Singapore, the Garden City, has a dirty secret! It has a plastic problem!

Singapore is a tiny island nation in Southeast Asia boosting a population of 5.6 million. On 11 May 1967, Lee Kuan Yew, then Prime Minister of Singapore, introduced the “Garden City” vision to transform the nation into a city that has abundant lush greenery and clean environment. It was to make life more pleasant for the people and the place a good destination for tourists and foreign investments.

When compared to other cities, Singapore indeed has a lot of trees and plants. Greenery minimises the “harshness” of a concrete jungle, reduces pollution and give us some sort of psychological well-being.

However, as the city develops, so does its impact on the environment. One of its biggest environmental crime was the excessive use of plastic products.

In a study commissioned by the Singapore Environment Council, shoppers in Singapore take 820 million plastic bags from supermarkets each year. That translates to an average of 146 plastic bags for each person. For comparison, the amount of petroleum used to produce these 820 million bags can power 1.9 million car rides across the length of island and back.

For context, each person in England used 133 plastic bags in 2013. That was before the law in the UK required large retailers to charge for plastic bags. The levy on plastic bag introduced in 2015 in the UK caused a decline in the use of single-use plastic bags, with 2.1 billion bags sold between April 2016 and April 2017. Now in 2019, each shopper in the UK uses just 10 bags a year.

And that is not all the study revealed.

Singaporeans also used 467 million polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles a year and 473 million plastic disposable items such as takeaway containers1.

It is also important to keep in mind that that this study did not include the use of plastic bags from other sources such as small mom-and-pop shops, bakeries and bubble tea shops.

In a separate report, it is found that retailers in Singapore are set up to feed into the country’s obsession with convenience. For example, the bakery chain, BreadTalk, was found to bag each bun or bread into their respective plastic bag, and then use a larger bag to carry all the bagged buns 2.

Compounding on the problem of excessive plastic products use in Singapore is the massive plastic bag wastage.

There are about 420 tonnes of plastic bags being disposed of every day in 2017 alone. And that constitutes about one-fifth of the 94 percent of plastic waste that was not recycled but incinerated.

Union Packaging Industries, which supplies 30 tonnes of plastic bags monthly to retailers in Singapore, sees about 20 percent of the plastic resins wasted because of the adjustment needed throughout the manufacturing process3.

At the rate that Singapore is consuming and wasting plastic products, the nation will soon run out of space to store all that waste. In 2035, it is projected that the country’s sole landfill site, Semakau Island, will be completely full. When that time comes, one starts to wonder where would the country stores its waste.

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