Plastic Pollution – The Silent Killer


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Figure 1: AI-generated image of Plastic waste on a beach

Did you know that an 8th continent has been discovered? Though it is not something to be excited about because it is called ‘The Great Pacific Garbage Patch’. Estimated to contain around 4 trillion pieces of plastic, its size increases every year.

Figure 2: Amounts of plastic waste being generated, disposed, and recycled in Singapore from 2016 to 2021

Plastic pollution in Singapore is no different. According to the 2021 Waste Statistics and Overall Recycling recorded by the National Environment Agency of Singapore, of the 982 000 tonnes of plastic waste generated, only 58 000 tonnes were recycled. This means only 6% of plastic products were recycled in total[1]. This is especially significant given the effects of plastic pollution on land and aquatic animals as well as humans. Animals may mistake plastic products for food and die of suffocation or malnutrition.

An example was chronicled in August 2022, when a Blacktip reef shark was found dead at Palawan Beach in Sentosa. What was horrifying that its head was stuck in a plastic cup, which meant it could have died of starvation. Given that this species of sharks is considered vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature[2], this also highlights how plastic pollution can cause the extinction of a species, which eventually leads to the further destruction of entire ecosystems and loss of biodiversity.

Figure 3: Photo by Tammy Lim, deputy manager of the Environmental Management Team at Sentosa Development Corporation.

Another grim consequence of plastic pollution is that humans are inhaling and consuming micro-plastics. A study conducted by the World Wide Fund for Nature and the University of Newcastle in Australia found that we are consuming 100 000 micro-plastics every year[3] or 5 grams of micro-plastics every week[4]. Micro-plastics are commonly discovered in water, vegetables, and shellfish. They have been proven to damage cells and cause cancer[5]. The fact that plastics are made using materials that are toxic to the human body means that ingesting microplastics could cause further health problems.

This got me wondering: we might know about plastic pollution and its possible effects, but just how serious is it in Singapore and what are Singaporeans’ opinions on it?

Case study of Changi Beach and East-Coast Park

To investigate the issue, I visited Changi Beach and East-Coast Park. At both beaches, plastic waste was visibly present in the sea and on the shore. However, there appeared to be more plastic waste at Changi beach than East-Coast Park because the former is generally more crowded than the latter, which indicates a higher level of human activity. What was unnerving was the fact that some plastic waste ended up being swept away to the ocean by the waves.

Figures 4 to 6: Inappropriately disposed plastic containers near the shores. These are easily swept into the ocean.
Figure 7: The opening of some bottles are large enough for animals to get parts of their bodies trapped.

The Survey (conducted on Google Forms)

To better understand what the public thought of plastic pollution in Singapore, I conducted a survey[6] and received 17 responses.

One significant question I asked was whether the respondents felt that plastic pollution was a problem in Singapore. I found that 9 out of the 17 agreed that it was a problem. This suggests that only slightly more than half recognised the severity of the situation.

However, when asked whether they observe plastic waste on the streets, all indicated that they did. This suggests that plastic waste is still a prominent sight in Singapore and people still litter instead of disposing plastic waste appropriately, despite Singapore’s general reputation as a clean country.

As to whether they recycled plastic-based products, only 1 respondent mentioned that he/she did not do so. This raises the question: if most respondents recycled plastic products, then why do we still see so much plastic waste on the streets? One reason perhaps is convenience – people only recycle if they find it convenient to do so, such as if there are recycling bins nearby.

This can also be seen when the respondents were asked whether they bring their own bags to the grocery store.  A majority (76.5%) said that they use plastic bags given at the cashier instead. This might again demonstrate how it all boils down to convenience.

Lastly, when asked about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, it was only a slight majority that mentioned they had heard of it.

Hence, it seems that while some Singaporeans are aware of plastic pollution and its effects in Singapore and globally, there remains others who are ignorant.

Solutions

It may seem like all hope is lost. However, there are many ways we can combat plastic pollution and become plastic-free.

1.         Biodegradable plastic

Figure 8: Biodegradable plastic label

Biodegradable plastic decomposes and contains no harmful chemicals, reducing plastic pollution[7]. It also helps to reduce our carbon footprint and conserves fossil fuels. If you are unsure of which products use biodegradable plastic, look for the label as shown[8].

2.         Bringing your own bag

Doing so will reduce the production of one-time-use plastic bags, which means that the total waste generated can be reduced significantly.

If you find that bringing your own bags is inconvenient, perhaps an incentive to do so is that you get to save some money as from mid-2023 onwards, consumers must pay 5 cents for each plastic bag used at major stores[9].

3.   Making clean-up activities exciting

While it is common for clean-up events to be organised, it is evident from the survey results that plastic waste is still a common sight in Singapore. If you are planning to hang out with friends, you can do so by initiating clean-up sessions. You get to enjoy fresh air while making a difference. You can also clean up as you run, also known as a “plogathon” as you can keep fit while cleaning up your surroundings. However, even if we are not taking part in these activities, we should pick up litter even if it is not ours.

Conclusion

To stop plastic pollution and its terrible effects, we must ensure that we are recycling as much as possible, disposing our plastic waste appropriately and raising awareness on it. Thus, we can coexist safely with animals in a clean, green Singapore.


[1]NEA: https://www.nea.gov.sg/docs/default-source/our-services/waste-management/waste-recycling-statistics-2016-to-2019.pdf

[2]Mothership: https://mothership.sg/2022/08/dead-shark-plastic-cup-palawan-beach/

[3]WWF: https://www.wwf.sg/plastics/#:~:text=In%20Singapore%2C%20About%20900%20Million,and%20the%20w ater%20we%20drink

[4]The Straits Times: https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/this-could-be-the-amount-of-plastic-people-eat-each-week

[5]News-Medical.Net:https://www.news-medical.net/health/How-do-Microplastics-Affect-Our-Health.aspx

[6]Google Forms – Survey:https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLScw7nwfg4c2rhUpzZm6_g1oX31h8wQdre66YDM1Rclpu6hUjw/viewform?usp=sf_link

[7]ScienceDirect:https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0959652620340014

[8]Singapore Environment Council:https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&url=https%3A%2F%2Fsgls.sec.org.sg%2F&psig=AOvVaw27imbtFdh56qDhGzztPuqn&ust=1668834667563000&source=images&cd=vfe&ved=0CBIQ3YkBahcKEwio_Lrf-7b7AhUAAAAAHQAAAAAQIw

[9]Today:https://www.todayonline.com/singapore/shoppers-must-pay-least-5-cents-disposable-carrier-bag-mid-2023-all-major-supermarkets-1832491

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  • Jatin Joshi

    An aviation enthusiast by nature, my articles mostly focus on aviation aspects as well as other aspects of school life. If you see me on my phone, I’m just using FlightRadar24 or reading a PDF on planes.