such, P. Semakau really looks more like a park – odorless, with a sea view, embellished with replanted mangroves and rest shelters.
What goes on in this “island paradise” – other than filling the landfill, of course? First, it’s not quite the Hawaii beach resort if you’re getting your hopes high. And paradise is not easily accessible. You need to join activities organized by designated groups. The assortment of activities ranges from intertidal walks, bird watching to stargazing expeditions.
There are also opportunities to give back to where you have “trashed”. In October this year, Singapore Navy’s Naval Diving Unit sent a team of 96 (likely with many big, strong men?!) to pick up trash from Semakau’s northern shores under a CSR effort called Project Eco Frog. It was an impressive trash collecting operation judging from the photos – I mean, check out their mode of transport!
Also, if Singapore government’s vision comes true, the island is going to be a test bed for renewable energy technologies and a place for ‘green’ recreational and educational activities. Eventually, it may even meet its own water and energy needs. Certainly a worthy aspiration to have and definitely something exciting to look forward to!
Wait a minute…
Let’s take a step back… a big step right back to the basics.
We are in the season to be jolly and really, having a sanitary landfill is something worth rejoicing. There are many places where waste is not pre-treated, where instability can lead to collapse in the rubbish pile, where leachate may flow into the water systems and communities, including children, live near the rubbish and depend on it for a living. Payatas Dumpsite in Quezon City, nicknamed Smokey Mountains for the fumes, is one example of a waste disposal facility, worlds apart from P. Semakau.
While we count our blessings, we definitely should keep the knowledge that P. Semakau’s capacity is limited at the back of our minds. Where will we turn to after that? A second “island paradise”? What’s the economical and environmental cost we will have to pay? Besides, incinerating waste as we do still produces air emissions. So, do consider practicing the 3Rs (reduce, reuse & recycle) more in your lives and make this island paradise last!