Waste management is a critical problem in our lives nowadays. With the everyday increasing population of the world, the consumption of goods and services has risen significantly and thus promoted a relative rise in production. All this increased use of products at the end turns into a ‘simple’ garbage dump. But where does that ‘dump’ goes? What happens to billions of tons of garbage that we produce on a daily basis? It depends. It can be dumped into the sea to further decrease the quality of the environment, or it can be managed well with systematic applications and be destroyed or reused with the smallest harm to the environment. The second way is what Singapore preferred, and hopefully, it will motivate each of the other 194 countries in the world to do as well.
With its growing population, the amount of waste produced in Singapore has increased significantly, especially after 1970. To fight off the presumable pollution problem before it occurs, Singapore’s National Environment Agency established the first-ever ecological offshore landfill called the Semakau Landfill in 1999. With the help of engineers and environmentalists, the landfill is designed to hold up to 15 million cubic metres of trash.
The landfill is located 8 kilometres south of Singapore and was created by joining two small islands called Pulau Semakau and Pulau Sakeng with a 7 kilometres bund enclosing part of the sea in between. In order to ensure that the waste dumped into the landfill does not spread to the other parts of the sea, they have lined the bund with an impermeable membrane and a layer of marine clay. The system in the landfill is actually pretty complex, but when done properly within a systematic work division, the operation becomes easier.
The very first step actually starts at homes and businesses. The citizens of Singapore are really careful about their waste sorting and they always use the recycling bins appropriately so that the factories can prolong the lifespans of those recyclable materials. The rest of the waste which is said not to be recyclable is collected by the authorized organizations. The collected waste is transported to Tuas, Senoko, Tuas South or Keppel Seghers Tuas waste-to-energy plants to be mixed until homogeneous. As a second step, the homogeneous waste materials go through incineration, which is the combustion of substances contained in the waste materials. Incineration is preferred as it helps decrease the volume of waste. Some people might have questions in mind at this point because combustion produces carbon dioxide as a product and considering the extent of combustion in the incineration process it is, in normal conditions, worrisome for the environment. However, these waste-to-energy plants have special filtering systems which keep the flue gas produced inside the plant before it is released into the environment. Along with the management of flue gas, the high amounts of heat released when huge amounts of waste are combusted is used as a source of electricity for the country. This way even the littlest outcome is utilized and contributes to the sustainable purpose of the project.
From the incinerated waste some materials such as copper and aluminium are recovered for later use. The leftover ash and a few of the non-incinerable waste are transported to the Tuas Marine Transfer Station which then a tugboat takes the waste to the Semakau Landfill. In the landfill area, the waste is unloaded by dump trucks and carried to the Floating Platform.
Besides the idea of waste reusing, recycling, and sustainability, there are benefits already visible to the environment. One of them is through using dirt. Once the dumping areas are filled to the ground level, the organization covers those areas with a layer of earth. With sufficient water sources and several minerals coming from the waste ashes, grass and trees take root to form a green landscape. Furthermore, the clean environment the landfill creates attracts a lot of rare species of animals such as birds and marine mammals. In a world where the ecosystem is dying more and more every single minute, this brings the littlest ray of hope that we might be able to save it.
The overall system is set up and that’s why the process works well. By further research, they can even assess the technical and economic feasibility of extracting the landfilled materials and apply them elsewhere, which also would help the landfill area to be refreshed. However, nowadays, the landfill is filling up at an alarming rate. It was at first expected to be used until 2045, but now the experts are expecting it to see 2035 at the most chance. But still, the landfill system should definitely be considered by all the other countries which do have a chance to build such a system. Because although the lifespan is now less than primarily expected, it still holds billions of tonnes of waste and doesn’t even hurt the ecosystem. Instead, it makes up a whole new area for the country to carry out business or maybe someday even live on.
“Semakau Landfill.” National Environment Agency, http://www.nea.gov.sg/our-services/waste-management/3r-programmes-and-resources/waste-management-infrastructure/semakau-landfill.
Cesaro, Remi. “50 Years of Waste Management in Singapore – Landfills.” Zero Waste Consultant, 9 June 2020, zerowastecity.com/50-years-of-waste-management-in-singapore-landfills/.
Dharni, Aishwarya. “What Singapore Does With Its Garbage Is A Lesson For The World In How To Save The Planet.” ScoopWhoop, ScoopWhoop, 22 Sept. 2018, http://www.scoopwhoop.com/singapore-trash-island/.
Chong, Clara. “Turning Trash into Treasure: NEA to Reuse Landfill Material.” The Straits Times, 25 Sept. 2020, http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/turning-trash-into-treasure-nea-to-reuse-landfill-material.