S'pore launches national strategy to tackle growing problem of marine litter

People helping to pick up marine litter at Tanah Merah beach on June 5, 2022. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO
The National Environment Agency collected 4,009 tonnes of flotsam at 10 beaches and coastal areas in 2021. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - Singapore has stepped up a gear to combat marine litter, launching a national strategy on Sunday (June 5) to tackle the growing problem.

The National Environment Agency collected 4,009 tonnes of flotsam - waste that includes plastic bottles, styrofoam pieces and tree trunks - at 10 beaches and coastal areas in 2021.

This was up from around 3,490 tonnes in 2020 and 3,640 tonnes in 2019, according to data released on Sunday.

Singapore has tackled marine litter through measures such as programmes to reduce the use of disposables, ground-up initiatives to clean coastal areas, and research and development on issues like the impact of litter on marine life.

The National Action Strategy on Marine Litter - launched by the Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment (MSE) - consolidates various stakeholders' existing efforts, and is a first step to formalise the country's actions to address the issue.

Minister of State for Sustainability and the Environment Desmond Tan said marine litter is a problem for all countries and regions, but especially for an island-state like Singapore that is surrounded by the sea.

"(Reducing such litter) is important for biodiversity and our development. It affects not just our beaches but also our living environment," he added, while announcing the strategy during a cleanup at Tanah Merah Beach on Sunday morning.

MSE developed the plan in close consultation with academics, representatives from institutes of higher learning, ground-up organisations, the public and other government agencies.

It held dialogues last September and in April which covered strengths and gaps in Singapore's approach towards marine litter, and how individuals, organisations and the public sector can collaborate.

The national plan outlines six key areas that are tailored to the nation's context, and demonstrates the country's commitment domestically and internationally, said MSE.

These areas include the reduction of land and sea-based sources of litter, a circular economy approach that aims to prevent the general production of waste products, and global engagement and collaboration.

Mr Tan said Singapore cannot work alone as the problem is a transboundary one.

"Depending on the monsoon season, wind direction and tidal waves, it could come from anywhere," he added, noting that it is important that "we work with regional countries and internationally to adopt and share best practices, information and data".

Singaporeans can also play their part, he said, noting that 80 per cent of debris come from the land.

"We need everybody to first of all be a responsible consumer, to minimise the use of disposables, recycle often... and bin our litter properly," added Mr Tan.

Around 350kg of debris on Tanah Merah beach and its surrounding area was collected during a cleanup on June 5, 2022. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

The cleanup on Sunday was organised by social enterprises Stridy and Seastainable in conjunction with World Environment Day. Some 30 volunteers picked up around 350kg of debris on the beach and its surrounding area.

Mr Yasser Amin, 26, community and programme lead at Stridy, said local littering is a problem at places such as East Coast Park. This is in addition to trash washed up from neighbouring areas.

Big items such as sofas, fridges and tyres have also ended up at beaches, he added.

"We need to rally more volunteers because more hands make for easy work," said Mr Yasser, who cleans more accessible areas weekly, and organises cleanups once every few months at beaches that are more secluded.

He hopes that national initiatives like the latest strategy will lead to more regional efforts. "As much as beach cleanups are good, they're far from being the solution. We need to stop the source of plastics pollution entering the ocean in the first place."

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