If you have ever been to Singapore, you may have noticed something—the lack of debris. Singapore is continually rated as one of the cleanest cities in the modern world and often touted by waste management experts as an urban scape to emulate. Their local dump is actually not a dump at all. It’s actually an eco-park with a lush walking trail and migratory birds. Their streets are sparkling and free of litter. While it all sounds perfect, the question remains, “How do they do it?”
Singapore is a wealthy city-state crammed onto an island about three-and-a-half times the size of Washington D.C., and it has one of the most innovative waste disposal systems in the world. It only sends about 2 percent of its solid waste to landfill, burns 38 percent to generate electricity, and recycles about 60 percent of what’s left. In comparison to other global models, that is an admirable breakdown of waste. The United States sends a whopping 53 percent of its solid waste to landfills. All cities worldwide generate about 1.3 billion tons of trash a year, and that amount is expected to almost double by 2025. With those kinds of numbers on the horizon, Singapore’s example is becoming increasingly meaningful to the rest of the developed world.
Massive Populations and Archaic Systems
In general, giant Asian cities are greatly challenged by the issue of waste management, as they house massive populations with somewhat archaic systems. Many of these urban locales such as Manila, Jakarta, and Mumbai, have thousands of trash pickers who are exposed to fumes and toxins on a daily level, yet they are still struggling with rivers of garbage. The landfills themselves are often overstuffed and undermanaged, creating health dangers and periodic fire outbreaks.
Up until just recently, the 5.4 million people of Singapore were also threatened by this rising tide of trash. In 2000, the city was producing 7,600 tons of waste per day with no available space in its local landfills. Instead of buckling under the weight of this challenge, Singapore used its small size and strong economy to turn the problem around quickly and efficiently. Unlike most other cities in the area, it began to focus its attention on how to reduce and reuse as much as possible, starting a widespread recycling program for residents of the island. A comprehensive collection service became available, and schools, offices, stores, and markets all began concentrating their efforts on waste reduction. By 2005, more than half of all household in Singapore were taking part in the new waste management program.
More Innovative Waste-to-Energy Plant Planned
Not only did Singapore amp up the pragmatic side of recycling, it began incinerating a lot of waste, as well. This greatly reduced the volume of trash going into landfills and produced electricity, now accounting for almost 3 percent of the country’s power supply. But what’s most admirable about Singapore’s waste plan is its acceptance of the big picture. Waste management will never be entirely solved. As long as we continue to thrive, it will remain an issue in our life. Singapore understands this fact and the need for constantly improved policies. By 2019, officials plan to have an even more innovative waste-to-energy plant completed, one that will bring all types of waste management under one roof, making the system even more streamlined and efficient.
Although it is widely anticipated, the project will not be cheap. A consortium of industry heavyweights such as Mitsubishi and the water company Hyflux have secured about $473 million for the development and construction of the new plant, soon to be known as TuasOne. The facility will be Singapore’s sixth and the largest of its kind, designed to process 3,600 tons of waste per day, much of which will provide needed energy to the region. Such forward thinking and devoted resources stand in stark comparison to the rest of the area, which has not handled its industrial growth with the same aplomb.
Anticipating Future Energy Needs
Given that Singapore is expected to grow another 30 percent by 2030, which will push recycling to over 70 percent, it is making some wise decisions. Since the island itself lacks indigenous energy resources, it will need to become creative in meeting its own future energy needs. Singapore plans to solve these issues head on through the creation of TuasOne, which will be located in the industrial area of Tuas in western Singapore. It will likely generate 120 MW of electricity once it gets going, powering the grid for a growing population.
One of the biggest constraints that Singapore faces is a lack of space. While it has increased its total area since becoming independent, land is considered a commodity. The facility will take the issue of space into account and provide the most land-efficient plant possible. The facility will help Singapore in a myriad of ways by allowing it to become less dependent on foreign imports; providing precious energy; raising the recycling numbers; and allowing for the development of a positive, well informed public that pays attention the waste systems in their areas. It is a group effort that must be led by a nation, and Singapore seems to be well on its way.