Plastic is a wonder material; it is light, strong enough for a huge variety of applications, easily processable and low on cost. On the flip side, it poses a huge problem after disposal as it is extremely slow to any kind of degradation after use. Around the world, one plastic bag is being used for 12 minutes on average before being discarded. According to an article by the Guardian, if nothing is done about this plastic menace, there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050.
Singapore’s Plastic Menace
While Singapore may be known for her impeccable cleanliness, she may soon have to come up with a solution to avert the impending plastic pollution crisis. The landfills on Semakau Island was supposed to meet Singapore’s dumping needs till 2045, but the rapid increase in the use of disposable products mean that the landfill may be full a decade earlier (Reuters, 2018). According to a study conducted by the Singapore Environment Council (SEC), Singaporeans take 820 million plastic bags from supermarkets each year. So far, the government has not adopted any bans or levied charges on the usage of plastic or disclosed any plans to replace the Semakau Landfill. These alarming statistics highlight the need for Singapore to take effective steps against this growing issue before it gets out of hand.
While plastic is widely used in Singapore, more awareness on recycling plastics is still needed. A survey found that about 70% of the people in Singapore do not know about the type of plastics that can be recycled, resulting in disposal of plastic as general waste instead of it being recycled (Todayonline, 2018). Apart from the low awareness about recycling, studies have shown that the recycling industry also faces challenges like a lack of labour force, low demand for recycled products and low investment in the sector. The issue of wastage was discussed in parliament in October 2018 when the government concluded that imposing a ban or charge on the use of plastic and substituting them with other types of disposable bags is unlikely to improve the current situation.
India has recently started battling the fight against plastic pollution as well. This is partly due to its lack of enforcement against littering at open spaces and uncontrolled dumping in landfills. On a daily basis, India generates 33.1 million pounds of plastic waste, out of which only 19.8 million pounds is collected and recycled, while the rest is disposed of in the open (Huffington post, 2018). In recent years, the Indian Government tried to curb this issue by addressing the primary source of littering - plastic littering. In 2016, the government came up with the Plastic Waste Management (PWM) Rules, stipulating the obligations of manufacturers of plastic packaging, its users - marketers and brand owning Fast-Moving Consumer Goods companies - and waste generating institutions like airports, schools, hospitals, and municipalities over safe disposal of plastic.
Coming from a country like India, where pollution is a pertinent problem, I could see a stark difference in the sanitation and cleanliness levels of Singapore and India. The major source of plastic pollution in India is littering, while Singapore has successfully dealt with issues of cleanliness and sanitation, making it one of the cleanest countries in the world. Yet, Singapore faces the issue of recycling and disposal of plastic.
Over the past few years, efforts have been directed towards bringing about changes in the usage of plastic in Singapore. In an attempt to curb the plastic nuisance, the SEC announced a new campaign to reduce plastic bags themed ‘Two is Enough’, which encourages consumers to take only two plastic bags while shopping. An analysis done on data by the National Environment Agency (NEA) shows that plastic waste per capita has increased by nearly 20% in the last 15 years (Reuters, 2018). The NEA has been taking initiatives to increase the number of recycling bins across Singapore, increase recycling rates and reduce the source of wastage by launching awareness campaigns. As the issue of plastic pollution is still at an early stage, Singapore can take effective measures to ensure that this problem is dealt with promptly as well before drastic measures have to be taken, which was the case in India.
Plastic remains a promising material, but despite its wonderous qualities allowing its varied usage, it poses a challenge when it comes to its disposal. There has been progress in developing bio-degradable plastic but there is evidence that it can still be harmful to the environment. Hopefully we will have eco-friendly and commercially-sound solutions regarding the disposal of used plastics soon so that we can continue to enjoy the benefits that it otherwise offers.