Category Archives: announcement

“Plastics: Enough trash talk” – the urgent need for collective action on plastic use in Singapore

An Earth Day 2018 message from 10 NGOs and interest groups, first published as an op-ed in The Straits Times, 18 Apr 2018.

It’s time to end the talk on plastics as trash. It can be a valuable resource for a small country like Singapore. But this is possible only if governments and businesses approach plastics the right way, and when individuals can look beyond waste disposal and realise the real impact of our plastic problem.


A supermarket plastic bag serves its real purpose for 30 minutes, the duration of a journey in Singapore. In a drink, a straw is utilised for just 5 minutes. The use of a plastic stirrer is even more short-lived: all of 10 seconds.

These items have fleeting lifespans, but they outlive us by a long shot – 400 years, to be exact.

Left in our environment, plastics affect ocean health and biodiversity, including corals, seabirds and endangered species. The problem does not simply end there.

Before they even enter our homes, plastics already contribute to climate change. Globally, the manufacturing of plastics consumes the same amount of fossil fuel as the entire aviation industry1.

We are living plastic in every way: eating2, drinking3 and even breathing4 it. Around the world, microplastics have been found in the guts of one out of four fish2, in tap water samples of 14 countries2 and even in air pollution.

Convenience numbs common sense

Little is being done to address this. There was a huge public outcry when the four largest supermarkets in Singapore floated the idea of a plastic bag charge. Recently, the government announced a decision against a plastic bag ban5, highlighting incineration as a solution.

In this all-or-nothing debate that focuses solely on plastic bags, we are missing the point: that we continue to have a major problem with plastic use.

Meanwhile, Singapore generated over 800 million kg of plastic waste last year, only 6% of which was recycled6.

The rest of the world is far ahead in taking action on plastic waste.

More than 40 countries have plastic bag bans or taxes in place, including China, Rwanda and Italy7. Just across the Causeway, Johor is set to ban plastic bags plastics and polystyrene by this year8. Last year, 39 governments announced new commitments to reduce the amount of plastic going into the sea9.

By not taking action to reduce plastic’s widespread use, we are perpetuating this global problem. It is high time for a mindset overhaul on plastic in Singapore.

Use less and “useless” plastic

Rather than an all-or-nothing approach, the key lies in understanding what we should use less of, and what we can and should eliminate.

There are “useless” or unnecessary plastics – those that provide a few extra minutes of convenience but are disposed after use. Most plastic straws, lids, cups and stirrers fall in this category. Refusing these useless plastics is an easy step to cutting down on plastic use.

There are plastics that are useful that we can still reduce. A case in point: plastic bags. Singapore’s current usage of plastic bags borders on the excessive. A person in Singapore is estimated to use about 13 plastic bags a day, much more than any household would need for trash disposal.

Alternatives in the form of reusables are widely available in the market today. A recent study by the National Environment Agency has found that a reusable bag replaces the use of 125 single-use plastic bags in a year10.

A plastic bag charge can be an effective way to reduce plastic use. Consumption of single-use plastic bags fell by 95 per cent when Ireland introduced a levy in 200211.

In Singapore, lifestyle store chain Miniso witnessed a 75% drop in plastic bag take-up rate after it implemented a $0.10 plastic bag charge in April 201712.

Not all plastics are trash

Even as individuals focus on using less plastic, a wider systemic change is needed to make plastics more useful. Globally, 95% of plastics worth up to US$120 billion are discarded after the first use13. Effective recycling ensures that we do not lose economic value from this useful material.

Plastic packaging cannot be eliminated, but it needs to be recovered.

In Singapore, packaging makes up a third of domestic waste. But not enough is being done to hold businesses accountable for the plastics they introduce into the market. In countries such as Japan, for instance, there are laws in place to ensure that businesses do their part to recycle14.

Separating plastic waste at the point of disposal also enhances recycling. Currently, Singapore does not require plastics to be segregated from other types of waste. This model undermines recycling efforts and instead incentivises incineration, including that of plastics.

Singapore has made a name for ourselves globally in recovering value from precious resources. We do this for paper and even the water we drink. Why aren’t we treating plastics the same way? An expensive, highly pollutive method like incineration should only be the last solution when all other options are unavailable.

Stop trash talking, start fixing

We have limited time to turn things around. With the looming global plastics crisis, business-as-usual cannot apply.

Businesses need to be held accountable for used plastic, however useful its purpose. This includes being responsible for the entire life cycle of plastics, from packaging to recovery after use.

On a national level, the channels and infrastructure need to be in place to effectively enable recycling by businesses and individuals. Incentives encourage manufacturers to take more responsibility, while disincentives like a plastic tax help spur much needed behaviour change.

To expedite the move towards a more sustainable future, individuals should also play their part by using less plastic, and supporting business and government measures that help address this issue.

We need to stop pushing the responsibility between individuals, businesses and government.

Everyone needs to step up and take action for a problem we will share with the next 16 generations.
— end —

About – Ahead of Earth Day on 22 April, ten NGOs and interest groups have co-signed this opinion piece, representing their shared view about the urgent need for collective action on plastic use in Singapore. They are:

  1. ASEAN CSR Network is a regional business organisation promoting responsible business practices.
  2. Ocean Recovery Alliance is a non-profit organisation working on solutions and collaborations to improve ocean health.
  3. Gone Adventurin’ is a business consultancy focused on driving circular economy in Asia.
  4. International Coastal Cleanup Singapore coordinates and organises marine trash clean-ups on beaches and mangroves.
  5. Plastic Disclosure Project works to reduce the environmental impact of plastics in products and packaging.
  6. Plastic-Lite Singapore is a volunteer community raising awareness about the over-use of disposable plastics.
  7. NUS Toddycats! is a volunteer group with the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum.
  8. Tingkat Heroes is an initiative working with communities, schools and businesses to go disposables-free.
  9. Team Small Change is a community that champions small individual changes for large environmental impact.
  10. WWF-Singapore is a global conservation organisation protecting the natural environment and resources.

Literature Cited

  1. Neufeld, L., Stassen, F., Sheppard, R., & Gilman, T., 2016. The new plastics economy: rethinking the future of plastics. In World Economic Forum. [link]
  2. Kosuth, Mary, Sherri A. Mason, and Elizabeth V. Wattenberg., 2018. “Anthropogenic contamination of tap water, beer, and sea salt.” PloS One, 13.4: e0194970. [link]
  3. Mason, S. A., Welch, V., Neratko, 2018. Synthetic polymer in contamination in bottled water. State University of New York at Fredonia, Department of Geology & Environmental Sciences, 17pp.[link].
  4. Gasperi, J., Wright, S. L., Dris, R., Collard, F., Mandin, C., Guerrouache, M., … & Tassin, B., 2018. Microplastics in air: Are we breathing it in? Current Opinion in Environmental Science & Health, 1: 1-5. [link]
  5. “Parliament: No plan to impose plastic bag levy, other types of disposable bags not much greener: Amy Khor,” by Samantha Boh & Audrey Tan. The Straits Times, 6 March 2018. [link].
  6. National Environment Agency, 2018. Waste Statistics and Overall Recycling [in Singapore], 2017. [link].
  7. “Kenya imposes world’s toughest law against plastic bags,” by Katharine Houreld & John Ndiso. Reuters, 28 August 2017 [link].
  8. “No more plastic bags in Johor supermarkets,” by anonymous. The Star, 14 Jun 2017 [link].
  9. “Nearly 200 nations promise to stop ocean plastic waste,” by Reuters Staff. Reuters, 07 Dec 2017 [link].
  10. National Environment Agency, 2018. Factsheet on findings from life-cycle assessment study on carrier bags and food packaging. 12pp. [link].
  11. Convery, F., McDonnell, S., Ferreira, S., 2007. The most popular tax in Europe? Lessons from the Irish plastic bags levy. Environmental and Resource Economics, , 38:1–11. [link]
  12. “Less demand when customers have to pay for plastic bags,” by Samantha Boh. The Straits Times, 24 Sep 2017. [link]
  13. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, with the support of the World Economic Forum, 2017. The New Plastics Economy: Rethinking the future of plastics & Catalysing action. (Combined from the two reports, “The New Plastics Economy – Rethinking the Future of Plastics (2016)” and “The New Plastics Economy – Catalysing Action (2017).
  14. “Japan’s holistic approach to recycling,” by Leon Kaye. The Guardian, 17 Jan 2012 [link].

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Festival of Biodiversity 2018 in June – call for volunteers! (You can still signup!)

Come join the NUS Toddycats at the Festival of Biodiversity 2018! This annual event aims to create awareness and promote efforts in conserving and enhancing our local biodiversity. Check out various recounts of past years’ Festival of Biodiversity events by Toddycats and Friends!

This year, the Toddycats FOB committee will be planning even more activities in the lead up to FOB2018 which will be held on 2-3 June 2018. Please sign up with this link: https://tinyurl.com/toddycats-fob2018 as a volunteer guide with us!

We have prepared enrichment field trips and workshops leading up to the big event day, and even post-FOB events too! Join us to re-create the wonderful atmosphere we achieved last year!

Cheers,
Theresa & Weiting
NUS Toddycats FOB Organising Committee 2018

Internship with NUS Toddycats, Jan – Jul 2018

Internship with NUS Toddycats, Jan – Jul 2018
About the Toddycats
NUS Toddycats are volunteers with the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum at the National University of Singapore. We expose, develop and apply individuals who are keen to contribute to nature and the environment in Singapore to programmes in conservation, education and outreach. It was originally conceived to contribute to capacity-building of NUS undergraduates by providing them with an immediate means to contribute socially and meaningfully towards the nature and environment in Singapore.

NUS Toddycats are an entirely volunteer group who lead and support activities such as nature guiding at exhibitions and field sites, the organisation and management of public seminars and symposia, coordinate coastal cleanups and initiate dialogues and other engagement through active partnerships.

Objectives
The NUS Toddycats Internship aims to secure a motivated intern who will organise and coordinate support for the diversity of activities offered by the group. In doing so, the intern will be exposed to and acquire skills and work experience in a range of activities including administration and digital organising tools, project and events management, volunteer engagement, and communication for conservation. The intern will also participate in staffing various stakeholder engagements.

Scope of Internship
The NUS Toddycats intern will pro-actively support operational and volunteer management needs of project managers in existing projects which include volunteer recruitment and engagement, nature guiding at field sites, library exhibitions and seminars, field surveys and coastal cleanups, and liasing and planning for Toddycats participation in various events and stakeholder meetings. For some idea of the projects, see the Toddycats about page.

Candidate Criteria
The candidate must be passionate about learning through service.
We are looking for candidates who possess strong initiative and good work ethic, are able to work across multiple platforms (e.g. Google Docs, Microsoft Office, social media), are able to undertake tasks independently amidst a group structure and communicate effectively. Some of these skills can be developed, but a strong desire to learn and a passion for the environment are critical!

Internship development
NUS Toddycats is committed to the development of the selected intern through skills training in project management, digital tools and a workplace readiness toolbox, volunteer engagement and understanding the conservation landscape.

Period of internship
Jan – July 2018 (minimum of three months)
This is an unpaid internship but a meal and transport allowance is provided.

Reporting Officer
The NUS Toddycats intern will report directly to the coordinator, N. Sivasothi and will liase with project captains for specific roles.

To apply, please write to toddycats@gmail.com with your CV.

Walk with primates – Raffles’ Banded Langur Working Group 3rd Volunteer Information Session Sat 18 Jun 2017: 1.00pm – 2.30pm @ SBG

From Andie Ang,

Dear friends,

The Raffles Banded Langur Working Working Group initiated 6-month long surveys for the primate with the help of volunteers in the past year. Two six month survey cycles have been completed and you can be part of the 3rd cycle!

A briefing session results from the previous surveys will be conducted on Sat 18 Jun 2017: 1.00pm to 2.30pm at the Function Hall, Singapore Botanic Gardens. Sign up to attend briefing session: tinyurl.com/3rd-RBL-session

From:
Andie Ang, Ph.D.
Chairperson
Raffles’ Banded Langur Working Group
www.facebook.com/RBLWG

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Mon 31 Oct 2016: 6.30pm @ LT27 – Free Public Talk: Professor Jerry Coyne: “Evolution Is True, And Why People Still Don’t Believe It”

We are pleased to co-host with the Humanist Society of Singapore, Professor Jerry Coyne for a public talk on Evolution on 31 October. As spaces are limited, please register for your free ticket via eventbrite! lkcnhm-hss-coyne.eventbrite.sg.

lkcnhm-hss-coyne

Let’s be conscious consumers – choose RSPO-certified “haze-free” palm oil! [pmhaze.org campaign]

The People’s Movement to Stop Haze pmhaze.org notes the most popular restaurant chains in Singapore use palm oil and not RSPO-Certified cooking oil. We are thus contributing to the haze with the demand for oil palm products which are not attempting to minimise impact to the environment.

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NUS Toddycats! supports PM.Haze‘s call to be conscious consumers by selecting products that uses RSPO-certified “haze-free” palm oil — palm oil produced responsibly by companies which do not engage in haze-causing activities such as burning and deforestation.

You can support the call to switch to RSPO-certified palm oil. Head over to pmhaze.org to sign the petition and learn more.