How a Small Island Handles its Garbage
If a country occupies a large area, it is relatively easy to manage its waste. But how can a small country like Singapore manage its waste without exporting it to other countries?
Singapore is only 270 square kilometers with a population over 4.5 million. Every day this country must handle about 7,000 tonnes of waste from industries, homes, offices, hotels and others. About 92 per cent of the waste sent to the incinerator plants in four places, Senoko, Ulu Pandan, Tuas and Tuas South. After it is burnt, the ashes were placed in the Lorong Halus Dumping Ground, but it closed in 1999.
For almost a decade, the government has disposed of this waste on a little island in the south of SingaporePasir Panjang Harbour with a speedboat. — Semakau. It just takes 20 minutes to reach Semakau from Pasir Panjang Harbour.
“Semakau Landfill is Singapore’s only landfill for waste disposal. It was commissioned in 1999 and can be used until 2045,” Ong Chong Peng, General Manager of Semakau Landfill told visiting journalists.
All non-incinerable refuse such as construction and renovation debris and ash from incineration plants are now disposed of at the landfill. The first phase of the project took four years to complete at a cost of about S$610 million, Mr Ong said.
“Here, we planned 11 wet cells for the waste, but only seven have already been used. Meanwhile we also planned four dry cells for organic waste. But ever since we have operated this plant ten years ago, we never used it because all organic waste is already recycled,” explained Mr Ong.
“We pump water in one cell before we fill it with refuse. And we do not use another material such as soil to cover the refuse because even without it grass and trees can grow there,” Mr Ong said at the information centre inside the Semakau Landfill.
Before it arrives at this 350-hectare island, all incoming refuse collection vehicles from four incinerators are first weighed at the weighbridges before proceeding to the Tuas Marine Transfer Station refuse reception hall. At the reception hall, refuse is directly discharged into specially built barges. A total of 20 discharge bays are available to ensure a quick turn-around time for the refuse collection vehicles.
At the end of the day, the hatch covers of the fully loaded barges are closed before the barges are pushed tugboats on a 25-km journey to Semakau. This is to prevent refuse from being blown off by wind during the sea journey. The barging operation is done at night to maximize the usage of the marine vessels.
After they arrive at Semakau Landfill, the barges are berthed within an enclosed transfer building for the unloading operation. The refuse then makes its final journey to the tipping site for disposal. A fully loaded barge is emptied within six hours. At the tipping site, refuse is discharged from the trucks. Bulldozers and compactors are used to level and compact the refuse at landfill site.
Bulldozer leveling the ash in one of the cell.
“The island has a landfill capacity of 63 million m3. To create the required landfill space, a 7-km perimeter rock bund was built to enclose a part of the sea off Pulau Semakau and Pulau Sekeng,” said Mr Ong. He also explained that after 2045 the landfill can be use to build apartments, offices or industries depends from the authority.
Even though Semakau Island is built on rubbish, the government still allocates some place inside as a rehabilitation zone. “Next the landfill we still have a mangrove which totally have 66 species of birds there,” said Peter K, Professor and Director of the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research.
“We know that we do not have lot of marine natural wealth such as flora and fauna. Not only because of the condition of our marine areas but because we lost it when making this area. But with this conservation phase, we try to conserve all things that we have now,” explained Mr Peter K.
Beside the mangrove area, the island also provides areas for bird watching and fishing. The authority set up this place to heighten people’s awareness of their environment. “By making these areas recreation and education zones, we want people more aware about their waste. Even though we can make a landfill island, the cost is very high,” concluded Mr.Ong.
Semakau Landfill the next Singapore island