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Mon 11 Apr 2005

IKEA will not distribute plastic bags on Earth Day weekend

Category : envt

"Take a bag when you go shopping - think green." The Straits Times, 11th April, 2005.

I REFER to the letters, 'Use degradable plastic bags' (The Sunday Times, March 27), 'Don't take more plastic bags than necessary' (The Straits Times, April 1), 'How to cut down on plastic bag wastage' and 'Unusual sight in Ukraine made me rethink bag usage' (April 5).

Ikea Singapore is excited to read of such a high level of environmental concern among Singaporeans.

At Ikea, we encourage the reuse of plastic bags and strongly believe that everybody's contribution, big or small, plays a part in making Singapore more eco-friendly.

In view of this, Ikea's Singapore store will commemorate the Earth Day weekend (April 22-24) by not giving out plastic bags with purchases.

Shoppers are encouraged to bring their own shopping bags instead.

We encourage Singaporeans to make it a habit to take a bag wherever they go shopping, be it at the Ikea store or any other store.

We appeal to our customers' understanding in our effort to conserve our environment.

Angeline Tan (Ms)
Gang Green (Environmental Committee)
Ikea Singapore

IKEA and their amusingly named Gang Green team is to be applauded! In 2002, retailers launched an effort to reduce plastic bag consumption in supermarkets - see "Singapore Retailers Go Green. 11 stores join campaign to use fewer plastic bags." Joint NEA-SRA-SEC Press Release, 29 Nov 2002.

"Today Singapore has more than 400 large retailers, and about 17,000 small and medium-sized stores. Each year, it is estimated that retailers hand out several hundred millions of plastic shopping bags to their customers." [This works out to at least a million plastic bags a day!]

"While the disposal of plastic bags in Singapore is not a problem as they can be easily and safely incinerated, and energy is recovered from incineration, the unnecessary wastage of plastic bags is a concern. If each family in Singapore were to use one less plastic bag a week, we can save some 40 million bags a year."

The 13th International Coastal Cleanup Singapore last year published its 2004 results and reported that 2,202 volunteers, in 90 minutes, collected 12,002 bags, 11,598 food wrappers and containers, 8,824 straws and 7,493 beverage bottles (<2 litres) off Singapore's shores. The only item in a similar range was 12,117 cigarettes and cigarette filters.

And plastic accounts for up to three-quarters of all items collected.

We have a long way to go but is there any short-term good news?

"The good news is that the amount of waste we are incinerating is declining, from 2.31 million tonnes in 2003 to 2.26 million tonnes last year. The overall recycling rate is up. It now stands at 48% up from 40% in 2000. We are seeing greater participation:
  • from schools (up from 30% in 2003 to 50% in 2004),
  • households (up from 45% in 2003 to 54% in 2004) and
  • condominiums (up from 20% in 2003 to 34% in Jan 2005)."

- Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, Minster for the Environment and water resources, 08 Mar 2005.

From Clean Card 2005: In 2000-2004 we disposed of 11% less waste (cf. 1970-2000) and recycling rates went up from 40% to 48%. This has extended the lifespan of the landfill at Pulau Semakau has been extended by another 10 years.

In order to build this landfill, where the ashes of our trash are buried, we lost a rare island kampung on Pulau Sakeng, its rare Xylocarpus granatum (Nyireh bunga) mangrove, the endangered Dolichandrone spathacea (Tui) mangrove, and a large area of mature mangroves on Pulau Semakau. The unique instance of compensatory replanting of mangroves in the north and south of the island provided some comfort, though.

The more that individuals, schools, industry, private and the civil sector reduce consumption, demand greener products, dispose of trash properly and practise recycling, the longer we will extend the life of the existing landfill, defer and reduce the needless damage to and destruction of our natural habitats.

This is a simple way we can contribute.

Posted at 2:43PM UTC by N. Sivasothi | permalink | email |

Mon 11 Apr 2005

"Singapore finds it hard to expand without sand"

Category : news

"Singapore finds it hard to expand without sand." By Koh Gui Qing. Reuters, 11th April 2005. [Links added].

SINGAPORE, April 11 (Reuters) - Few islands have ballooned in size like Singapore, whose original beaches, dunes and mangroves have disappeared under the pavement of its expanding metropolis.

Over the last four decades, Singapore's borders have swollen by nearly 20 percent with a relentless series of land reclamation projects.

"It is definitely one of the fastest-growing islands in the world," said Ng Cho Nam, an associate professor of geography at the University of Hong Kong.

But the wealthy Southeast Asian island may finally be nearing its peak size, say environmental experts and political scientists.

Neighbouring Indonesia stopped selling the sand Singapore needs to keep growing two years ago, fearing damage to its environment from constant sand mining, and concerned that Singapore was redrawing its maritime boundaries as its shoreline bulges.

There is no sign of an end to the impasse though diplomatic relations are improving.

The ambitions of Singapore and its 4.2 million, predominantly ethnic Chinese people, have often seem oversized for a small island of 699 sq km (270 sq miles) -- about half the size of metropolitan Houston, with double the population.

"Generally, there is a widespread understanding that land reclamation is a rescue formula for small states everywhere," said assistant professor Alan Chong from the political science department at the National University of Singapore.

"It is the conventional notion that the territory and size of a country correlates with its material prosperity."

Without sand from its main supplier, two reclamation projects aiming to create 49 square km (19 sq miles) of new land have stalled since 2003, dealing a setback to Singapore's ambitions to expand its coast by another 14 percent over the next 50 years.


For Singapore, Asia's third-wealthiest society after Japan and Hong Kong, hitting its physical limit stings with symbolism, as its population ages rapidly and competition heats up from the emerging, fast-growing markets of China and India for investment.

But environmentalists are celebrating, saying decades of land reclamation has devastated shallow marine life and birds that sought refuge in the fragile ecosystems consisting of inlets, mangroves and shoals that once ringed Singapore.

"When you reclaim land, you destroy things permanently," said Margie Hall, who is trying to protect one of Singapore's last natural beaches, the Sembawang, on the northern tip of the island from a planned land reclamation project in the area.

Hall has set up a website to "provide quiet feedback" to the government.

Reclaimed land is created by dumping sand into bodies of water or low-lying swamps and then levelling it off and building a wall around the new shoreline to prevent erosion.

The sand -- preferred over clay or rocks because it settles better -- is harvested from hills or dredged from the sea.

In the 1960s, Singapore gorged its tiny hills and ridges to reclaim land. The island is virtually flat today, forcing the government to buy sand from Malaysia and Indonesia at between S$7 ($4) and S$10 ($6) a cubic metre, civil engineers say.

The lucrative trade stalled in February 2003 when Indonesia, whose archipelago supplied 80 percent of Singapore's sand, stopped selling. Concerns included Singapore's ever-expanding territory, the price of sand and the environmental damage.

"When you take sand, islands, especially the smaller islands, lose their ability to resist erosion from waves. This can make the small islands disappear," Nur Hidayati, campaign coordinator for the Indonesian Forum for Environment [Friends of the Earth Indonesia] said.

Northern neighbour Malaysia took Singapore to the Hamburg-based International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in September 2003, accusing the island of dredging in the Johor Strait between the two countries without consulting Malaysia.

Malaysia said Singapore's northern reclamation projects have hurt marine life and affected shipping in the Johor Strait. The 18-month dispute cooled in January when the two acknowledged the strait as "a shared water body".


Under a Concept Plan 2001, Singapore wants to add another 99 sq km (38 sq miles) over the next five decades. Civil engineers say that would be costly and require massive amounts of sand.

When reclamantion works began in earnest in the 1960s, the depth off Singapore's shore was about 5 metres (16 ft). That has sunk to about 20 metres (65 ft), requiring four times as much sand -- and four times more money -- to fill every square metre.

For a sense of scale, and cost, take Singapore's Changi Airport. Its 20 sq km (7.7 sq mile) of reclaimed land required 272 million cubic metres (9.6 billion cubic ft) of sand, said a civil engineering professor at a local university.

The sand alone would have cost at least S$1.9 billion.

For now, Singapore may refocus on its own undeveloped land. About 41 percent of the island is either undeveloped or taken up by reservoirs, cemeteries, farms, army camps and nature reserves.

"Although we are an island, we still have quite a bit for land for development. We have a large land bank," said Wong Poh Poh, an associate professor at the department of geography at the National University of Singapore.

Hall, looking out over Sembawang Beach, says Singapore must think creatively about the land it has, rather than destroy its natural coast. "They think they need more land but they don't. Singapore is small but it's viable because it's well-structured." ($1=1.652 Singapore Dollar)

Posted at 2:42PM UTC by N. Sivasothi | permalink | email |

Mon 11 Apr 2005

The Legend of Bukit Merah - illustrated!

Category : heritage

Before the launch of the Bukit Merah Community Libray on 25th February 2005, National Library staff Ivan Chew and collagues (Ivy & Hafsah) suggested that the story of how "Redhill" got it's name be presented using comic artform.

A great idea but they were unable to find a volunteer freelance artist to create the work. So for three weeks, Ivan laboured away on the wife's software while the dog kept him company. The result? A fascinatingly gripping tale - all without words - that graced the opening as A3-sized panels!

I came across his work when he featured it on his blog, the Rambling Librarian. I wrote him and Ivan has graciously allowed his work to be showcased on Habitatnews.

I hope to be able to present to you a larger version of his work in future. Meanwhile, if you enjoy the artwork, or know more about the legend, do leave a comment at his blog's Legend of Bukit Merah entry or email him. He'd love to hear from you.

It's worth noting that there are several variables in the many versions that exits about the story - the location of the hill the boy was tracked down to (Fort Canning or Redhill), the kind of fish attacking the shores (garfish or swordfish), the shoreline that faced the attack and even the source of the blood - I believe I heard a more tragic ending with the boy murdered.

I believe the confusion about this is due to the unspecific narrative of the original story, and the attempts many of us make in trying to pin down specifics which will most defintely elude us.

Instead, just enjoy "The legend of Bukit Merah".

Posted at 2:42PM UTC by N. Sivasothi | permalink | email | Raffles Museum news