Work towards a plastic-lite Singapore

A crane operator picks up rubbish to be incinerated at Tuas South Incineration Plant in Singapore June 8.
A crane operator picks up rubbish to be incinerated at Tuas South Incineration Plant in Singapore June 8. PHOTO: REUTERS

There has been a lot of emphasis recently on moving Singapore towards being a car-lite society. The aim is to reduce our carbon footprint and environmental damage from exhaust fumes, as well as congestion on our roads.

It is now time to also focus on transforming Singapore into a plastic-lite society and becoming a global leader in embracing a sustainable and eco-friendly lifestyle.

Discarded plastics can remain in our environment without decomposing for up to 1,000 years, well into many future generations.

Incineration of plastics releases enormous amounts of carbon dioxide and produces toxic ash, which ends up in landfills and eventually leaches into soil and groundwater.

The report on environmentally friendly alternatives to disposable containers ("NEA to study impact of takeaway packages"; last Friday) highlighted one of the areas where plastic usage can be minimised.

Considering that food and drink containers made from biodegradable materials such as cornstarch and bamboo have become more readily available and economical, food establishments can now easily use these to replace containers made of polystyrene and polypropylene, with minimal cost impact.

Aside from food containers, there are two other areas where plastic usage can be significantly minimised here.

Singapore is one of the few countries in the world where tap water is exceptionally safe and potable. Yet, there is rampant use of bottled water in hotels, seminar venues, many tourist destinations and even homes.

Hotels and seminar venues should be encouraged to offer water in pitchers and glasses.

By providing drinking fountains at regular distances in busy tourist and commercial locations, as well as malls, we can significantly reduce the need to carry or buy bottled water in these places.

Single-use plastic bags given out at supermarkets and retail outlets are another large source of plastic waste.

Cities such as San Francisco have already banned single-use plastic bags. Retailers here should give out paper bags for purchases and offer reusable bags at a small charge.

Shoppers, in turn, need to do their part by taking along their own grocery bags.

With the right mix of legislation, education and public awareness, we can make great strides in becoming an eco-friendly and sustainable nation.

With a little effort and change of lifestyle, we can make Singapore, the little red dot, a very green one too.

Aarti Giri (Ms)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 30, 2016, with the headline 'Work towards a plastic-lite Singapore'. Print Edition | Subscribe