Friday 24 October 2014

Rising tide of litter on S'pore's shorelines

One group nets 14,400kg worth so far this year
By Feng Zengkun, Environment Correspondent, The Straits Times, 23 Oct 2014

A SINGLE environmental programme's volunteers have picked up 14,440kg of trash from the shores of Singapore and Pulau Ubin since the start of the year. The haul by volunteers of the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore (ICCS) is just 8kg shy of the rubbish they cleaned up from the coasts for the whole of last year.

This is despite fewer volunteers and shorter distances canvassed so far this year, going by ICCS statistics. The figures also seem to show that the littering has become worse over the past decade, with the average weight of rubbish collected per volunteer rising from 3.1kg in 2002 to 4.2kg last year.

The average weight of trash picked up per metre of coastline is even more stark, tripling from 0.25kg to 0.74kg in the same period.

Environmentalists said the efforts of groups such as the ICCS and Nature Society have pushed back the tides of rubbish, but more can be done.

Mr Eugene Tay, who recently won the National Environment Agency's (NEA) EcoFriend award, said the waste's sources are still unclear. "I think the NEA should study the sources, such as whether fish farms are dumping the rubbish, and how much of it comes from beachgoers and Singaporeans littering into drains and canals going into the sea," said the founder and director of Green Future Solutions consultancy firm.

Temporary booms placed in some of the island's waterways to intercept floating waste going out to sea could indicate how much of the unsightly coastal trash is coming from inland, he suggested.

Mr Tay said the NEA could also collect data from the clean-up work of government agencies and green groups here.

Ms Ria Tan, who runs the WildSingapore website, said she has seen fish meal bags, tarpaulins, netting and blue drums like those used on farms here. "Some may claim that the trash could have come from Malaysia, but the Singapore farms far outnumber nearby Malaysian farms and are closer to where the trash has washed up," she said.

Large bulky items such as coffee tables, televisions, refrigerators and even sofas dumped on Pulau Ubin shores not accessible from inland may also be the work of errant local farmers, she said.

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) has said that it has told fish farmers loose items and structures on their farms that could fall into the sea would be marked for traceability.

While there are centralised trash collection points for coastal farmers here, Ms Tan said the authorities should provide daily door-to-door waste collection for them.

AVA found in October last year, when there were 60 licensed fish farms in the east, that each farmer would have to pay $160 per month for weekly door-to-door collection. The Government said at the time the cost was too high for the farms.

AVA carries out quarterly checks to see if farms dispose of waste properly, and ad-hoc night raids to deter them from towing trash to shore illegally.

Mr Philip Lim, chairman of Singapore Marine Aquaculture Cooperative, said fish farmers here would not pollute the waters that provide their livelihoods.

But he added that very strong monsoon winds, waves generated by passing vessels and irresponsible employees left to man the farms alone could have resulted in some trash tumbling into the sea.

Green Future Solutions' Mr Tay said cleaners' work at the beaches means people often do not see the problem.

But as WildSingapore's Ms Tan added: "The trash hurts the environment, marine life and even Singaporean taxpayers whose money has to go towards cleaning up the mess."

Fish farmers not keen on waste collection services
By Siau Ming En, TODAY, 27 Oct 2014

As the island’s shores continue to be plagued by coastal trash, some environmentalists have singled out offshore fish farms as one of the culprits, with nature enthusiast Ria Tan, who runs the website WildSingapore, suggesting daily waste collection services for the farms.

However, fish farmers whom TODAY spoke to were lukewarm about the idea, pointing out that they would incur additional cost. Pointing a finger further north to farms along the Malaysian coastline, the Singapore farmers said they had been disposing of their trash properly.

Currently, the Republic’s fish farmers along the western Johor Straits can dispose of their rubbish at waste collection points at Lim Chu Kang jetty, while those along the eastern Johor Straits can do so at the waste collection centre at the new Lorong Halus jetty, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) said.


In October last year, the AVA had explored the option of weekly waste collection services for fish farmers along the eastern Johor Straits and estimated that the farmers would have to pay S$160 a month for the services.

In response to queries, an AVA spokesperson said the authority was mindful that such services would increase operational costs for farmers. “Nonetheless, the AVA will continue to consult farmers on the current waste disposal arrangements and need for door-to-door waste collection services on a regular basis,” the spokesperson said.

Ms Tan has written on her website about items – blue drums, green netting, tyres and sofas, among other things – that she has found on Pulau Ubin, which seemed to have come from the fish farms opposite the island. “Yes, there are many sources of marine trash, but ... that does not mean we should not provide trash collection services for businesses that are licensed by the government and supported by tax funds,” she told TODAY.

She questioned why farmers were not provided daily door-to-door trash collection services like households, businesses and ships docked at ports.

But fish farmers here are not keen on paying for such services. On Ms Tan’s suggestion, Mr Phillip Lim, former chairman of the now-defunct Singapore Marine Aquaculture Cooperative, said: “Unless it’s free of charge ... otherwise if you want to charge us, it’s an (added) burden to the farmer.”


Farmers also noted that at times, waves created by high-speed vessels could cause bulky items such as blue drums and pieces of wood to be washed away from the farms. “They think it’s trash, (but) these are our expenditure too,” said Mr Lim, who noted that each blue drum could cost up to S$20.

“Normally, our waste, we would carry to the shore and throw into the National Parks Board rubbish (bins). There’s no issue … we are educated, responsible people,” he added.

Most of the farmers whom TODAY spoke to said they dispose of their waste in these bins between every two days and once a week.

Mr Teh Aik Hua, who owns two fish farms in Sembawang and Pasir Ris, said a lot of the trash came from Malaysia, including items such as sofas, palm oil and plastic bags. Agreeing, Mr Joseph Wee, owner of Blue Marine Fish Farm off Changi Point, nevertheless suggested that the authorities encourage fish farmers to recycle or reuse their trash. For example, they could place unwanted tyres on the seabed to create artificial reefs.

Mr N Sivasothi, lead coordinator of International Coastal Cleanup, Singapore, noted that while it was difficult to determine the proportion of trash that Singapore fish farms contribute, some of the litter found on the southern coastlines of Pulau Ubin, in particular, can be traced to the fish farms opposite. Not much trash from the Johor farms will end up there because of the geography of the island. “We cannot escape (from the fact) that the Singapore farms (along the eastern Johor Straits) definitely have a significant contribution to the trash,” he said.

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