Singaporeans face one of the problems of "plenty", which is already evident in other successful countries as well: a certain blindness among many, if not most, citizens to the incremental impact of habitual economic excesses on the environment. That is the bad news. The good news is that over-consumption does lose its allure over time and generates, instead, a countervailing social consciousness about the environment, and a growing concern about the future of the planet. People then begin to look beyond the here and now, to the issue of how to ensure a more sustainable world and better ecological future. Society is waking up to that future, as seen when World Environment Day was commemorated here on Tuesday. Electronic waste recycling, the elimination of single-use plastics, and plans to reduce the use of plastic bags are some initiatives under way that show Singapore's determination to become a more environmentally conscious country. Shoppers will soon be able to dispose of their old mobile phones, dead batteries and other e-waste in recycling bins placed at the outlets of four major electronics retailers: Best Denki, Courts, Gain City and Harvey Norman.
This development is an extension of a community initiative to provide collection bins across the island. Their contents are recycled, with valuable parts extracted and harmful substances treated. The economic benefits of recycling apart, it is the ecological virtue of disarming harmful substances that should spark public interest in the scheme. Nothing less than the adoption of personal responsibility towards the environment can make Singaporeans part of the global movement. If plastic is an ecological bane of industrial civilisation, then wasteful single-use plastics must surely also feature at the contemporary apex of the problem. Commendably, the Millennium Hotels and Resorts group has pledged to eliminate single-use plastics at its hotels here by June next year. They will phase out the use of disposables such as straws, stirrers, cutlery, toiletry bottles and plastic bags, and move to alternative choices such as paper and wood - although the use of these, too, could spell the death of trees, and their environmental cost grows if products made of them are also put to single use. But it is important to curb the use of plastic products first before seeing how substitutes could be made less punishing for the environment through reuse.