On Sunday, I visited Pulau Semakau together with the Repair Kopitiam coaches. It was my second time to the landfill island. My previous visit was during a Secondary 3 learning journey. Back then, I found it uninteresting and could not appreciate the pertinent issues surrounding waste management. Fast forward, a Pulau Semakau visit was indeed timely and relevant to me since I am currently heavily involved in two volunteer groups, Repair Kopitiam and FiTree, whose work focuses on the environment and sustainability.
The Pulau Semakau tour consisted of an indoor presentation and an outdoor drive along one part of the 7 km route. Although the outdoor drive around the island was pleasant, what struck me the most was something I learnt during the indoor presentation. Our tour guide showed us a rough process flow of waste management in Singapore. Generally, it goes like this:
Collection of waste -> Burning of waste in the incineration plants -> Ashes sent to Tuas Marine Transfer Station -> Semakau Landfill
The carbon footprint merely from the transport of waste boggled my mind. I forgot to ask whether this process occurred on a daily basis.
Semakau Landfill was the tail end of this entire waste management process. By this end, our waste looks like brown, freshly dug dirt. As such, everything looks comparatively neat and easily managed compared to the smelly, disgusting trash we see all mixed up in the big bins or passing garbage trucks on the mainland. For a waste landfill, Semakau was a picturesque oasis.
The 350ha island (Sentosa is 500ha) also serves as a wildlife oasis for certain species of animals. Along our tour, we were treated to views of monitor lizards, egrets, and other species of birds I could not identify. The mangrove seemed to be thriving and our tour guide mentioned that members of public could go for an intertidal walk. One of the wet cells serves as a stopping point for migratory birds. According to the tour guide, NEA is still considering whether or not to fill this particular cell or leave it for the birds.
The pertinent issue of the day was obviously waste management. The operation of Semakau has been divided into Phase 1 and Phase 2. The former is full to the brim and covered and we are in the midst of Phase 2, which is basically filling up the big cell you see in the picture below.
It was projected that this will last till around 2045. Now the question, what happens after that? Apparently, there are plans to develop another island landfill. Though Semakau seemed like an exemplary landfill, it does not mean that the solution should be to replicate Semakau. The amount spent on its construction could be channeled towards other more necessary things that are beyond human control.
However, for waste? Yeah, I think we are capable of changing our habits and patterns of consumption to reduce waste thereby either decreasing or completely eliminating the need for such an elaborate waste management system. Another way to tackle the problem is buying items, which can last a lifetime. Buymeonce is a brilliant website which promotes products that “don’t break the bank, don’t break the planet… that don’t break at all!”. They also challenge manufacturers to “break their habits and build stuff that really lasts – we know they can”. All the stuff on the site are built to last and certified by the founder. Users can view, review and even purchase the item. Waste starts with us but it seems to end in an offshore landfill. Out of sight, out of mind, as my tour guide had said.
Progress back then meant not seeing trash pool up in the storm drains or pile up at the corner of the back alley because they’ve been collected and carried somewhere far away. Progress now should mean not generating any waste AT ALL or as much as we can.
Here is where the Sunnah comes in. Our beloved Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, and the Righteous Companions, lived in the Arabian desert where resources were scarce or limited. They lived simply and within their means. Consumption and consumerism beyond what was necessary was virtually non-existent as our Prophet pbuh and the believers were occupied with worship, in the form of doing deeds pleasing to Allah s.w.t.
So, what can we do in our context, right here, right now? Why, we can go for a FiTreeWalk or have a lively discussion at a FiTreeCircle event! There are also tons of books to be read to increase our knowledge. We can exercise to keep healthy and fit because that is an amanah, a trust, to ourselves. We can volunteer our time for a worthy cause or charity. Every piece of waste or trash in the landfills is a squandered reward and blessing.
Reflections from Liyana & Sufyan