Litter; waste pollution – a hidden problem in our supposedly spotless Garden City.
Firstly, we should define waste pollution. It is man-made waste, mainly made up of plastic litter, discarded in the environment. This includes plastic bottles, bags, and wrappers, while natural waste, such as dried leaves and fruits, do not count.
To investigate the exact scale of litter in Singapore, renowned for its cleanliness, we conducted research at one of its beaches – East Coast Park – by recording the weight of the collected litter in relation to the area covered. We surprisingly found that although the beach looked rather clean, we were able to gather an average of one medium-sized bag of litter per 0.5 km of beach.
These were mainly made up of plastic bottles and beer cans, along with Styrofoam bits and cigarette butts. At the same time, we also spotted a giant piece of cardboard, jammed inside a trench.
This is a shocking observation, especially given that there are laws in Singapore that prohibit the act of littering, with heavy penalties attached to them. Even though these laws are supposed to prevent people from littering, they are obviously not enough.
But just what is the consequence of litter on our beaches? To understand the impacts, we only have to look to the plight of turtles. The World Wildlife Foundation’s website conducted research showing that 52% of turtles ingested plastic waste thrown away by humans. At the same time, accumulation of plastic waste at key nesting beaches also caused baby turtles to be at risk of plastic entanglement, preventing them from reaching the sea, and becoming easy targets for predators.
All these contribute to the sharp decline of sea turtle populations, making them critically endangered. Singapore is home to the Green Turtle and Hawksbill Turtle, and turtle sightings on East Coast Park has been decreasing.
The horrible effects of littering do not only affect these animals, but also endanger entire underwater forests. Most species of turtles are herbivores, and as a result, seagrass accounts for a large majority of their food. This benefits the seagrass as seagrass should be kept short, and the turtles act as a natural “lawn mower” for the seagrass. With declining turtle populations, areas of sea grass have also died out due to overgrowing.
It is mentioned by the Sea Turtle Conservancy in Florida that “seagrass beds are important because they provide breeding and developmental grounds for many species of fish, shellfish and crustaceans. Without seagrass beds, many marine species humans harvest would be lost, as would the lower levels of the food chain. The reactions could result in many more marine species being lost and eventually impacting humans.” This means that many species of common fish might go extinct and we would face a lack of fishes for consumption. As the global population surges past 8 billion, there are more mouths to feed. Fish provide a crucial source of food for humans, and if a vast majority of them disappear, many people would suffer from nutritional insecurity due to a lack of meat in their diet, especially in poorer countries. Many people place their hopes (and money) in lab-grown meat to solve this growing problem, but the technology to manufacture them cheaply and easily is still very much out of reach. A much easier way to perhaps slow down this problem is to simply get people to stop littering.
This shows the direct effect of humans’ careless plastic disposal, affecting not only innocent marine animals, but also us, as we eventually suffer the consequences of our actions…
Unless something is to be done about it.
What then are the possible solutions to this problem? Firstly, there is always the classic method of organizing beach clean-ups. This is an effective method in keeping the beaches clean and free of litter, and it can be done without much cost as it is done by volunteers. This is the go-to method in Singapore, especially for school Values-in-Action projects. However, we ought to ask ourselves: is there a better method?
In retrospect, such activities do not necessarily prevent litter bugs from littering in the future. In fact, an interviewee whom we spoke to at East Coast Park suggested that what needs to be done is to, “spread awareness and concern. If people do not litter, others will feel pressured to do the same.” Another interviewee also similarly suggested that “letting people pick up their own litter would be a better way.”
A main cause of the large amounts of litter is lack of public awareness about the severe consequences of littering. The ultimate solution would be to get everyone involved in the action, and if we remind those around us to not litter, we can cut down a large portion of the waste. There is a range of methods we can use to raise awareness, from starting campaigns against litter and using social media platforms to advocate against careless littering to articles like this that reach out to the public and encourage readers to stop littering.
Whereas, in the case of turtles, conservation projects like the Turtle Hatchery@Sisters Islands, have risen to the cause, relocating hatchling nests to give baby turtles a chance at survival.
All in all, waste pollution is still on the rise, even in the Garden City, and it takes the effort of everyone to collectively spread the word and reduce the amount of litter.
 World Wildlife Foundation: https://www.worldwildlife.org/stories/what-do-sea-turtles-eat-unfortunately-plastic-bags