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Semakau Landfill: Not Just A ‘Rubbish Island’

November 23, 2015

The mention of the word ‘landfill’ tends to conjure images of rubbish heaps strewn all over marginal land, breeding with organisms that produce pungent odours as they break down material. So when a group of 14 year old students from Balestier Hill Secondary School were invited for a visit to the Semakau Landfill, they were in for a surprise.

I initially thought that Semakau Landfill would be covered in ashes. I thought it would look dull, black and smell horrible. My visit to Semakau has indeed changed my impression because it looks like a resort. I am surprised to see so much greenery in a landfill. Various activities like the breeding of sea bass and low-tide walks do not make it look like a landfill.

– Zaafirah

No trash? No smell? What?

Semakau Landfill. Source: National Environment Agency

The Semakau Landfill is the world’s first offshore landfill located about 8km south of Singapore. The landfill was created by constructing a 7km perimeter rock bund to enclose part of the sea off Pulau Sakeng and Pulau Semakau.

Source: Qianlynthesis

During Phase 1, the landfill area is partitioned into 11 cells that are filled with incinerated and non-incinerated waste. Once the cells are full, topsoil would be poured over the cell to support the growth of an ecosystem of plants and migratory birds. Phase 2 is presently untouched, and was built to anticipate that all the cells in Phase 1 will be filled by 2016.

Source: Wild Singapore

Contrary to the negative perception of landfills, most of the Semakau Landfill offers a pleasing environment that is open to visitors for recreational activities like intertidal walks, sport fishing, bird watching and stargazing.

Unfortunately, if current consumption trends continue, it is estimated that even Phase 2 will be full by 2045. When students were asked whether it is possible for Singapore to manage its waste without landfills in future, 22 of 34 students were not that hopeful. Concerns like the increase in population and land constraints surfaced.

No, although Singapore is a very small country, we may still need landfills in future. This is because as Singapore’s population increases, consumption increases too. Hence, more waste will be generated and it will be even more difficult to manage waste without landfills.  

– Yik Bing

Source: National Environment Agency

Other students were a bit more optimistic, citing advances in technology and changing environmental habits, which may improve the efficiency of waste management or decrease the amount of waste generated.

“Given that technology is rapidly advancing, Singapore may be able to manage its waste in future, just not anytime soon.”

– Mendel

“It is possible for Singapore to manage its waste then as long as we keep recycling, making clever use of everything that we are about to dispose of. We should constantly follow the 3Rs: recycle, reuse and reduce.”

– Karah

Some students went a step further to suggest creative ways of encouraging the public to reduce, reuse and recycle. Kim, Ruby and Angelica shared similar thoughts in installing recycling vending machines which distribute coupons, daily necessities or recyclable ornaments when people deposit recyclables. Netraa explained that monetary or material incentive may be the most effective way in motivating Singaporeans to better manage their waste.

Source: Canadian Vending

This idea has already been on trial in countries like Scotland, and can perhaps be tested in Singapore. A few students also saw the importance in organising more public visits to Semakau Landfill so that Singaporeans are more aware of our waste management issues.

Source: Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources

The Semakau Landfill learning journey was eye-opening to most students. As students learnt about Singapore’s waste issues through an informational presentation and a guided bus tour, they reflected on the value of recycling and made recommendations on waste management in hope for a better environment.

“The whole island is really beautiful. No one would ever imagine that it is a rubbish island. It was really unforgettable to learn that Singapore used to be a kampong with rubbish thrown carelessly on the streets. Comparing the past and the present, it seems incredible that now, we are able to create the world’s first man-made offshore landfill with our very own resources. Visiting the landfill makes me reflect on the amount of rubbish that Singaporeans throw away each day, and makes me want to change for the better.”

– Chloe

Visit this site for more information on learning journeys to the Semakau Landfill.

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